The Washington Redskins gave up on quarterback Kirk Cousins — and did so at a steep price. Trading for Kansas City’s Alex Smith makes sense, knowing Cousins wasn’t likely to sign a long-term deal with Washington. And if he did, it would be costly.
But trading for Smith comes at a cost as well. A steep one. Giving the Chiefs a third-round pick isn’t bad; Washington will get a pick in the same round in 2019 as compensation when Cousins signs with someone in free agency. However, also included in the deal for Smith, according to sources, is cornerback Kendall Fuller, who is entering his third season and coming off an excellent year.
Fuller is what Washington needs: a good, young and inexpensive starting-caliber defensive player. The Redskins didn’t want to sign Cousins, feeling it would prevent them from keeping important pieces or finding other parts. That’s fine. But then they include a promising young player as part of this trade? That’s hard to digest. Fuller plays a premium position where depth is always needed, especially with Bashaud Breeland likely bound for free agency.
And it’s hard to feel great about paying a quarterback who turns 34 in May an average of $23.5 million per year. Smith will receive $71 million guaranteed. However, the details of his contract haven’t come out yet, and those will be crucial. What are his cap hits in the first few years? When can the Redskins get out of the deal? If Smith plays well, the money will be fine.
It’s yet another bold move at quarterback by Washington. In 2010, the Redskins traded for an aging Donovan McNabb. That failed, badly. They traded up in the 2012 draft to select Robert Griffin III. That worked out well for a year, then it failed. Badly. They had a quarterback on their roster who was playing well, yet couldn’t sign him. In fact, Cousins was the only quarterback the franchise has drafted and developed since Mark Rypien in the late 1980s. And now Cousins will spend the rest of his career elsewhere.
So the Redskins are swinging big again. At one point during the 2017 season, Smith was included in league MVP discussions — until the Chiefs faded. Then they lost in the first round of the playoffs again. But Smith, for those who like quarterback won-loss records, has posted a winning record in seven straight seasons. During that time, his winning percentage of .688 trails only Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Smith gives the Redskins experience, not to mention more athleticism. He’s adept at bootlegs and rollouts and comfortable going off-schedule. The Redskins were burned by that last attribute in a Week 4 loss to Kansas City, as Smith, using his legs to keep plays alive, led a last-minute drive. While Cousins has improved in that area, Smith is more adept. That appeals to coach Jay Gruden, whose offense favors dropback passers, but it’s not confined to that style.
Gruden also wanted more from Cousins, saying he needed to put more trust in his receivers. He wanted Cousins to take more shots downfield. Since 2015, Cousins ranked sixth in number of passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air; Smith ranked 22nd. But there’s no doubt Smith is a good quarterback.
The key to the trade is Washington putting itself in a better cap situation at quarterback. If the Redskins couldn’t have Rodgers or Brady, they didn’t want to pay top dollar. There was a feeling in the organization that Cousins should take less and allow the team to build and maintain talent around him. But Cousins needed to have confidence the organization could succeed in doing so. One sentiment he shared with others: If the Redskins couldn’t judge him correctly, how could they adequately judge others?
But while the Redskins liked Cousins, loving him was another matter altogether.
There was a growing sense of frustration from the Redskins, who were surprised he turned down their offer last spring. That deal essentially would have resulted in two guaranteed years of $53 million. Once Cousins decided not to counter that offer, the Redskins put out a statement — hoping to let the other players and fans know what they had offered. For Cousins, that statement served as another reminder that perhaps Washington wasn’t the place for him.
There were some in the organization who felt they should have traded Cousins last offseason, knowing he was not going to re-sign.
Two years ago, Cousins and his wife sat at a restaurant in London when he received the first offer from Washington. When he saw the numbers, the disappointment set in: a deal that averaged $12.5 million per year, according to multiple sources. It was not what Cousins, coming off a career-best season, had hoped to be offered. And the frustration, according to one person there with him, set in.
If the initial offer been different, maybe the Redskins could have worked out an affordable deal. Maybe they wouldn’t have had to trade for another quarterback, giving up a talented young player in the process.
Still, the Redskins got their guy and Smith should help. One NFC scout predicted Smith and Gruden would be a good pairing. Now they must build around their quarterback. Washington wants to add a speedy receiver and, perhaps, a dynamic full-time running back. The Redskins need better health on defense, plus a few more parts — including more help at corner.
But getting their guy has always come at a price. In the past, that price has not resulted in what the Redskins have lacked most: sustained success.