Editor’s note: Future Forecast is a new series brought to you by the team at the49ersJub.com. The goal of the series for a member of the team to make a prediction about the organization and present their argument. The prediction cannot be an in-season prediction and it has to be about the 49ers, not another team or the league as a whole. Note: This was written before Week 1.
Prediction: Kirk Cousins will not be a future 49er
Argument: As soon as Kyle Shanahan was hired to be the head coach of the 49ers we began hearing rumblings of the interest he had in Kirk Cousins as potential future starting QB for the team and given the deterioration of Cousins’ relationship with the front office of the Washington organization it was easy to see a scenario where that was a realistic outcome. Cousins was a QB that Shanahan lobbied for heavily when he was the offensive coordinator in Washington under his father, Mike Shanahan. The three years that the two spent in Washington were viewed as a vital reason as to why Cousins took over and has ultimately become the permanent starter with the team.
Given the team’s refusal to give Cousins the contract that he deserves and how they have handled the situation it's easy to assume that Cousins is itching to leave and head towards an organization that will give him the longterm stability that he deserves. That is in dire need of a longterm and effective answer at the QB position with the ability to pay what a top flight free agent QB would be looking for on the open market. It would also reunite him with the offensive mind that brought him into the league and that helped to nature and develop his skills. It would also give him the opportunity to play in an offense and for a play caller that is viewed as amongst the most effective and dangerous in the league. Playing for one of the landmark organizations in the league that has begun to rebound for the a down period that has placed them amongst the worst run teams in the league.
It's easy to see the connections between Cousins, Shanahan and the 49ers, so why am I predicting that Cousins will not end up with the 49ers? Because of the multiple variables and factors that will come into play by the time the 2018 free agent period begins.
Let's start from the 49ers perspective, there are varying opinions on where the 49ers will end the 2017 season from a win-loss viewpoint. Some are taking a very negative approach and believe that they will once again be picking at the very top of the 2018 draft, citing the young and unproven roster, holes at key positions and the uncertainty at the QB spot. While others are view the 2017 version of the team in a more positive lit and believe that the team will be a more competitive and ultimately significantly improve their win total from last year’s club. The expectations from this group of people is not that this will be a playoff team or will even be in the running to compete for a wildcard spot but that this could be a 5 to 6 win team. In terms of picking in the draft we are talking about a team that will be picking in the top 6 or 7 picks no matter the season outcome that we pick.
In most years a team picking 5 through 7 meant that they would be out of the running for an elite level QB prospect, especially given the recent trend of desperate teams willing to “mortgage the future” by trading up for a QB. That is seemingly not the case with the 2018 class of QBs. Well respected former NFL general manager Scot McCloughan, who is an amazing follow on Twitter recently said that he has evaluated 5 QB prospects who he views to have legitimate 1st round talent. That group includes Josh Allen of Wyoming, Josh Rosen of UCLA and Sam Darold of USC. Now while the 49ers and others may have a differing viewpoint on this group McCloughan viewpoint is a well respected one that will obviously carry weight throughout the league.
The 49ers are likely to be in a position where one of the 5 QB prospects that McCloughan was referring to will be available and depending on Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s evaluation of this group their top QB could fall right into their hands or they could very well be aggressive and move up to grab their top target. With the Vance McDonald trade the team has 6 picks in the 1st 4 rounds of next year’s draft, that includes a 1 1st round pick, 2 2nd round picks, 2 3rd round picks and a 4th round pick. With that kind of draft capital and the over 100 million in estimate cap space that they will have in 2018 they have the ability to be aggressive while not mortgaging their ability to overturn the roster the way they see fit.
While they have the ability to pay the contract demands that Cousins will have the 49ers have shown themselves to be a fiscally responsible organization that will not simply pay top dollar to any high priced free agent. Under the management of Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Paarag Marathe the 49ers have been an organization that is values fiscal flexibility when it comes to their salary cap situation. Unless the contract structure allows for the 49ers to maintain their flexibility they will not meet the demands of Cousins and his representation.
It's easy to see how a 1st round QB in this era of the rookie salary cap who has the 5th year option attached to his contract would be far more appealing than a QB who is looking to set the new benchmark for average salary per year with top end guaranteed money. No matter the feelings that Kyle Shanahan has for Kirk Cousins that will play a significant role in whether or not.
Now we come to the Washington football organization (yes I am one of those people that refuses to call them by their nickname). Let's face it since Dan Snyder took over as owner of the team Washington has been one of the most dysfunctionally run organizations in all of team sports. They have never had real continuity in the almost 20 years that he has been owner of the team. Their dysfunction as an organization has been well documented by many national and local sport writers. The reason I bring this up in relation to the discussion about Kirk Cousins is how they have handled his contract extension discussions. By all accounts they have royally screwed up this process and has made it a far more contentious situation than it needed to be. Recent 49ershub podcast guest Kevin Jones outlined the issues on both sides and gave a great perspective on the situation, so you the listener should definitely go back and listen to that episode. One would presume that given the serious issues that both sides have and the lack of commitment that they given Cousins that it would mean that the 2017 season would be his last in Washington but if you listen someone who is as plugged in as Jones that may not be the case.
Jones indicated that Snyder’s involvement in this situation could lead to Cousins extending his stay in Washington, whether that is on a short term basis due to a 3rd straight franchise tag or Cousins finally receiving that longterm extension he has fought so hard for. Jones’ sources have told him that Snyder will do all he can to stop Cousins from reuniting with Shanahan and he fears that the two would really succeed together with the 49ers and that it would be viewed as an embarrassment if that occurred.
There is also the lack of a backup plan behind to Cousins that will play a factor in this, while the reporting out of Washington seems to indicate the belief they have in backup Colt McCoy as viable starter no one really believes that they have that level of faith in him. Washington could turn to a rookie QB as a potential option going forward but that would mean that they would have to be to willing to endure the struggles that would come with a rookie and given their history that do not seem to be an organization that has the patience to foster the right environment that is needed to develop a young QB. These factors could play into the level of willingness they will have to pay Cousins.
The final aspect of this argument comes in the form of the rest of the NFL and the level of interest Cousins will have around the league and how that will impact the way the 49ers and Washington will view Cousins. While there are teams that will look to the draft to find their answer at the QB position there will still be teams that zero in on Cousins. Teams like the Rams, Broncos, Cardinals and Jaguars could be looking at a veteran option at the position over a young and developmental QB that requires time and patience to see results on the field. If there is a legitimate bidding war for his services it could deter the 49ers from landing him and it could force Washington to do all they can to keep.
When it comes to the prospect of Kirk Cousins becoming the next starting QB of the 49ers I believe there are too many variables involved to say that it's the most likely outcome. In fact I think it makes it more of an unlikelihood that he doesn't join the franchise and they are forced to look elsewhere for their potential longterm answer. Whether it's Dan Snyder’s involvement, the interest from other teams around the league or the 49ers restraining themselves from the lofty contract demands I am predicting that Kirk Cousins will not be a future 49er.