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Redskins face crossroads with Kirk Cousins

The Washington Redskins have gone 9-7 in consecutive seasons. The first time, it was good enough to win the NFC East and get them back into the playoffs for the first time since Robert Griffin III took the league by storm his rookie year. This season, the 9-7 mark left Washington in third place behind the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, and outside of the playoff picture.

Now, the Redskins face a critical offseason. There are all kinds of players getting ready to hit the open market in Washington, and only one franchise tag can be used. Looking at their cap situation, the Redskins are in decent shape. The front office has done a nice job not getting tied down with any long or hideous contracts, allowing it to pivot in the current market. Assuming the salary cap is $170 million, the team will roughly have $63 million in space to play with.

General manager Scot McCloughlan will need to spend plenty of that money, and a majority of it better be on retaining quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins, 28, played on the franchise tag this season at a shade under $20 million. If the team has to tag him again, he will eat up a whopping $24 million of Washington’s available space. Once you factor in some minimum contracts and the draft class, about half of the Redskins’ spending spree will have been spoken for.

Here’s the other problem with tagging Cousins; you are increasingly likely to lose him after this season. Washington would have until midday on July 15 to sign Cousins to a long-term deal. If that doesn’t happen, the team can’t negotiate with him again until the following offseason. At that point, Cousins and his representation would be foolish to talk deal until free agency begins, when he would get bowled over with offers provided he has another good year.

McCloughlan has to be smart and aggressive now. Sign Cousins before the tampering window on March 7 and do two things; lower his first-year cap hit to save space, and get this deal done now and for years to come.

After that, the Redskins will need to make decisions on wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, along with defensive end Chris Baker. Washington has to upgrade the defense, one that has been a mess in the front seven outside of Ryan Kerrigan for quite some time.

This offseason is going to determine how successful the Redskins are for years to come. The right moves, and Washington could contend in the NFC East alongside Dallas and New York. The wrong ones, and it is sweeping the basement.

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