The Washington Redskins announced on Tuesday that they have placed quarterback Kirk Cousins on the non-exclusive franchise tag, keeping him with the team in 2016 but potentially allowing him to negotiate with other teams.
Kirk Cousins is officially back with the Washington Redskins after his breakout 2015 season -- for now.
The Redskins on Tuesday announced that they have placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, which is essentially a one-year, fully-guaranteed deal.
But the non-exclusive designation means the player is allowed to negotiate with other teams. If he were to receive an offer from another organization, the Redskins have the right to match, or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
Applying the franchise tag on Cousins also allows the Redskins to continue to work on a long-term deal with the quarterback until a July 15 deadline.
During the Redskins' NFC East-winning season in 2015, Cousins set numerous single-season franchise records, including passing attempts (543), completions (379), passing yards (4,166) and 300-yard passing games (seven).
He became the first Redskins quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in all 16 regular season games since the 16-game schedule was installed for the 1978 season.
Cousins was also named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December (which included the Redskins' Week 17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 3) when he completed 111-of-151 passes for 1,379 yards and 13 touchdowns to one interception while leading the Redskins to a 4-1 record over that span.
"The more he gets in the same system, the better he's going to be," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said at the NFL Combine last week. "He's already showing progress at a fast rate, for a young quarterback in a system for the first time."
Cousins' tremendous season was unlikely considering where it started.
Check out the top images of Kirk Cousins from the 2015 season.
After Robert Griffin III was injured during the second week of the 2014 season, Cousins was inserted into the starting lineup with mixed results.
In some games, like his Week 2 performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars (250 yards, two touchdowns) and Week 3 showcase against the Philadelphia Eagles (427 yards, three touchdowns), Cousins looked like one of the sharpest players in the NFL despite the fact he spent most of the first three years of his career on the bench.
But the Michigan State product was also plagued by bad performances and sometimes erratic throws, as he threw just five touchdowns to eight interceptions from Weeks 4-7 before being pulled at halftime of the Redskins' victory over the Tennessee Titans Week 7.
Cousins would not see action again for the rest of the season.
After spending all of the past offseason alternating second- and third-team reps with Colt McCoy, Cousins would be announced as the team's starting quarterback for the 2015 season.
"Well he did it without the luxury of being the No. 1 guy ever in this offense," Gruden said of Cousins' season. "Training camp, OTAs - he's always been second fiddle and hadn't gotten the reps. And then when we announced him the first-team quarterback after the third preseason game was really the first time we really catered the offense to him and he took it and ran with it."
If Cousins does return to the Redskins in 2016, Gruden said he'll certainly benefit from being the starter from Day 1 of offseason workouts.
"You could see him progress and get better and better every week and that's what you look for in any player," Gruden said. "And we feel like with the whole offseason catered to him, OTAs, training camp, all that stuff. He's got a big upside."
Cousins has received support from teammates about his return, as wide receiver Pierre Garçon and defensive linemen Chris Baker have both tweeted their desire to have the quarterback back under center for the 2016 season.
"Kirk's a great player," tight end Jordan Reed — Cousins' favorite target during the season — said. "I don't think it's a question anymore of his talent and his potential. I just think that all of us believe in him and I think you guys should start seeing it too."
As the Redskins look for improved play from Cousins as the incumbent starting quarterback, they're also building up the team around him.
It could be just the beginning of something special.
"I'm hoping for an opportunity to be the guy here for a long time and hopefully build on [the 2015] season," Cousins said.