On Tuesday night, the Redskins moved on from Kirk Cousins in an instant by trading for veteran Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith. The uncharacteristically proactive move by a front office typified by sluggish obstinacy came as a surprise to most. Here I break down and grade the trade from a Redskins perspective.
The Chiefs sent Alex Smith to DC and, in return, received promising slot corner Kendall Fuller and the Redskins’ third round pick in the 2018 draft (78th overall). Fuller was graded the highest of all Redskins this past season (90.0) and the 6th best cornerback in the entire league. The third round pick in 2016 recorded four interceptions, one forced fumble and 10 passes defended, and immediately upgrades a Chiefs secondary which ranked 29th in the league in passing yards allowed.
It is worth noting that the Redskins will receive a compensatory third round pick in 2019.
Alex Smith in Washington
Smith signed a 4 year deal with the Redskins worth $94m with $71m in guarantees. This makes Smith, at 33 years old, the 6th highest paid quarterback in the league, earning an average of $23.5m per year. It is likely however that the Redskins have provisions in the contract which allow them to move on from Smith before the 2021 season, in line with most contemporary deals in the NFL. For his part Smith had a career year in 2017, posting a completion percentage of 67.5% (4,042 yards), and throwing 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Smith, who leaned on exceptional offensive talent in Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, led the Chiefs to a 10-6 regular season record and AFC West title, losing narrowly to the Titans on wildcard weekend.
Oft compared like to like with Cousins, Smith has the tools Jay Gruden needs in a quarterback to run his style of offense. He gets the ball out quickly and is proficient off play-action and throwing on the run. Gruden will look to exploit his athleticism, but is safe in the knowledge that he doesn’t need to radically alter his scheme with Smith under centre.
Kirk Cousins becomes the most prized free agent in years
Cousins, coming off his third 4000+ yard season in a row and having pocketed $43.8m from the Redskins during the past two seasons, has the pick of the litter when it comes to his next job. Likely suitors include the Broncos (prominent players including Von Miller have been vocal about his ability throughout the season), the Jets, the Cardinals, and the Jags. Perhaps even the Bills, Browns or Vikings might make a run at Cousins, who will, inevitably, become the highest paid player in NFL history wherever he lands.
“Is money a part of it? Sure. Is it the only thing? No.” Cousins said Tuesday on ‘Pro Football Talk Live’, “It’s about winning, and that’s what I want more than anything. So I’m going to be willing to make sacrifices or do what has to be done to make sure I’m in the best possible position to win, and that’s what the focus is going to be.” Place your bets!
Grading the trade for Washington: B+
The abacuses are out in Washington and the Redskins will go into free agency knowing just how much they can spend, as their highest paid player’s contract is set in stone on March 14th, when the trade for Smith becomes official. The Redskins are demonstrably an 8-8 team even with a pro-bowl calibre Cousins, with numerous deficiencies on both sides of the football. In trading for Smith, at worst they get a safe pair of hands at quarterback, and the opportunity for much needed continuity. At best, they get a player well suited to running Jay Gruden’s offense, in his pomp, and a shot at competitiveness should their banged up offensive line remain healthy.
Either way, they are in a better position from which to build a team capable of competing for the NFC East in the next five years. Barring injury or an unexpected, rapid decline in Smith’s abilities, prospective free agents know who will be running the offense in DC. The Redskins can stick to their perennial ‘best player available’ draft strategy without having to pull the trigger on a quarterback about whom they might not be entirely certain, safe in the knowledge that Smith isn’t going anywhere.
It’s also worth stating that Cousins didn’t want to sign a long term deal in Washington, and the Redskins didn’t want to ‘rent’ his services for a season for either $34.5m (franchise) or $28.8m (transition), this being the last year they could force him to stay put under a tag. Nor did they want the saga to drag on through the off-season. The speculation over whether or not Cousins would sign a long term deal has drained even the most ardent Washington beat writers of their journalistic zeal. The fanbase, some of whom never considered Cousins able to hold a candle to RG3 (despite the mounting evidence to the contrary), were desperate for any form of dénouement, and seem relieved if not inspired by the acquisition of Smith.
However, the bitter pill to swallow for many in DC will be that in order to secure Smith, the defense loses rising star cornerback Kendall Fuller. Indeed, outspoken safety DJ Swearinger didn’t hold back on Twitter: “People say they wanna win right but you throw away your best defender!?!?” (he later deleted the tweet). Though cornerback is a position of comparative strength in Washington (Josh Norman is going nowhere and the Redskins resigned Quinton Dunbar), losing Fuller makes resigning Bashaud Breeland or an equivalent free agent a necessity. In order to placate a grumbling fanbase, it would be wise for the front office to address this relatively quickly either in the draft or through free agency.
In summary then, though a third round pick plus Fuller for Smith is perceived across the league as unbalanced, stability at quarterback in Washington was always going to come at a price after the bungling of the situation over the past few years, and Fuller can be considered unfortunate (but not irreplaceable) collateral damage. Given they will receive the compensatory third round pick in 2019, the Redskins seem to have taken stock and wisely committed to a longer term development strategy. Contextualising the trade forces one to consider just how badly the Redskins handled the Cousins situation from the start, but it also requires a begrudging respect for a Redskins organisation who finally cut ties and moved on.
Follow Joshua Edwards on Twitter, @Joshwa_1990.