When I heard the news of the Redskins trading for Alex Smith, I didn’t know what to think. Always being a Kirk Cousins supporter, I was eager to see what plans we had in place in order to resign him again this off season. Knowing another franchise tag was out of the question, we were hoping that a long term deal could be finalized, and we could keep him a few more years. Since taking the starting role midseason in 2014, Cousins has been able to remain statistically relevant on a subpar team in a league dominated by quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers. He’s been a consistent asset in the Redskins offense despite not having as much talent surrounding him, like the quarterbacks previously mentioned do.
What Kirk’s resume lacks is Super Bowls. Brady, Roethlisberger, and Rodgers have all combined for 9 championships in their respective careers. While these QBs are arguably some of the best of all time, during the season, none of these players were among the top five highest paid players in the league. Tom Brady has the most Super Bowl victories all time (5), and isn’t even among the top ten. This isn’t an accident. Quarterback is the most important position on an NFL roster; their importance to the team is solidified by the fact that they make up the top 15 highest paid players in the league. However, having your quarterback take less money, allows you to build your team in other areas. For example, the Patriots were able to acquire defensive end Chris Long in free agency before the 2016 season. With this acquisition, the Patriots finished the season with a top five rushing defense in the league, and also were Super Bowl champions.
Last season, Kirk settled for a franchise tag of $23.9 million, which made him the fifth highest paid player in the NFL. If we were to sign him to a franchise tag next season, he’d be making approximately $34.5 million next year alone—making him the highest paid player in NFL history for a single season. While leading a subpar team, he’s the 11th quarterback in history to reach the 4,000-yard passing mark in three consecutive seasons. Thus, he has reason to ask for lucrative money because of that stat itself. His career 65.5% completion, 2.6% interception and interception rate can contribute to that as well. The Redskins shot themselves in the foot by not signing him to a long term deal years ago, but if we plan on getting better, there is just no way we could allow ourselves to sign him to anything over $23.9 million per year.
In order to save money, parting ways with Kirk and trading for Alex Smith was actually one of the best options I think we had. Smith will be set to make $17 million next season. That allows us to make to make key deals for the team at other positions. The first key deal should be signing linebacker Zach Brown, who has proven his value to the team over the course of last season. Before injury, Brown was the league’s leading tackler last year. After missing three games, Brown still finished ninth overall with 127 total tackles. After the 2018 season, Smith will be making $23.5 million per year through 2022, which is still less than what we would have had to sign Kirk for.
Alex Smith is coming off a career high season, throwing for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns, along with a 104.7 qb rating. Last season, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards, 27 touchdowns and posted a 93.9 qb rating. However, Smith is a better option simply because he doesn’t make mistakes. Last year, he only threw five interceptions compared to Cousins’ thirteen. Smith has also shown the ability to extend plays with his feet. He averaged 5.9 yards per attempt, compared to Cousins 3.7 in 2017. Andy Reid’s offense was built for Alex Smith because it took most of the pressure away from him while allowing other players to flourish.
Next season, multiple draft boards had the Redskins choosing a quarterback in the first round. Trading for Smith instead of drafting a rookie gives us the added benefit of signing a veteran. Smith led the Chiefs to the playoffs each of the last three seasons. Since this acquisition fills our needs at quarterback, our first round pick can be used to address other positions, such as the defensive line. Last season, after injuries to both Johnathan Allen and Matt Ionnaidis, this unit struggled to have a consistent pass rush. As a result of this, quarterbacks were able to have extended time in the pocket, which made our secondary prone to exposure. For example, against the Saints, with Allen out and Ionnaidis’ first game back from injury, Drew Brees led New Orleans to a 15-point comeback in the final 5:58 of regulation. In those final minutes, Brees was 11 for 11 on both drives, with two touchdowns. Having depth on the defensive line will better prepare us in situations like this. Smith is tied to us for the next five seasons, there is no reason we can’t address our need of a franchise quarterback in a later draft.
Trading a third round pick for Smith was the ideal option we had to offer. However, Kansas City was not willing to accept the trade without defensive back, Kendall Fuller. Fuller, clearly was our most reliable defensive player last season, hauling in 4 interceptions and 55 tackles. In just his second year, there was so much upside to his potential, especially after being named the best slot defender in the NFL according to Bleacher Report. The idea of making your defense better only to get rid of your best players from a secondary that struggled seems to be very contradicting. That being said, sacrifices have to be made in order to make your team better. Finding a player to replace him on the roster (if not necessarily in productivity) will not be that much of a challenge because we are still capable of picking up another defensive back in the draft or free agency. Not to mention, we still have Quinton Dunbar, Joshua Holsey, and our third round pick from 2017, Fabian Moreau. As mentioned before, drafting a legitimate defensive lineman like Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Vita Vea, in the first round can take some of the workload away from the secondary.
There is plenty upside to this trade considering Washington stays patient and weighs all their options. A lot of Smith’s success can be attributed to Kansas City’s potent and innovative offensive attack with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and the running of Kareem Hunt. He’s proven he has been able to throw an effective deep ball this past season, with having two 1,000-yard receivers. With weapons at reciever like Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and his former teammate, Vernon Davis, we are hoping to emulate that success. Although we do possess these weapons, taking our offense to a higher level starts with fixing our mediocre running game either in free agency or in the draft. Last year, Washington finished 28th in the league in rushing offense. Nonetheless, this running back needs to be more than just a good runner; he needs to be well-rounded in the sense of blocking and catching out of the backfield. A player that I think would fit perfectly for the Redskins is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who led the nation in rushing last season with 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns. Penny provides versatility because of his rushing and receiving abilities, especially at his size. Bringing in Penny to compliment Perine would also take some of the workload away from Chris Thompson, since he is known to be injury prone as a third down back. With this acquisition, we have the opportunity to focus on having either Penny or Thompson more involved in the return game—a position in which we also had trouble finding continuity with last season. In any case, the Redskins have made it clear that the Kirk Cousins era is at an end. We can hope that the team’s leadership has learned its lesson. But to be honest, with the history of this organization, that assumption remains up in the air at this time.