It’s Super Bowl week and the biggest story of the day has nothing to do with the Super Bowl. According to Terez Paylor of the KC Star the Chiefs and Redskins have come to an agreement to trade quarterback Alex Smith at the start of the 2018 league year. The move is a big move not just because it is a big trade but because this should make it a certainty that current Redskins QB Kirk Cousins will become an unrestricted free agent, making him the most sought after free agent since Peyton Manning was released from the Colts in 2012.
Smith is coming off the best year of his career throwing for 26 touchdowns and breaking the 4,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. The Chiefs had salary cap issues and had already committed their future to top draft pick Patrick Mahomes which more or less made Smith expendable. The fact of the matter is to get the contractual benefit of a rookie QB contract the rookie has to see the field and the only way that he should be blocked is if Smith was a Super Bowl level QB, which he wasn’t. The knock on Smith is that he is a game manager who cant make enough big throws in crunch time to win games.
Smith is entering the final year of his contract and has a $17 million salary. The Chiefs will clear all $17 million from the books and move them from over the salary cap to under it by a few million. $17 million in this day and age for QBs is very reasonable, though I would imagine that Smith will look for, and receive, and extension from the Redskins. My feeling is that his market is around $22 million per season on a new four year contract (update: Smith and Washington agreed to a $23.5M per year extension with $71M guaranteed).
Though Smith does not have high upside he is a reasonable fit for a team that is simply trying to make the playoffs. He is a professional that should ensure a 9-7 type record. I had already mentioned that Smith would be a nice, lower cost fallback for the Redskins if they could not sign Cousins long term but never expected a trade.
The Redskins mishandling of the Cousins situation was about as bad as any handling of a contract that I can recall. Rather than proactively approaching his contract they simply franchised him for a second time assuming that gave them some kind of leverage in a contract. This is normally the case in the NFL where age is a major negative towards long term earnings and teams can use the tag to strong arm top players into contracts that are not representative of a market contract. But the rules are different for quarterbacks who are effective well into their mid 30s and can play the franchise tag game if they want. The cost to keep Cousins this year would have been over $30 million. When Cousins refused to sign a so-so offer with Washington they took to the media and basically tried to paint him as a greedy bad guy. That should have been a sign that the relationship was over.
Though I could not see any scenario in which the Redskins would have tagged Cousins it is now a virtual certainty that he will be a free agent. As a free agent he should become the highest paid player in the NFL with a contract in excess of $27 million. Teams with a need for a QB should include the Bills, Jets, Cardinals, Broncos, and Browns. I also don’t think you can discount the Vikings, Dolphins, and Jaguars from taking a look. If he can create a bidding war between two big cap teams like the Browns and Jets he has a good chance to really break the bank. Cousins also has unique leverage in a new contract in that since he has already been tagged twice he can effectively block a contract at the end of his next contract as long as his salary in the final year is a pretty high number. A third tag is 144% of the prior years value.
As of the time I write this there was no indication of what the trade compensation is but my thought was that it would be a 2nd rounder or a 3rd with a chance to escalate higher (update the trade comp looks to be a 3rd and CB Kendall Fuller). If the Redskins can receive a compensatory pick for Cousins (which would be a 3rd rounder) then in essence this could be seen as a trade of Cousins for Smith but that will require the Redskins to be pretty careful in free agency to not lose that comp pick. Still Washington wasted a golden opportunity to have traded Cousins this year and gotten a 1 or a 2.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.