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CBA gives Kirk Cousins an immediate path to checkmate, if Washington tags him again

Mike Florio

A.J. McCarron may not be the only quarterback who secures his freedom via the NFL’s grievance process.

Albert Breer of SI.com reports that, if Washington applies the franchise tag to Kirk Cousins for a third straight year, “his camp will quickly file a grievance to block the tag, based on Washington violating the spirit of the rules, which dictate that players are tagged as a mechanism for teams to buy time in getting a long-term deal done.”

Actually, Cousins’ case would be far stronger than that, with the muscle coming not from the inherently ambiguous “spirit of the rules” but on the plain language of them. Article 4, Section 8, subsection (b) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement says this: “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.”

In English, when a team applies the franchise tender, the team must intend to employ the player at the amount of the franchise tender for the upcoming season. With Washington already planning to trade for, and to extend the contract of, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, there’s no way that Washington intends to employ Cousins at $34.47 million for 2018.

This portion of the labor deal provides Cousins with a silver bullet to block either the franchise tag or the transition tag, which would require Washington to have a good-faith intent to employ Cousins at $28.7 million. The fact that the window for tagging players closes a week before the start of free agency means that Cousins will have seven days to secure a ruling before the market opens. Given the widespread reports of Washington’s plans to acquire and extend Alex Smith, it shouldn’t take seven minutes for an arbitrator to issue a ruling.

There’s also an argument to be made that Cousins shouldn’t wait for Washington to put him in check before declaring checkmate. Given the Super Sunday Splash Report! from ESPN that Washington is considering tagging Cousins so that it can trade him (a plan that on its face violates Article 4, Section 8, subsection (b)), Cousins could file his grievance now, forcing Washington to put its cards on the table well before March 7.