Unwilling to pay after Cousins' first year as a starter in 2015 and unable to convince Cousins to sign a long-term deal in 2016 or 2017, the two sides were at an impasse. Cousins was too close to unrestricted free agency to sign with Washington.
The Redskins weren't willing to risk Cousins deciding to leave when he eventually became a free agent on March 14.
"Kirk has been there for six years, and I'm sure there's been opportunity that deals could have been worked out," Washington general manager Doug Williams said. "It hasn't been worked out. As a team, you've got to always put yourself in a position in case [of] what might not happen. We can't afford to come to the 12th hour and Kirk decides not to come back and leave us with the bag."
Williams wouldn't talk about the looming trade for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. That can't become official until the new league year begins on March 14. But with one year left on his contract and a four-year extension waiting for him, Smith, at age 34, ensures that stability the organization has sought since the Cousins negotiations went sideways.
"I think we played this [franchise] tag game for a couple of years and it's time to get some stability at our position," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "The most important position in football is quarterback."
Cousins had started all 48 games plus one playoff game between 2015 and 2017, leading the Redskins to the NFC East title in 2015 and a 24-23-1 record. He played under the franchise tag in 2016 ($19.95 million) and 2017 ($23.9 million) and could be tagged again for $34.4 million, but Washington's front office has concluded there's too much risk to go in that direction again just to extract more value from a potential trade partner.
"Kirk wants to do what's best for his family and we're trying to do what's best for our organization and our team," Gruden said. "It just didn't work out."
Gruden shot down reports from Wednesday that Washington is close to trading safety Su'a Cravens, who missed last season on the reserved/left squad list.
"We're not trading him. He's still a member of this team," Gruden said Thursday.
Washington has offered inside linebacker Zach Brown a new contract, but hasn't talked with his representatives "in weeks," according to Williams. Brown has said he wants a longer commitment than the one-year deal he settled for last March after a Pro Bowl season in Buffalo. The Redskins re-signed inside linebacker Mason Foster, but Brown and Will Compton are unrestricted free agents.