Branch recovered the ball with an assist from defensive end Rob Ninkovich

Whether via the franchise tag or a new deal with the Redskins or another team, Kirk Cousins looks set to cash in this offseason.

If Cousins signs before those others, there’s no way he’ll end up as the highest-paid. If others sign before him, the price tag inches higher. You can make a strong case he shouldn’t be the highest-paid of this group no matter when he signs. But Cousins owns the leverage. The Redskins control whether or not he returns through the franchise tag.

Also, Cousins and his agent, Mike McCartney, are well aware of their leverage. They know if the Redskins don’t make a strong offer, Cousins will either be allowed to hit the open market or receive the franchise tag. The tag number is approximately $24 million.

Any deal must average that amount to entice him to sign. Why? Because Cousins’ side also knows that if he’s tagged by the March 1 deadline, the 2018 tag would be $34.5 million, a figure no team would pay. So he’d be entering unrestricted free agency, where his deal could be a lot higher (assuming he plays well, of course).

On linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s strip-sack in the fourth quarter that turned out to be a game-turning play, Branch recovered the ball with an assist from defensive end Rob Ninkovich.

“Honestly, I didn’t even see the sack happen,” Branch relayed on Sirius XM NFL radio. “I was getting double-teamed, and I saw a hand hit the ball out, and I saw the ball kind of floating in the air. My first initial reaction was to try to catch it. So I reached out, that wasn’t happening, and I didn’t know if it was an incomplete pass or a fumble. With the Patriots’ defense, they tell you it doesn’t matter and ‘fall on the ball and let the refs sort it out.’

Branch thought he might have recovered the fumble regardless — he was throwing some elbows — but felt Ninkovich’s assist made it a lot easier.