A trade in the NFL is never truly a win-win scenario. There are issues beneath the issues—personal preferences, deep-seeded contractual minutiae, hidden motivations in upper management—that always seem to complicate what could be a simple transaction.
On Tuesday, Kansas City stunned the football world by dealing Alex Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller, the team’s 2016 third-round pick. Immediately viewed as a puzzling move for a Washington team that seems to be content treading water, it will undoubtedly become one of the most polarizing deals of the offseason.
Here’s how we see it shaking out:
Kansas City Chiefs/Andy Reid: For the second time in his career, Andy Reid has dealt an end-of-career quarterback to Washington for a useful bounty in return. Back in 2010 it was Donovan McNabb, who netted Reid a second-round pick that season and a mid-round pick the season after. Winning franchises can afford to continue drafting quarterbacks and flipping them for useful assets so long as there is someone capable remaining on the roster taking snaps. It’s obviously a gamble for the Chiefs to bet the house on 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes, but after losing in the first round of the playoffs amid a career year from Smith, they have an accurate picture of the true ceiling they’d have with Smith under center.
From a schematic standpoint, Andy Reid negates the loss of his offensive coordinator by reloading this offseason and returning in 2018 with an entirely new look.
Alex Smith: At the end of the day, football is about the long con: Taking care of yourself and your family while playing a thrilling but dangerous game. Smith, who will turn 34 in May and is 2-5 all time in playoff games, has signed the type of end-of-career contract that aging relief pitchers dream about in Major League Baseball. According to various reports, it nets him $70 million in guaranteed money and takes him through his age 38 season.
Scot McCloughan: The ousted Washington general manager, who momentarily placed the franchise back on solid ground, gets to simply chuckle at his former employer on Twitter while the house burns down. With Jay Gruden as a head coach, Washington’s offense will certainly be effective enough to win games, but it will be difficult to see them return to the playoffs (as they did with McCloughan’s help) with a healthy Carson Wentz and non-suspended Ezekiel Elliott prowling the NFC East.
Cleveland Browns: Cousins seems like a natural fit in Cleveland, a team with illuminati-type cap space and nothing to lose this offseason. As they showed with the Brock Osweiler deal last season, the war chest left behind by former general manager Sashi Brown can gobble up the worst of contracts without skipping a beat. Cousins, who is no longer a threat to be franchise tagged or transition tagged, can help formulate their draft and free agency strategy and for the first time in more than a decade, the club can start the season with relative stability at the quarterback position. Having the trade unofficially formalized this early also allows them a ton of time to solidify their options and potentially tinker with their incredible position in the 2018 draft (picks 1 and 4).
Washington: As a fan of this team, how do you wake up on Wednesday morning thinking they got any better? Smith’s career year this season was slightly more impactful than what Cousins puts up on a yearly basis (over the past three years, Cousins averaged 4,392 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per season, while Smith averaged 3,677 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions over that same time). While the Robert Griffin III swoon produces some painful memories, would you rather the team use the draft capital they handed to Kansas City to move up and acquire a young quarterback in the draft?
Alex Smith: Smith gets to take care of himself for the rest of his life, but does he ever make the playoffs again? It’s a legitimate question. Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid got him there, but both are viewed as some of the most exceptional schematic coaches in the NFL. Does Jay Gruden have the type of play calling rhythm, offensive line and running back cadre to boost Smith properly?
Prospective teams searching for a QB: Taking Smith off the market early is interesting. So much of free agency is bluffing amid the unknown. That isn’t possible now that arguably the third-best available quarterback is spoken for. Assuming Drew Brees works out a short-term agreement with the Saints, it’s now Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum or the NFL draft. There are clearly preferable options for QB-needy teams looking to make the playoffs in 2018 and those options just got slightly more expensive.
Kirk Cousins: Cousins loses some contractual leverage here. Washington was backed into a corner monetarily after franchising him twice in a row, but Cousins knew that each one-year deal only heightened the low end of his salary. Now, there is no threat to return to Washington. Cousins is finally setting himself up to be judged fairly by the open market, and there’s a chance it isn’t as kind to him as expected.