Winners, Losers and Takeaways from Redskins-Chiefs Trade Involving Alex Smith
Super Bowl LII will be played in Minneapolis in four days, but the most important story in the NFL is occurring more than 900 miles southeast in Washington, D.C. That's where the Washington Redskins pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal likely to have a tremendous impact on the future of several key players and teams as well as the 2018 quarterback carousel and draft.
As Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star first reported Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to deal three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins in exchange for a 2018 third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller. Smith also reportedly agreed to terms on a four-year, $94 million contract extension, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.
What does it all mean, Basil? Here's a look at who won, who lost and who else might be affected by the trade that shook up Super Bowl week.
He'll have a chance to prove his seemingly aberrational 2017 season wasn't a fluke in a new environment, without a first-round heir apparent breathing down his neck.
Regardless of how much blame he deserved for Kansas City's repeated playoff failures, fans and the media were going to call for Patrick Mahomes to start over Smith, and even if Smith were to win the starting job in the summertime, his leash would have been short.
Now, even if the Redskins draft a quarterback early, Smith will probably have more room to breathe.
Of course. The 2017 No. 10 overall pick out of Texas Tech will almost certainly become a starting quarterback in the NFL. I'd say that's a victory.
It was time for them to move on. They won one playoff game in Smith's five seasons, and the wild-card choke job against the Tennessee Titans made it clear they have limitations under Smith and head coach Andy Reid. Reid should be gone too—how in the world does a coach survive four embarrassing playoff losses in a five-year span?—but this was a step in the right direction.
In its deal to move up to draft Mahomes, Kansas City spent two first-round picks and a third-rounder on the 22-year-old. Time to see if the kid can live up to the hype—and if he and Reid can accomplish what Smith and Reid never could by winning in January.
Getting Fuller and a third-round pick was just gravy for a Chiefs team that will have more financial flexibility in the offseason.
Teams with money to spend on Kirk Cousins
According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, the Cleveland Browns tried to trade for Smith. If indeed they tried and failed to acquire a potential franchise quarterback for the second time in three months, it has to be viewed as a loss.
That being said, at least the Browns can take solace in the fact Cousins is likely to become a free agent and, according to Spotrac, only the San Francisco 49ers are slated to have more salary cap space than the Browns.
The biggest winner might be the New York Jets. They have the money to pay Cousins, and there's no indication they lost a bidding war for Smith.
Teams looking to draft a quarterback in the first round
Cousins is likely to land elsewhere, and the team he moves to is less likely to use a first-round pick on a quarterback. That could make it easier for teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills to land a franchise quarterback outside the top 12.
They essentially tossed aside a 29-year-old with a career passer rating of 93.7 for a 33-year-old with a career rating of 87.4, and they gave up a promising young cornerback and a third-round pick in the process.
If they felt the only alternative to this was to slap Cousins with a third consecutive franchise tag (at $34 million), they're saving several million dollars against the 2018 salary cap. And I wouldn't blame the Redskins for believing $34 million was too much to give Cousins for one season, especially with no tag available beyond 2018.
I also wouldn't blame them for wondering if Cousins is worth what he'll command on the open market. And it is fair to be concerned that Cousins' passer rating dropped from 2015 (his first full season as Washington's starter) to 2016 and then again from 2016 to 2017 and that his numbers plummeted during this season—from September (105.3 rating) to October (102.0) to November (94.6) to December (75.0). Free-agent departures and injuries surely played a role, but it's also possible the flawed 2012 fourth-round pick has already reached the summit of his career.
But if the Redskins didn't believe in Cousins, they might have been better off severing ties, saving the money they're giving Smith and turning to the draft or free agency.
Kudos to them for trying something new. It's nice that they still have a talented starting-caliber quarterback on the roster and that said quarterback was the league's highest-rated passer last season.
But there's a solid chance this blows up in Bruce Allen's face, because it feels like a half-measure that won't be enough to help them compete but will also prevent them from properly rebuilding.
Whomever the Minnesota Vikings decide not to keep at quarterback
The Vikings have three good quarterbacks with expiring contracts, and they'll soon have to decide whether to keep Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or two of the three. Even though the Vikes have money to spend, keeping two will be difficult—and keeping three is just plain unrealistic.
Had the Chiefs kept Smith, there was still a chance the Redskins would have kept Cousins for at least another year. But now, Cousins is likely to hit the open market. He's got more experience and will face fewer questions than Bridgewater or Keenum, and he is more durable and has a higher upside than Bradford.
The top quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL draft
Apologies to Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. With Smith in Washington and Cousins without a team, a deeper-than-usual free-agent pool at the quarterback position could mean less love for at least one of the projected first-round picks at the position.
Free Agency Just Got a Heck of a Lot More Interesting
Very rarely do starting quarterbacks with Pro Bowls on their resume hit the NFL's free-agent market.
In fact, not once this decade has a Pro Bowl quarterback become an unrestricted free agent after a season in which he started at least 12 of his team's games.
The demand for good quarterbacks is too high in this pass-happy era and the supply too low. If you're in or near your prime and you've experienced a degree of sustained success under center, you won't likely have a chance to experience free agency.
The only exception to that rule was Peyton Manning, who in 2011 was released by the Indianapolis Colts because of an extraordinary set of circumstances. Manning missed the entire 2011 campaign with a neck injury, which caused/enabled the Colts to "Suck for Luck." With the top pick in their back pocket and Andrew Luck on their radar, there was no reason to keep Manning around.
Cousins is no Manning, but if he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March, he'll attract more attention than any free agent since No. 18 chose the Denver Broncos in that 2012 offseason.
This trade almost certainly means that'll happen, unless the Redskins pull off some sort of sign/tag-and-trade involving Cousins in the next six weeks.
If Cousins hits the market, he'll likely be joined by at least two of the three starting-caliber quarterbacks the Vikings have to make decisions on between now and March 14.
The Jury Is Still Out on the Weapons in Washington and Kansas City
You can't predict with any certainty how a new quarterback will affect the players around him, and that's especially the case in this situation.
The Redskins are going from a gunslinger in Cousins to Smith, who, according to Pro Football Focus, was the NFL's most efficient deep passer in 2017. That might have been an anomaly, but it did often feel as though the 2005 No. 1 overall pick finally turned a corner. If he can keep that up in D.C., Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor Sr., Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson should have plenty of opportunities.
How Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt will be impacted by Mahomes replacing Smith in Kansas City is a bit more of a mystery. There's a good chance Mahomes will experience some growing pains in his inaugural season as a starter, but he has a cannon, and he looked good in both the preseason and his single regular-season appearance.
Of course, there'll likely be a domino effect. The fantasy stocks of several skill-position players are likely to rise when Cousins signs on to be their quarterback in March. We just don't know who those players are yet.