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49ers need to think about Plan B with Cousins, Redskins making progress in contract talks



A month ago I wrote the 49ers were going to have a tougher time than many expected dealing with Kirk Cousins’ agent. Former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan was clear his dealings with Mike McCartney were not always pleasant.

I also reported back in March that Washington owner Dan Snyder was one reason the Redskins were unwilling to trade Cousins to the 49ers, because of bad blood remaining between Snyder and Kyle Shanahan, who was fired in 2013.

Three months later, circumstances are changing a bit in D.C., and it could mess up San Francisco’s long term plan at quarterback. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has new details.

One reason for the positive outlook is that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has gotten involved, making it known how much Washington wants to re-sign Cousins.

At last month’s owners meetings in Chicago, Redskins president Bruce Allen and Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, had their first face-to-face meeting in the two years since Washington first used the franchise tag on the starting quarterback, sources said. It was the first of two face-to-face meetings between the two sides, as they continue to negotiate a long-term deal.

Now there is a belief that even if a deal doesn’t get completed before the NFL deadline for franchise players next month — and it still will be challenging, even with the thawing between the two sides — that one could be struck after next season, keeping Cousins in Washington long term.

The bottom line is that the Redskins’ reputation in D.C. is as bad as its ever been. Firing McCloughan — the one good thing the team had going for itself other than Cousins — was possibly the worst decision Snyder has made since taking over the team in 1999. Losing Cousins next offseason really could be the final straw. Season ticket holders will finally say enough is enough. Snyder obviously doesn’t care about the fans, but he doesn’t want to lose money.

What’s the best way to build equity back up with the fan base? Come in at the last second and re-sign Cousins. Snyder and Allen will make themselves look like heroes. Redskins fans — and new GM candidates the team is supposedly looking at — are gullible enough to believe the franchise is no longer dysfunctional and money will keep pouring in.

This exact scenario is why I pushed for the 49ers to pursue Cousins this offseason. Nothing is ever set in stone in the NFL. I’m unclear how serious the trade discussions got, but Snyder ultimately was never going to allow it to happen. He does not want to see Shanahan succeed with Cousins.

So what’s Plan B? Shanahan knows he could be staring at two years of Brian Hoyer, or potentially starting third-round pick C.J. Beathard in 2018. How good will Hoyer have to be to earn the starting nod in consecutive years? His last full season as a starter with the Texans in 2015 produced 19 touchdowns, just seven interceptions and a playoff berth. If the 49ers go 6-10 and show signs of improvement, it would be tough to let the stability of Hoyer go. That said, Beathard has shown potential this spring. There will be voices in Santa Clara who’ll want to see him get a chance.

Top prospects coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft include Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Allen (Wyoming), Josh Rosen (UCLA) and Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State). The caveat is that Shanahan prefers college quarterbacks who play in a pro-style system. Spread-style quarterbacks Darnold and Allen are regarded as the top prospects, but Rosen and Rudolph play in pro-style offenses. Also at this time last year, Deshaun Watson was considered a slam dunk as the No. 1 overall pick, as was Matt Leinart many moons ago. A lot can change in one football season.

As for the free agent market, Drew Brees and Matt Stafford are the other intriguing names, but it would be astonishing if either team let their gunslinger walk.

The 49ers will hope the summer deadline passes without Cousins signing a new deal. Hoping, and coming up with a Plan B, is really all they can do at this point.