Nearly one week ago, the Washington Redskins pulled off a stunning trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for quarterback Alex Smith. By doing so, they essentially cut ties with three-year starter Kirk Cousins. Since then, the often-heated debate over the move has taken many paths, some of which are treacherous with dim lighting. All involve trying to understand or justify the Redskins’ bold move.
Three aspects of the scenario are not debatable:
- Without Cousins, who will now head into unrestricted free agency barring some Hail Mary attempt at a tag-and-trade, the Redskins had no obvious replacement at quarterback.
- Among the likely replacement options, Smith, a soon-to-be 34-year-old coming off his first 4,000-yard season, was the best of the bunch.
- Other teams wanted Smith and the Chiefs were ready to deal.
These points help some validate the Redskins trade. What other choice did they have?
Actually, if one looks at the overall landscape, it’s clear they had a few as long as they did not let pride cloud their judgment. None as safe, none as costly. That we just witnessed Nick Foles turn into a hot commodity is a reminder that other options could emerge before the 2018 business season officially opens.
Following the trade that sent rising cornerback Kendall Fuller and a 2018 third round pick to the Chiefs, NFL.com writer Gregg Rosenthal wrote a widely disseminated article stating the Redskins did not overpay for Smith.
"The cost in trade compensation and the subsequent contract extension Washington agreed to for Smith is not surprising or out of line with market value," Rosenthal wrote. "There were essentially two franchise quarterbacks available this offseason — Cousins and Smith — and at least seven teams looking to acquire one."
There are two points here worth noting. One, in no universe are Cousins and Smith “franchise quarterbacks,” at least not in the standard way that term is used. Starters, absolutely. Franchise quarterbacks as in elite, the kind you fear when facing, the kind who you fret leaving too much time on the clock to at the end of games, no. The use of that term confuses the debate and allows the “had no choice” side undo cover.
In addition, Rosenthal mentions that at least seven teams are looking to acquire a franchise quarterback. I would argue at least half the league if not more are looking for one, but what Rosenthal really means is a viable starter. That is a fair estimate, but there are details missing. Let’s break down the 32 quarterback situations by need.
All good: Steelers, Titans, Colts, Texans, Chiefs, Raiders, Eagles, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Bears, Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers, Rams ,Seahawks
- These teams have established Pro Bowlers, high-priced passers or recent draft selections they hope become “franchise” quarterbacks.
Nah, seems unlikely: Patriots, Ravens, Chargers, Saints, 49ers
- Do not expect any change with the first four teams, but it’s just not the 99.9 percent lock like the first group based largely on age and, in the case of the Ravens, staleness. Jimmy Garoppolo is a free agent, but it sounds like the 49ers will keep.
Could make a move: Bills, Dolphins, Bengals, Jaguars, Giants, Vikings
- All of these teams have starting quarterback options, but the upside is not that exciting and each could be improved upon.
Yes, please, help: Jets, Browns, Broncos, Cardinals
- The 2018 starter/long-term answer is not currently on the roster.
Essentially two-thirds of the league is at least good at quarterback next season or already made their big investment at the position.
That leaves 10 teams, though the Bengals and Vikings might be better suited for that “unlikely” group. If either team made a move for Cousins, then Andy Dalton and Case Keenum become available. Same goes for the Bills (Tyrod Taylor), Dolphins (Ryan Tannehill) and Jaguars (Blake Bortles)
Now, let’s imagine the Redskins balked at the asking price for Smith, but the Cardinals, one of the teams reportedly in the discussion, jumped in. Let’s also just say that the Redskins were simply done with Cousins and were willing to accept the 2019 third-round compensatory pick, which is what they seemingly signaled with the Smith trade.
Let’s follow the oddsmakers and league chatter and slot Cousins to the Broncos. The Browns (1 and 4), Giants (2) and Jets (6) are all in position to draft a quarterback. Four passing prospects are expected to go in the top half of the draft.
That leaves Bills, Jaguars and Dolphins. Again, all of those teams still have their 2017 starter under contract. If they all stay pat, the Redskins are essentially the only team with a QB need. At the point, the options look like:
- Possibly use the No. 13 pick.
- Consider current backup Colt McCoy as the stopgap while drafting a QB in round one or two.
- Target Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford depending on whether the Vikings cut ties with one or both should they retain Keenum.
- Add a veteran like Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore or (gulp) Jay Cutler if Washington considers them better or comparable place-holder options to McCoy.
- Perhaps go down the restricted free agent path with A.J. McCarron.
Are any of these as good in 2018 as Alex Smith? No. Are any of these quarterbacks worthy starters? Eh. However, potentially, sure. Reminder: Keenum was a journeyman before rocking for the Vikings this season and Foles was just named Super Bowl MVP. The veteran names on that list are professional quarterbacks. In the right situation, maybe they could thrive. Also, there could be other names on the list by next month.
Cousins receives credit for posting strong stats last season despite so much injury and lineup chaos. Totally fair, but head coach Jay Gruden’s offensive system also more than held up. Seems reasonable to think one/some of these non-Alex Smith types work out under Gruden. This path also opens more salary cap space since none would receive Smith’s reported $71 million guaranteed.
While some prefer one over the other, Cousins and Smith provide a comparable level of quarterbacking. The Redskins were a .500 team the last three seasons with Cousins. Maybe Washington crushes its offseason acquisitions and avoids major injuries. Maybe ending the contentious Cousins relationship helps the vibe. Otherwise, it is hard grasping how the Redskins improved their title hopes with a trade for a non-franchise quarterback.
These other paths are riskier. Also risky, waiting out the QB market. Meanwhile, Smith is totally solid. The Redskins can sleep better at night knowing they have a starting quarterback. Making that trade just wasn’t the only move available.