MINNEAPOLIS — At a relatively sleepy Super Bowl, there is news: The Kansas City Chiefs, after a telling first-round trade and draft choice in the spring of 2017 and a precipitous second-half decline during the 2017 season, have agreed to trade quarterback Alex Smith to Washington, the Kansas City Star reported Tuesday night.
The deal cannot be officially announced until the 2018 league begins March 14. ESPN reported the compensation back to Kansas City as a 2018 third-round draft pick and young cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Smith leaving wasn’t the shock. These three elements were the stunning parts:
• Washington has given up on the financially frustrating and mildly disappointing Kirk Cousins. ESPN reported Smith, a 12-year vet who will 34 years old in May, will be signed to a four-year contract extension, tying Smith to Washington through the 2022 season. Effectively, this deal likely ensures Smith will finish his career in Washington, or his deal will make the franchise take a financial bath if he is cut in the next couple seasons.
• Teams most likely to sign/compete hard for the services of the 29-year-old free-agent Cousins: the New York Jets, Denver and Cleveland, probably in that order. The Jets, with $74.5 million in cap room according to Over The Cap, could afford to give Cousins the financial security and multi-year deal Washington never did. And the tabloid culture of New York will virtually demand that GM Mike Maccagnan sign Cousins when the free-agency signing period begins March 14.
• The Chiefs had to get what they could for Smith, based on the disappointing end to the 2017 season (a stunning 22-21 home wild-card loss to Tennessee capped the year) and the terms of the 2017 draft-night deal with Buffalo. Kansas City traded its first- and third-round picks in 2017, and a first-rounder in ’18, to be in position to use the 10th overall pick last April to pick quarterback Pat Mahomes.
When a team uses the 27th, 91st and (in 2018) the 22nd overall picks to draft a deep-ball-throwing young quarterback like Mahomes, it makes it just a matter of time before the incumbent, Smith, would have been dealt or released. It’s unfair to call Smith perennially disappointing in Kansas City, but the only way he could have saved his future in Missouri was with a strong 2017 season. And finishing the year by losing seven of 12 (including the playoff game) was not going to convince GM Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid to hang onto Smith.
The deal gives Washington a reliable starting quarterback, though not one who guarantees a postseason run of greatness. But Cousins didn’t either, and that’s why Washington grew impatient with a passer who had some great regular-season moments but failed to deliver in the clutch late in seasons.
Now we’ll get to see which teams will be most aggressive for Cousins, whose success in the past three regular seasons will make him, minimum, a $24-million-per-year player on the open market. In the past three seasons, his passer ratings have been 101.6, 97.2 and 93.9. Those rank with the top passers in the league. The payoff will come soon, and don’t be surprised if it comes with the Jets.
The interesting attractions to Cousins with New York start with new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who has the same offensive philosophy as 2017 successes Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Cousins has played for both McVay and Shanahan and knows Bates would be a good fit for his skills. Also, the Jets will be desperate to solve a quarterback vacancy that has plagued them for years—or least since they discovered how limited Mark Sanchez was.
But don’t eliminate the passer-desperate Broncos, who will definitely add a credible veteran in 2018. And do not eliminate the Browns either; they have more cap room than the Jets, and no team is more desperate to solve the quarterback problem than Cleveland.