Market heating up for free agent quarterback Cousins

Quarterback-hungry teams will be lining up to make Kirk Cousins a very rich man once the NFL’s free agency period begins. Cousins is on his way to the free agent market in March unless the Washington Redskins apply a franchise tag to him for a third straight season, and Washington appears to have moved on from Cousins by agreeing to a trade for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Cousins should have plenty of options to choose from, with some possibly making him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

Cousins established himself as a top option at quarterback over the last three seasons, helping Washington reach the playoffs in 2015. His consistency - throwing for more than 13,000 yards over the last three seasons - and durability - having not missed a start since he was given the role - are the kind of attributes that give Cousins an edge over his fellow free-agent quarterbacks or any prodigal draft talent. It will be up to Cousins to decide which franchise’s outlook suits him best.

Struggling teams with plenty of cap space will be able to make Cousins the biggest offers. The Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets are both well-positioned to dwarf Jimmy Garoppolo’s record $137 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, with the New York Post reporting the Jets could offer Cousins a record $60 million first-year payout but neither the Jets nor the Browns look like they will be competitive any time soon. Cousins has previously stated his decision will not be all about money with his desire to win playing a big role as well.

Teams in a better position to compete like the Denver Broncos, the Jacksonville Jaguars, or the Buffalo Bills, could all still give Cousins the top annual salary in the league - if by a slimmer margin. And the Minnesota Vikings could offer perhaps the most intriguing destination for Cousins, putting him immediately in contention for a Super Bowl and setting off a chain of free-agent dominoes with the likes of Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater.

Wherever Cousins ends up, the large financial commitment he receives will carry with it a weight of expectation greater than what he felt while under the franchise tag. The next hurdle in Cousins’ career will be rising to those expectations, and finding the postseason success he couldn’t with Washington.