Kirk Cousins knows Sunday’s game is a psuedo-audition to become the 49ers’ next franchise quarterback. Or stay as Washington’s. Or, for that matter, go elsewhere he might be wanted.
His 2018 fate won’t be known until … 2018.
“The key is to play football and play well between now and then, so that when we get to that point, I’ll have options and there will be teams that will be interested,” Cousin said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area media.
“But if I don’t do my part between now and then, it won’t matter. My focus has to be right now on the 49ers and go week to week from there.”
Cousins and Washington (2-2) host the 49ers (0-5) on Sunday.
“If I do my part, I’ll be in a good position this winter to have hopefully options,” Cousins added. “Until we get there, it’s silly to try to think ahead when there’s so much that will determine where I’ll be sitting at that point.”
Cousins, 29, obviously is closely linked to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. When Washington drafted Cousins with a 2012 fourth-round pick, Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and vowed to develop Cousins into a tradeable commodity.
Washington coach Jay Gruden, not surprisingly, prefers his starting quarterback stays put.
“Oh yeah, no doubt about it,” Gruden said on a conference call. “But at the end of the day this is a business. Contracts are what they are, players have agents and the players always have to do what he thinks is best for himself and his family
“Kirk’s a great guy and we plan on keeping him,” Gruden added. “That is the plan, I think. If he’s a free agent, I’m sure a lot of teams will be coming after him, not just San Francisco. Kirk knows that.”
Cousins went 0-3 as Washington’s starter in the 2013 season that ushered out Shanahan and his father, Mike, Washington’s coach. After going 1-4 in 2014 starts, Cousins broke out into a bona fide starter, going 9-7 in 2015, 8-7-1 in 2016 and now 2-2 this season under coach Jay Gruden.
Cousins’ 107.6 passer rating ranks fourth in the NFL behind Alex Smith, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Only one of Cousins’ 121 passes have been intercepted, as he’s completed 66.1 percent for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.
“The more tape Kirk puts on film that he performs well, like the last couple weeks, the harder it will be to keep him around,” Gruden said.
The 49ers (0-5) are still seeking their first win under Shanahan with quraterback Brian Hoyer, having lost each of their past four games by three points or less, the past two in overtime on the road at Arizona and Indianapolis.
“Kyle knows they’re close and the results could be a lot different if a couple plays goes there way,” Cousins said. “When it’s that close and the margin for error is that small, you don’t have a whole lot of reason to be down. You have a whole lot of reason to be excited for the future and see there is a lot of potential, those breaks will start to fall your way and good things happen.”
Sounds like Cousins just gave his first motivational speech to the 49ers.
One area the 49ers do lead the league is salary cap space, with $62.9 million available. Assuming they roll over a chunk of that onto 2018 — they brought $38 million into 2018 — then they’ll have a significant amount they can spend in free agency, perhaps in the $100 million range when factoring in existing and expiring contracts.
Cousins is making close to $24 million this year under the franchise tag, and a third consecutive tag would force Washington to pay him over $34 million in 2018. Negotiations on a long-term deal can not be restarted until the offseason, per league rules.
Similar contract limbo last year has made such talk infrequent this year.
“This is not our first rodeo. We know how to focus on the job at hand,” Cousins said. “There are so many players in this league, and specifically on our team, who are on one-year contracts and we don’t know where we’re going to be next year. That’s just the way this league works.”
Cousins said he hasn’t reached out to Shanahan to offer encouragement through the 49ers’ first 0-5 start since 2010, but Cousins remains fond of both Kyle and Mike Shanahan.
“Mike took a chance on me in the fourth round back in 2012 and told me when I arrived it was a unique decision for me to come to Washington, them having drafted Robert (Griffin) with the No. 2 pick,” Cousins recalled. “He believed in me back when I was falling in the draft and looking for someone to believe in me.
“Unfortunately it didn’t work out with them here,” Cousins said of the Shanahans. “I respect them a lot, respect their coaching acumen and wish them all the best.”
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