INDIANAPOLIS -- The franchise tag deadline came and went Wednesday, lopping off, among the seven players who were tagged, the top layer of available pass rushers and creating an uncertain offseason for the Washington Redskins. They find themselves with almost no leverage in their relationship with quarterback Kirk Cousins, on whom they placed the exclusive franchise tag. That means Cousins will make $24 million next season, while being unable to negotiate with another team.
It is obvious now that the Redskins, who could have locked up Cousins last offseason with a market-rate deal for franchise quarterbacks, badly miscalculated both his skill level and his market. If they don't do a long-term deal before July 15, Cousins will make nearly $44 million over two seasons. Looming over all of this: the two offensive coordinators under whom Cousins has thrived -- Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay -- are now head coaches, of the 49ers and Rams, respectively -- creating the potential of other suitors, particularly the quarterback-needy 49ers. If the Redskins do not offer Cousins the top quarterback contract, he has little incentive to sign. Then the Redskins run the risk of losing him as a free agent next offseason, when Cousins would still be an under-30-year-old quarterback with some of the top passing numbers in the game.
Cousins is the rare case when the tag works dramatically to the player's advantage. More familiar is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul's situation with the Giants. Pierre-Paul, who played last year under a one-year deal while returning from the hand injury he suffered in a fireworks accident, has made it clear he does not want to play under another one-year deal with the tag because he wants the security of a long-term contract. Any threat to sit out seems unrealistic, but the Giants would prefer to get a long-term deal complete to lower a cap hit that will be about $17 million for Pierre-Paul.
The Giants are nowhere near a deal with Pierre-Paul, though, owner John Mara said Wednesday. That ties their hands entering free agency. Currently, with Pierre-Paul counting $17 million, the Giants have just $13.28 million in salary cap space (the cap is set at $167 million per team), the fifth least in the league, according to Over The Cap. That does not leave much room for upgrades elsewhere, although Mara seemed unimpressed with the quality of free agent offensive linemen -- the Giants' most urgent need -- and he declined comment on running back Adrian Peterson, who is thought to have interest in playing for the Giantswhen he hits free agency.
Mara raved about Pierre-Paul's rare talent and admitted he was even surprised with how well Pierre-Paul played last season, his first back after his accident. Olivier Vernon and Pierre-Paul were the bookend rushers of a vastly improved defense. But the perils of the tag are also obvious with the Giants. Mara does not view the $17 million tag figure as the baseline for a deal with Pierre-Paul.
"Obviously, we want to get him signed long-term, but we had to do that to protect ourselves," Mara said. "Hopefully we'll be able to reach an agreement, but I can't say it's imminent. It's a high number. That doesn't mean it has to be the average going forward. It ain't going to be that going forward."
Pierre-Paul will be with the Giants now and for the foreseeable future. His absence from the market, along with the six other players who were tagged (Cousins, Le'Veon Bell, Chandler Jones, Kawann Short, Trumaine Johnson and Melvin Ingram) removes the top potential free agents from what was already considered a shallow pool. Among the best remaining defensive players who will be available are Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye, Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower. The Bears did not tag receiver Alshon Jeffrey and the Browns said they continue to hope receiver Terrelle Pryor returns, although they did not give him the tag. And, of course, the most intriguing player moves may be the ones who are not even officially available -- quarterbacks Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo.