The entire Jets offseason will be played out in the shadow of Kirk Cousins -- the biggest name on the free-agent market, and the franchise quarterback they so desperately need. And that's even true right now, as the NFL's 15-day "franchise tag" window opens on Tuesday.
The Jets aren't likely to use the tag, but the Washington Redskins are reportedly considering using it on Cousins.
The Jets' entire offseason plan may depend on whether the Redskins actually do.
Chances are pretty good the Redskins are bluffing about using the tag on Cousins for the third consecutive year. For one thing, the cost of the tag would be about $34.5 million - and it would stay on their books until they rescind it, trade him, or until they decline to match an offer he receives from another team. And that's a huge problem since the Redskins just traded for quarterback Alex Smith, and reportedly agreed to a four-year, $94 million contract extension with him that includes $71 million in guarantees.
Obviously, Washington can't - and doesn't want to - keep Cousins. They'd be theoretically tagging him to get them compensation for his departure, either in a tag-and-trade deal, or get draft-pick compensation (likely negotiated) when they decline to match an offer from someone else. But since the Redskins currently project to have about $49 million in salary cap space, according to overthecap.com, they can't keep Cousins on their books and be active at all in free agency.
So if they're tagging him in the hopes of trading him or getting compensation from another suitor, they better hope that all plays out quick.
And that's unlikely too, because according to multiple reports, Cousins' agent plans to file a grievance against the Redskins if they tag him again. The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that any player being tagged must have "good faith" assurance that the team wants to keep him for the following year, not just keep him off the market. They presumably could make a good case that the Redskins have no intention of keeping him on their roster in 2018.
The Redskins have until March 6 at 4 p.m. to decide, and just the possibility makes the whole situation a mess. But the Jets will be watching closely because it could determine how strongly they want to go after Cousins next month.
They already know the cost will likely be five years, $150 million with perhaps as much as $90 million guaranteed. Some around the NFL are already speculating Cousins - a rare franchise quarterback in his prime on the open market - could get a fully guaranteed deal. The Jets, according to source, are wary of the price, but are still willing to make a strong and lucrative bid to lure Cousins to New York.
But how high will they be willing to go in price if they also have to surrender, say, a second-round draft pick to the Redskins as compensation. It cost the 49ers a second-round pick to get Jimmy Garoppolo before they gave him a five-year, $137.5 million contract with $74 million guaranteed.
The cost for Cousins - both in draft picks and money - potentially could be more.
And that's if his status isn't tied up in a grievance, and if he's willing to cooperate with the Redskins after they tag him (he could simply sign his tag and really mess with their cap situation). Cousins and the Redskins could end up in a stalemate that could really mess with the opening of the market, and potentially drive his price up even more.
Which is why most NFL people think the Redskins are bluffing. But the Jets will be watching just in case.
As for the Jets' own situation, they're just not there yet in their rebuilding process where it's worth using the "franchise tag" on a player. Most of their best players are still a year or more away from free agency. And of the players who are unrestricted free agents in 2018, most of them aren't franchise-tag-worthy. Their four best UFAs are center Wes Johnson, linebacker Demario Davis, cornerback Morris Claiborne and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and the Jets don't appear to have a franchise-level value on any of them.
Perhaps the closest is Johnson, who could be one of the best centers on a relatively thin free-agent market. But the highest paid center in the NFL - in NFL history, actually - is Jaguars center Brandon Linder, and his five-year, $51 million contract extension paid him an average of $10.3 million per year. Meanwhile, the franchise tag for all offensive linemen is projected to be about $14.3 million.
Maybe if the Jets were close to a long-term deal with Johnson, they'd use it as a placeholder. But according to multiple sources, talks on a new deal haven't really begun.
As for the others, the price of the tag is prohibitive. It would likely be $15.2 million for Claiborne or Davis, or around $10 million for Seferian-Jenkins. The Jets, even with a projected $100 million of salary cap space, simply don't think any of them are worth that much.