ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Kirk Cousins is trying hard to avoid thinking about his future.
Now that the Washington Redskins are essentially eliminated from playoff contention at 5-7 , that challenge is getting more difficult.
With four games left, the quarterback's contract status and where he'll be playing next season is the biggest question facing the team.
"It's human nature to want to look ahead and know the plan and know what's coming next," Cousins said Wednesday.
"But it's been great for me to exercise that muscle of every time those thoughts do show up to say: 'Let's focus on the present.
"Let's be right here, right now, and understand that that's the best way to prepare for the future. And I've certainly had to remind myself of that many, many times as my mind does drift, but as you practice that discipline, you get better at it."
Cousins is on pace for his third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season while being on the verge of free agency. He's the first quarterback in NFL history to play back-to-back seasons on the franchise tag, and it's not out of the question that the Redskins do the same in 2018, even at a price of $34.47 million
Washington could also try the transition tag on Cousins at $28.78 million, which would net the Michigan State product just under $73 million from 2016-18.
According to an NFL Network report, the Redskins were waiting to see how the 29-year-old performed down the stretch before deciding their course of action.
Since becoming the full-time starter, Cousins has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 75 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. Beginning Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers , coach Jay Gruden just wants to see steady growth and progression from Cousins.
"He's had a lot of different linemen he's played with, he's had new receivers he's had to play with, tight ends have kind of been in and out, running backs, we've had a lot of new ones there," Gruden said.
"He's done a great job of competing and doing the best he can. And he's still learning as he goes. ... He's still just continuing to get better and better, and that's what we want to see."
Cousins drew criticism for throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble in a 38-14 loss at Dallas last week, but teammates have plenty of praise for how he has handled this season with a revolving supporting cast.
"He's prepared for anything," tight end Vernon Davis said. "He's a leader. He's everything that you would want on your football team, and we're elated to have him here and to share this experience with him."
Cousins is drawing on previous experiences — no scholarship offers as a high school senior, little hype in his draft year and so many one-year contracts — to carry him through the next month.
He called the franchise tag preventing his agent and the team from negotiating in-season a "blessing in disguise" to keep himself focused.
But Cousins is using the contract status he and teammates have as a motivating factor down the stretch.
"Anybody who is on a final year of their contract for the Redskins, you want an opportunity this February, this March? Let's go win the last four games," Cousins said.
"And I've got to believe that if we do that, every one of us is going to have a great opportunity in February and March."
NOTES: Gruden said there's a "chance" TE Jordan Reed plays at L.A. despite missing another practice with a strained right hamstring. Reed said he's taking it day by day. ... LT Trent Williams (right knee), LB Zach Brown (hamstring/Achilles tendon) and S Montae Nicholson (concussion) also did not practice. Gruden said Nicholson had a bit of a setback in his recovery.