Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose rookie contract is now complete, says he hopes to continue the momentum he built with the Redskins' offense going into 2016 and beyond.*
After piecing together one of the best seasons by a quarterback in team history in 2015, there's little doubt that the Washington Redskins would like to see Kirk Cousins return for an encore in 2016.
But there are still lots of decisions to be made by the team before it can pencil in Cousins as its starter for next season – and possibly beyond.
Cousins just wrapped up the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, meaning if he doesn't work out a new deal with the Redskins – or if the team doesn't decide to use the franchise tag on the Michigan State product – then he could become a free agent on March 9.
After deciding to focus on the regular season, and not his expiring contract, throughout 2015 – a strategy that "served us well," according to the quarterback – Cousins said "it'll be interesting to see where we're at" as his representatives and the team meet over the next couple months to possibly try to work out a long-term deal.
"I'm hoping for an opportunity to be the guy here for a long time and hopefully build on this season," Cousins told Larry Michael and Sonny Jurgensen Sunday night in the ESPN980 postgame show.
After being named the starter in the days leading to the team's season opener against the Miami Dolphins, Cousins overcame a slow start to turn in a record-breaking season under center for the Redskins.
He finished the regular season having completed 379-of-543 passes (69.8 percent) for 4,166 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 101.6. His passing yards, completions and attempts were the most by a quarterback in Redskins history.
His 69.8 completion percentage, meanwhile, was the second-highest figure in team history (70.3 by Sammy Baugh in 1945), and marked the eighth-best single-season percentage in NFL history among qualified passers.
Most importantly, he helped lead the Redskins to their first division title since 2012, giving Redskins fans hope that something special could be brewing in Washington, D.C.
To keep that momentum going into next season and beyond, Cousins said it's important to "want to be where I am wanted, and you want to be with people who believe in you."
"And we are going to find out – because we haven't discussed it much yet – how much I am wanted and where that'll go," Cousins said in his postgame press conference. "But you know I'm sure it's a business and the team is going to operate with that mindset, and this is my first time going through this process in the NFL, so it's new to me – don't know a whole lot about it, so we'll see how it goes."
Cousins on Sunday had a good blueprint for his own career trajectory in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. After overcoming a slow start, Rodgers would lead his team to five straight scoring drives to put away the Redskins, 35-18, and advance to next week's NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.
Statistically, Cousins was right there with Rodgers on Sunday: 29-of-47 passes (63 percent) for 329 yards with a touchdown for a 91.7 rating. He also ran for a three-yard touchdown. Rodgers completed 21-of-36 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns for a 93.5 rating.
"Kirk did some good things – he really did," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said in his ESPN980 postgame interview. "All of us together, play-calling wise, their offensive line, running backs whatever, had to get the job done and we didn't have as many opportunities as we [would've] liked."
If the Redskins do elect to utilize the franchise tag on Cousins – or any player currently on the roster – the first day for NFL clubs to make that move is Feb. 16. The deadline is 4 p.m. March 1.
If Washington does not elect to use the franchise tag on Cousins, then other teams are permitted to contact – and enter contract negotiations – with him from March 7-9. At 4 p.m. March 9, he would become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team.