The Redskins made the best out of a self-inflicted messy situation. That’s my take on the trade for Alex Smith in brief. Here’s more.
The mess in short is this. Kirk Cousins wasn’t impressed with them; the Redskins weren’t impressed with him. The ingredients that created the mess were dropped into the bowl by the team, and the team only.
The use of two franchise tags was malpractice. A third would’ve been insanity. Any talk of Cousins holding the team hostage or wielding too much leverage is amateur discussion. If you know anything about business and the NFL’s CBA as it relates to player contracts, this isn’t that hard to figure out. Teams don’t have the luxury of waiting until they’re 100% sure when it comes to quarterbacks. You must have a personnel department that can evaluate, project, and act. Hemming and hawing when it comes to the quarterback position is trouble.
The Redskins had two chances to avoid the mess. At the end of 2015, Cousins was willing to sign a multi-year deal at $19M per year. The team decided to wait. That was mistake #1. He would’ve been the 15th highest paid QB in the league right now with no less than two years left on his deal. Let that sink in for a second. If they had acted early, the team right this moment would have their quarterback under contract, more cap money to spend, their rising-star cornerback (Fuller) still on the roster, and their traded 3rd-round pick back in the fold for the upcoming draft. If you’re still struggling to understand how massive this mistake was, I can’t help you.
Mistake #2 was not trading him after the 2016 season. Despite plenty of evidence that he was a franchise quarterback, not elite, but a legitimate top 10-15 guy, they still weren’t willing to pull the trigger on a market-value offer. They low-balled him again and then incredibly submarined him publicly when he chose not to counter.
The time to move on was last year when they could have gotten something of significance via trade. At that point, they knew they weren’t going to pay him anything close to market value. They also knew that he was now interviewing them. Sean McVay was gone. His confidence level in the organization without McVay was low. He wasn’t going to give them the team-friendly deal they were naively hoping for. Why keep him? Why not get something for him when they had a chance?
The league’s rules and common sense should’ve made it obvious that the franchise tag path would cost the team leverage. Gobs of it. With each tag designation, they moved Cousins closer to free agency and further away from a long-term contract. It really wasn’t that hard to see coming.
They Made the Best Of The Mess
They made the mess but they cleaned it up as best as anyone could have hoped. You can’t view the trade without the context. They didn’t have a quarterback they trusted to start the 2018 season and beyond, so they moved aggressively to acquire the best veteran option out there.
Alex Smith wasn’t cheap. The price for an available proven starting quarterback never is. The Skins weren’t getting Smith without giving up Kendall Fuller. The Chiefs wanted a rising star and Fuller is exactly that. And, he’s just 22 years old. By the way, he’s going to look great opposite Marcus Peters. Smith is a true starting quarterback and has high character. That’s the going rate for his like.
Smith cost more than just Fuller and a 3rd round pick. He got a reported 4-year contract extension for $94M with $71M guaranteed. I would describe the contract as slightly above market value especially when you consider his age (34 when the season starts). However, getting him signed to a long-term deal was essential. The Skins couldn’t make the same mistake again by heading into next season with their quarterback on a one-year deal. Trading for him made signing him imperative.
Alex Smith is a good quarterback and will be a good fit for Jay Gruden’s offense. It makes little sense to compare him to Cousins because Cousins wasn’t an option so let’s compare him to the others that may have been pursued. Bridgewater would have been cheaper but hasn’t played in two years. Keenum and Ty Taylor aren’t as good as Smith. Bradford is too injury prone. Drafting a young QB is high-risk, would’ve likely required a trade up in the draft, and would’ve meant 1-2 years of rebuild mode. And then there was the Colt McCoy option. So much for that. The team spoke on McCoy like the league had previously. Colt is a very good back-up but not a 16-game starter.
Smith needs help to succeed. He’s the definition of a quarterback who needs a running game. He’s never been asked to carry the load in a pass-heavy scheme. He’s been in the bottom half of the league in pass attempts for most of his career. He’s had a top 10 rush offense in seven of his last eight seasons as a starter in Kansas City and San Francisco. He had a great defense in San Francisco and at times, a very good defense in Kansas City.
He’s also had weapons in recent years. Many of them. It’s not coincidental that this past season was his best. The Chiefs had speed and play-making that few teams could match this year. As of now, there is no Hill, Hunt, or Kelce in DC. Cousins threw for 4000+ yds with nothing in 2017. The Skins’ situation this year of zero running game, limited pass-catching options, and a banged up offensive line, would’ve rendered Smith completely ineffective in my view.
Skins’ fans should be leery of Andy Reid’s involvement in this deal. He fleeced the Skins in the 2010 McNabb trade. This is much different, I get it. Smith has more left in his tank than McNabb did. Add to that, Reid drafted Mahomes and is looking forward to playing him. There was no room for Smith. However, it’s fair to wonder why Reid traded up 17 spots in the first place for Mahomes. Why didn’t he believe in Smith to lead his team to the next level? Jim Harbaugh came to a similar conclusion when he picked Colin Kapernick over a younger version of Smith in San Fran. Smith has been a good quarterback but his last two coaches ultimately chose to move on from him.
All things considered, the Skins could’ve done a lot worse than Alex Smith for Fuller and a 3rd. I’m not thrilled with the loss of Fuller but a good QB no matter his age trumps a good cornerback. By the way, the Chiefs got a very good deal. They got a very good starting cornerback and perhaps another future starter for a QB they weren’t going to use.
The Kirk Cousins contract saga is finally over. Thank god. It was exhausting. It’s still mind-boggling to think that after 25+ years, the Redskins had finally found a legit starting quarterback and they couldn’t make it work. They somehow turned what should have been a positive into something so contaminated that even the biggest Cousins fans were ready for it to end. It became easier for many in the fan base to move on from the all-time franchise leader in eight passing categories rather than be subjected to another year of unbearable contract talk. Remarkable.
Surprisingly however, the Skins took a bad situation and made it tolerable with the trade for Alex Smith. Make no mistake though about what this move says. They didn’t want to spend big on Cousins. They never had the stomach to pay him. They’ve mentioned many times over the last year that they want the financial cap flexibility to build out their entire roster. It’s time for Bruce Allen and company to prove they can do it.
If they spend wisely, draft smartly, and stay healthy, next year should be a good year. They made the playoffs in 2015, contended for a playoff spot in 2016, and went 7-9 after being ravaged by injuries in 2017. They believe they’re close to contending. If they didn’t think that, they would’ve drafted their next quarterback and looked to the future. A drop off from ’15 and ’16 would be a disaster. If they’re healthy and don’t make the playoffs this coming season, it’ll be a major disappointment. The mess they created coupled with the clean-up attempt is now officially on the clock. Kirk Cousins and Kendall Fuller vs Alex Smith and the team they’re able to build around him. We will be watching.