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Kirk Cousins will be a free agent as Redskins officially decline to use franchise tag

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before the game between the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

What was widely anticipated is now official with the passing of Tuesday's 4 p.m. NFL franchise tag deadline: Kirk Cousins will become a free agent.

The Washington Redskins did not place the franchise tag on the quarterback for a third consecutive year, a source familiar with the decision confirmed to The Washington Post, clearing the way for Cousins to hit free agency on March 14.

Cousins became the first quarterback in league history last year to play consecutive years under the franchise tag. He earned a combined $43,896,600 in the last two seasons.

The team and Cousins could never agree on a long-term deal, so the Redskins moved on and executed a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith that will also become official on March 14. The Redskins signed him to a four-year extension worth up to $94 million. The team cannot comment on the deal until it is official.

Coach Jay Gruden lamented last week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis that it was time "to get some stability" at the position after living year-to-year .

"The decisions that the quarterback has to make on every given play and every situation are critical to the success of a football team," Gruden said. "And hopefully we'll get a guy in here who's consistently made good, sound decisions in those situations year in and year out for a very long time."

There was a thought the team could place the franchise tag on Cousins again even after agreeing to trade for Smith and attempt to then trade Cousins. There was heavy risk with that move though as Cousins planned to file a grievance through the NFL players union if tagged, a person with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Washington Post. The team also would not have been able to trade Cousins until he signed the franchise tag offer, something he could have prolonged that in turn would have hindered Washington's pursuit of other free agents.

Doug Williams, the team's senior vice president of player personnel, said at the combine that tagging Cousins was never a serious consideration.

Cousins is expected to sign a massive deal in free agency, possibly the richest in league history. The New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns are among the teams in need of quarterback help.

The team cuts ties with Cousins after he started every game for the organization over the last three seasons, throwing for more than 4,000 yards in each and being selected for the Pro Bowl in 2016. He was drafted by the team in the fourth round of the 2012 draft despite the team selecting Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick. Cousins succeeded Griffin in 2014 after the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year continued to be plagued with injuries and increasingly poor play.