Jay Gruden: Redskins want to keep Cousins, may be tough to keep him

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Wednesday there's "no doubt" that the Redskins would like to keep Kirk Cousins moving forward but he acknowledged that the better the quarterback plays the more he will be in demand this offseason.

"At the end of the day this is a business and contracts are what they are," Gruden said in a conference call with Bay Area media members. "Players have agents and the player is always going to do what he thinks is best for himself and the family. Kirk is a great guy and we intend on keeping him. That is the plan, I would think. I'm sure not just San Francisco, if he was a free agent, I'm sure there's a lot of teams that would be coming after him, not just San Francisco. The more tape that Kirk puts on film that he performs well like he has the last couple weeks, the harder it will be to keep him around but I think we'll do the best we can to keep him."

The 49ers could fill their biggest need by signing Cousins in the offseason.

The Niners currently project to have more than $90 million in cap space assuming they again roll over the more than $60 million they still have available this year. Current starter Brian Hoyer has struggled through the first five weeks, ranking 29th in the league with a passer rating of 75.8.

The Redskins have the option to use their franchise tender on Cousins for a third consecutive offseason. If Cousins hits the open market, he would have a lot to consider before going to San Francisco with the state of the Niners franchise and costly California state taxes among those things.

In each of the past two years, Cousins has signed one-year franchise tenders worth nearly $44 million combined. That number will take a big leap this offseason when, if the Redskins elected to tag him again, Cousins' price would increase to about $34 million.

That doesn't mean Washington won't be willing to make that move if Cousins continues to play well. He's currently fourth in the NFL in passer rating (107.6) and his combined passer rating of 99.3 over the past two seasons ranks sixth.

Cousins said Wednesday that he's not thinking about his pending free agency.

"Right now, I have so much to do between now and that point and the key is to play football really well between now and then so that when we get to that point, I'll have options and there are teams that will be interested," Cousins said during the conference call. "But if I don't do my part between now and then, it won't matter. So, my focus has to be right now on (playing) the 49ers and then go week to week from there. If I do my part then I'll be in a good position this winter to hopefully have some options."

As the Niners and Redskins prepare to play on Sunday in Washington, the Cousins storyline has taken hold because of the ties between Cousins and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan.

Shanahan was Washington's offensive coordinator in 2012 when the Redskins used a fourth-round pick on Cousins after taking quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection.

According to Cousins, Shanahan and his father Mike, who was then the head coach in Washington, told him that the plan upon drafting him was to develop him and eventually trade him for picks.

That plan never came to fruition as Griffin won Rookie of the Year honors but fizzled out the following season and the Shanahans were let go.

Shanahan and Cousins formed a good relationship in their two seasons together and Shanahan impressed Cousins with the work he did with Griffin.

"When I was with him, the emphasis was with Robert Griffin so I was always impressed with what Kyle was able to do kind of creating an offense to help Robert be successful and do what he had done well prior to coming to Washington with the zone read and then marrying the zone read with our play-action passes," Cousins said. "I thought that was what was most impressive about what Kyle did was the way he handled that first year in what was an evolving system and then Kyle has always been really good with play action passes, with movements, keepers, he really just tries to stay one step ahead and had a really good plan.

"He's a guy who doesn't just call plays to call plays. He doesn't just spin a Rolodex and pull a play out. He designs those plays for a reason and he really thinks it through and when he calls the plays in the game it's very intentional and there's a philosophy behind it. I think his results speak for themselves."

Shanahan said Wednesday that Cousins "looks like the same guy I've always seen."

"Obviously the more you play, the more opportunities you get, the better you get with reps. But he looks exactly like the guy I remember from practices out there and I know he will be a tough challenge for our defense," he said.

For his part, Cousins said it's "always preferred" to have continuity and be able to play in one place your whole career though he also isn't shutting the door on any possibilities as he focuses on the rest of the season.

"There's just so much to do between now and then and this league is so challenging and it's about right now and it's about doing all I can right now to hopefully be in a position where Washington won't let me leave or doesn't want me to leave because I've done my job," Cousins said. "So that's where my focus lies and we'll see how it all shakes out. I've learned in this league through the ups and downs that I've had in my career that you have just got to stay focused on the next game, the next day and let the chips fall where they may down the road."