This year’s quarterback market always had the potential to get crazy. No one expected it to reach that point before the Super Bowl kicked off.
Out of nowhere Tuesday night it was announced the Kansas City Chiefs had traded quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. This trade can’t become official until the new league year starts in March, so as of now these are just agreements in principle with a handshake or a wink or whatever is the official unofficial means of early transactions.
Details surrounding the trade came fast and furious throughout the night, and just analyzing the end result won’t do justice to the way all of this came to be. So let’s start with the first piece of information and work our way through the details and react as they were unveiled.
Terez A. Paylor of kansascity.com was the first to report a trade had taken place. His key takeaway from the Chiefs’ point of view — Kansas City opens up $17 million in cap space.
Sources tell The Star that the Chiefs have reached an agreement to trade Alex Smith to Washington. The story: https://t.co/vlNuGMAlVS— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) January 31, 2018
We’ll start here. The basis of this deal makes sense for the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes is waiting. Patrick Mahomes has incredible upside. Smith was entering the final year of his deal and the timing was right for Kansas City to get something in return while moving on to a younger quarterback with more upside. The Chiefs also needed to clear more than $9 million to get under the salary cap for the offseason, per Over The Cap.
For Washington, this is something. They had struggled to find middle ground with Kirk Cousins on a long-term deal and a third straight franchise tag at a price north of $30 million for 2018 did not seem like a reasonable option. Washington got a competent veteran quarterback to use while they figure out what to do long-term.
Later the terms of the deal would start to be released. The first was about as vague as it gets …
The #Chiefs are trading QB Alex Smith to the #Redskins, source confirms (as @TerezPaylor reported). It involves picks and a player. Huge deal.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 31, 2018
Picks and a player. Interesting a player is involved, but without specifics it doesn’t give us much. The pick was initially rumored to be a second-rounder.
While details of the trade were still being sorted out, information about a deal between Washington and Alex Smith started to come out. It was reported the two sides had agreed on an extension along with the trade.
QB Alex Smith and Washington now have reached an agreement on a new four-year contract extension, per sources. Smith, who had one year left on his contact, tied to Washington for next five seasons. Smith gets long-term deal from Washington that Cousins could not.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2018
Four years slightly negates the idea Washington would be using Smith as a short-term option as they figure out how to get younger and figure out the future at quarterback. It will be tough to see the Redskins take a quarterback in the first round of this year’s draft with Smith under contract for that long. The four-year commitment is also a big one for a quarterback who will turn 34 years old in May.
Then there’s this:
The #Browns tried to trade for #Chiefs QB Alex Smith, sources tell https://t.co/o11vJSOExu, but he's going to the #Redskins instead per @TerezPaylor https://t.co/f2isKbn6EL— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) January 31, 2018
Of course they did. Oh, Browns.
More details came in from Alex Smith’s new contract and if you thought the four-year deal was a surprising commitment, the money added another level.
On the agreement in principle. Alex Smith will average $23.5 million per year in new money on the extension and $70 million in guarantees. Nobody will be able to review that contract for awhile because officially there is no contract. https://t.co/kY9DTZH2RT— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 31, 2018
A $23.5 million average salary would make Smith technically the fourth-highest paid quarterback for 2018, but that does not include the contracts Cousins, Drew Brees, and others will also be getting this offseason. The $70 million guaranteed likely includes the injury-only guarantees, which aren’t typically included when you talk about the guaranteed portion of the contract — unless those numbers are out out by an agent and they want to value to seem higher. The full guarantee is expected to be closer to $40 million, which is around a Derek Carr range.
Trading for veteran players can be the biggest market inefficiency in the NFL — take what the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles did this past year — but laying out that type of money for a 34-year-old quarterback when there are going to be other options on the market isn’t an inefficiency at all.
Eventually the real terms of the trade started to come out.
The #Chiefs traded QB Alex Smith to the #Redskins for a 2018 third-round pick and a player to be named tomorrow, sources say. Solid return, regardless of who the player is.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 31, 2018
A third-round pick is a good get for an aging quarterback who would have been released had a trade not materialized. That pick looks to be 78th overall. It’s not a second-round pick like originally rumored, but there’s still a player involved and if there were multiple teams bidding, that player should be more than a special teamer throw-in.
