Kirk Cousins could easily feel uncertain about his future with the Washington Redskins. There have been two rounds of tense negotiations with little progress, coupled with the history of the Redskins not valuing him enough to have already signed him to a long term deal.
Yet as another deadline looms, Cousins harbors no animosity toward Eric Schaffer, the person he describes as the team’s ”classy” chief negotiator.
”This isn’t his first rodeo,” Cousins said of Schaffer. ”I have a lot of faith in him not only in handling my situation, but when my situation is handled, handling everybody else’s. I have faith in that. But make no mistake: There are titles ahead of him.”
People in the organizational pecking order with titles above Schaffer include owner Dan Snyder, president Bruce Allen and senior vice president of player personnel Doug Williams, so it’s far from just Schaffer hammering out an agreement with Cousins and agent Mike McCartney.
”Those people make decisions, too,” Cousins said.
When Williams was promoted June 13 in the wake of general manager Scot McCloughan’s firing, he said he’d let Schaffer – who was elevated the same day to senior VP of football operations and general counsel – ”finish the job” with Cousins.
That’s no easy task as another deadline looms Monday for Washington and Cousins’ camp to work out a long-term deal or have the quarterback play a second consecutive season on the franchise tag, this time at $23.95 million. Cousins and all involved have faith in Schaffer, a level-headed, organized and knowledgeable professional who has helped keep a sometimes drama-strained front office on track for more than a decade.
”We’re not trying to win a championship with our contract,” Schaffer said. ”We’re trying to win a championship on the field.”
This negotiation is complicated not only given the Redskins’ regime change but Cousins’ back-to-back franchise-record 4,000 yard seasons combined with some ill-timed late-season interceptions and no playoff victories. The 28-year-old is going into his third full season as an NFL starter and seems to have all the leverage based on his numbers and potential interest around the league if he’s available, but Schaffer is a seasoned negotiator who doesn’t feel this is any different from past deals he has worked on.
”I just view it as – just being totally honest – we’d like to have you here, we certainly want to build a team around you to succeed,” Schaffer said. ”We feel like there’s certainly a lot to offer, and we’re a good place to play for quarterbacks. So that stuff will work itself out.”
If it doesn’t work out this time and the Cousins saga drags on to next spring, Schaffer won’t be fazed. Schaffer began working at IMG at age 17 and learned under prominent agent Tom Condon, helping negotiate deals for Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Tony Gonzalez, and in 14 years with the Redskins has climbed the ladder after starting as their salary-cap manager.
A Cleveland native, Schaffer worked for IMG full-time as he attended Michigan and went from intern to motorsports account executive and client manager to football. During his three years mentoring Schaffer, Condon saw a bright guy and taught him that in an industry filled with smart people he needed to outwork everyone and has developed even more admiration by negotiating with him.
”You treat each other with respect and work hard at it, and he’s a good football man, so he understands the football side of it, as well,” Condon said. ”He can really handle a lot of different things.”
Schaffer has entrenched himself in coaching and scouting meetings and video sessions to round out his skillset.
”What’s always been great about Dan Snyder and the coaches and the management and Bruce is that they never viewed me as, `You’re a salary-cap guy or you’re a lawyer’ or you’re a this or that,” Schaffer said. ”They always took my football opinion.”
Schaffer made sure he has always had an informed football opinion. Despite going into his 15th season with Washington, he has taken pains to document his thoughts and those of colleagues to share later.
”Nobody takes notes like Eric Schaffer,” Williams said. ”I bet he can tell you the first word I said four years ago. That’s who Eric Schaffer is. That’s how important he is.”
Enough people appreciate Schaffer’s value that he’s on the league office’s list of potential future presidents and GMs. Condon said Schaffer has the business, football and management experience to be a GM.
Allen called Schaffer ”a unique person who has many talents and wears many hats” for the Redskins. One very important job is holding the keys to the Redskins’ future as he deals with Cousins.
”Eric has a big role,” Cousins said. ”It’s a team effort making decisions and Eric certainly has a voice in that – a big voice.”
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