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Kirk Cousins set to draw at least $20 million annually

Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan is going to pay for doubting Kirk Cousins' value as the face of the franchise this past offseason.

Entering Thursday's marquee showdown at Dallas, Cousins boasted the highest passer rating of any quarterback in his last 20 starts, per NFL Research.

Cousins went on to set a single-game franchise record for completions (41), passing for the second-most yards (449) in Thanksgiving history.

Since his "You like that!" breakout performance last October, Cousins has posted astonishing numbers, completing 70.1 percent of his passes at 8.4 yards per attempt for a 43:10 TD-to-INT ratio and a sterling 108.8 passer rating in 21 games.

Borrowing from Joe Flacco's 2012 blueprint, Cousins is ready to cash in his winning ticket after betting on himself in a make-or-break contract year.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport spoke with three general managers about the Redskins' QB conundrum this week. All three executives anticipate that Cousins' next contract will be worth more than $20 million annually, placing him in exclusive company with the highest-paid players in the league.

McCloughan fully understood that he would be forced to pay a tax on Cousins' long-term deal if his quarterback surpassed expectations this season. That's exactly how it's playing out, as Cousins is on pace for 5,149 yards while establishing team records for total yards per game (426.4), passing yards per game (314.8) and yards per play (6.5).

To McCloughan's credit, he has assembled a competitive nucleus featuring Cousins, a stout offensive line, playmaking tight end Jordan Reed, emerging slot receiver Jamison Crowder, rookie power back Rob Kelley and 2016 first-round draft pick Josh Doctson.

As well as Washington has played the past two months, it's easy to imagine Cousins leading the team to its first back-to-back postseason appearances since 1992.

Whether Cousins pulls off that feat or not, the starting point for contract negotiations, per Rapoport, will be the $23.94 million that it would cost the Redskins to apply the franchise tag for the second straight offseason. If McCloughan balks at that annual rate, Cousins' camp will point to the ample salary-cap space of quarterback-needy organizations such as the Browns, Jets and Bears.

While it's fair to wonder if Cousins is capable of repeating his success under a different coach with lesser surrounding talent, the game film has shown tangible strides over the past month.

"Ever since the bye, to me, he's done two things better than he did before the bye," NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly explained on Friday's edition of Up to the Minute Live. "Number one, he's reading things out completely. Sometimes he wouldn't finish the read. Now he's doing that. Now he's getting bigger plays, bigger chunks. He's playing with more confidence because of that.

"The other thing is, there were plays at end of games he didn't quite make to finish it. The big-time throws he should be able to make if he's going to be a big-time money guy. He's making those plays right now."

Even as he was posting scintillating numbers to close out last season, questions remained about Cousins' arm strength and willingness to attack downfield. His performance of late has quieted those concerns.

"You saw a big-time quarterback," one Redskins staffer told The MMQB after Cousins battled a fierce wind in Week 11. "The arm talent is obviously special, looking at the way he was able to throw in those elements."

If McCloughan is reluctant to meet Cousins' exorbitant asking price, he should be prepared to receive pushback from a head coach with an offensive system tailored to his quarterback's strengths.

"Being an accomplished quarterback in the National Football League is a heck of a thing, and there aren't many of them," Jay Gruden said last summer. "And if you get one, you better hang on to him, because they don't grow on trees."

The next five weeks will go a long way toward answering the most important question of Cousins' life: How does his general manager like him now?

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