The next revelation involved Washington and their now official former quarterback.
Washington and QB Kirk Cousins haven’t had any contact since regular season ended, per source. And now each side will go its own way.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2018
Washington’s treatment of Cousins has been a mess, to put it simply. The first franchise tag following the 2015 season was understandable. It was a good year out of nowhere and it’s hard to fault the team for wanting to see more. It should have stopped there, though. 2016 Cousins was almost an exact replica of 2015, so the team should have known then whether they wanted that quarterback or wanted to move on. Instead, there was a second franchise tag given. That left them no choice but to get a long-term deal worked out if they did want to keep Cousins because a third franchise tag would have cost $34 million.
Cousins had a down year in 2017 and he dropped to 24th among quarterbacks in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and tied for ninth in yards per attempt. But considering what he had to work with on offense this past season, his performance was arguably more impressive than 2016 (fifth in DVOA, third yards per attempt) and 2015 (sixth in DVOA, eighth in yards per attempt) when the offense was full of weapons and coordinated by Sean McVay.
Now officially a free agent, Cousins is going to get his massive payday. Quarterbacks of Cousins’s caliber don’t hit free agency often — and that statement is true regardless of how you feel about the caliber of Cousins. Denver, Cleveland, and the Jets will be among the teams bidding for the quarterback’s services.
Finally the most interesting revelations of the trade in four parts…
Source: the player being sent to the Chiefs in the Alex Smith trade is Redskins CB Kendall Fuller.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 31, 2018
Mannnnn im safe! I ain’t get traded— Kendall Fuller (@KeFu11er) January 31, 2018
CB Kendall Fuller is the player that made the trade for Alex Smith possible. Chiefs view Fuller as a bonafide starter, to go along with the third-round pick they’re getting.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2018
Kendall Fuller is now telling his teammates that he is headed to the Chiefs in the Alex Smith deal. He was one of the last people to find out. #Redskins— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) January 31, 2018
First, if this isn’t the perfect glimpse into how the Washington franchise has been run over the years, I’m not sure what is. Second, this should be considered larceny for the Chiefs.
Per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders, Fuller ranked eighth among 81 cornerbacks targeted at least 50 times in yards allowed per pass and second in success rate. The group responsible for NFL1000 over at Bleacher Report graded Fuller as the top slot corner in the league during 2017 and that doesn’t factor in his ability to also play outside.
Fuller only turns 23 years old in mid-February and still has two years remaining on his rookie contract for a total of $1.76 million. This was the last part of the trade, but with apologies to Alex Smith, this might be the biggest.
Let’s wrap all of this up. The full trade was Alex Smith and a new contract for a third-round pick and Kendall Fuller. Kansas City sheds a salary they needed to shed, a quarterback they weren’t going to keep, gets a second cornerback they desperately needed to put next to Marcus Peters, and a third-round pick.
Washington trades a draft pick and a great young corner to replace their expensive veteran quarterback with a slightly less expensive, slightly more veteran quarterback. It’s believable a team would think Smith is better than Cousins, especially one that hasn’t been all that in love with Cousins when he was on its roster.
It’s less believable to think that team views the gap between Smith and Cousins as Kendall Fuller-sized. Washington was going to have to do something at quarterback, but in this particular offseason there will be more options than the typical low supply at the position. Almost all of the other options wouldn’t have required letting go of Fuller.
If Washington feels like Smith upgrades the team over having Cousins and Fuller, why wouldn’t signing someone like Case Keenum and keeping Fuller be an upgrade over that? Even if it cost the same contract, Keenum is four years younger than Smith and wouldn’t cost a draft pick and a cornerback.
The Cousins saga got to a point where there was no longer a right way to handle it, but this feels like the wrong way to finish it. Washington started the first spin of the quarterback carousel, but it took a lot of effort for what might not end up as that big of a reward.