Just 24 hours after Blake Griffin got traded to the Detroit Pistons, the NFL came back with a blockbuster trade of its own. Tuesday night the Kansas City Chiefs traded maligned veteran quarterback Alex Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and corner Kendall Fuller. For the Chiefs this is the official beginning of the Pat Mahomes era. For Washington they get a veteran quarterback and end their tenuous relationship with Kirk Cousins. Cousins can officially hit the market now and he will be the hottest commodity in free agency.
Arrowhead Belongs To Mahomes Now
The minute the Chiefs traded up in the 2017 draft to pick Pat Mahomes, Alex Smith‘s days were numbered. Smith to his credit would not go quietly. He led the Chiefs to a 6-0 start and finished with 25 touchdowns, five picks, 4,042 yards and a 104.7 passer rating, a career best. The problem is Smith lost his deep ball as the season wore on. His efficiency while valuable put a ceiling on how far the Chiefs could go in the playoffs.
Pat Mahomes was always looked at as a project. Andy Reid let him play in the season finale against Denver and while Mahomes may be a project, his ceiling is higher than the set of “Super Troopers 2”. Mahomes can air it deep and scramble better than Smith. If Andy Reid ever figures out how to manage the game clock, he could be the guy to get Kansas City over the hump.
Additionally, the Chiefs received corner Kendall Fuller. Fuller was one of Washington’s better corners in which passers averaging a 55.0 passer rating against. The Chiefs secondary, on the other hand, deteriorated as the season wore on. This was most evident when Mike Mularkey‘s “exotic smashmouth” was able to move the ball on them in the second half of their opening playoff matchup. The Chiefs got so desperate they blew $12 million on the corpse of Revis Island. Fuller gives them a quality starter and now they can focus on building around Mahomes, running back Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill.
The Washington/Kirk Cousins Staring Contest Ends
For reasons unknown, Washington was never sold on Kirk Cousins long term. This resulted in the team kicking the can for the last two years making Cousins the first quarterback to be franchise tagged twice. Washington’s indecisiveness cost them about $40 million over two years. If they had tagged him again it would’ve been another $34.9 million. Alex Smith represents stability while Washington figures out what to do next. Jay Gruden gets an efficient quarterback who can run his west coast system and be happy with it.
It wouldn’t be a Dan Snyder trade if Alex Smith didn’t come away with a lot of money. Washington gave Smith a four year $71 million extension. Smith now has job security as he begins the twilight of his career.
Kirk Cousins Is Going To Get Paid
Kirk Cousins is now easily the hottest commodity on the free agent market. He is the best quarterback to be available in a long time. Even more fortuitous for Cousins is the fact that there are a lot of teams looking to give him a lucrative long-term deal. It appeared all season that he’d reunite with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco but Jimmy Garoppolo graduated from TB12 disciple to the reincarnation of Joe Montana. An added level of this move is the fact that whatever amount Cousins ends up signing for will directly impact the Garoppolo’s asking price to the 49ers as they try to work out an extension.
Everyone has Cousins going to the Jets. They are a good bet considering they have $72 million in cap space and have a solid coaching staff led by Todd Bowles. The Jets over-performed last year finishing at 5-11 but were competitive the whole way out. He’d be an instant star and the best quarterback they’ve had in a decade. They have the sixth overall pick and could use it to rebuild their line or give him a playmaker. It also helps that they have a solid defense so Cousins won’t have to get into a shootout every week.
He could go up the I-95 to Buffalo who have a young core and $31 million to spend. Its a bit of a long shot but Buffalo is coming off a miracle season in which they made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They also have a dynamic running back in LeSean McCoy. Cousins could see them as a place to grow and be embraced by a loyal fan base. The Jets offer the same but the expectations are much lower in Buffalo.
The Minnesota Vikings are out of the running assuming they give Case Keenum the franchise tag. If not they have $57.5 million in cap space but some of it will go towards keeping their young defense intact. The Denver Broncos are desperate for a quarterback but they only have $26 million and would have to part with one of their expensive defensive players (most likely Aqib Talib) and one of their receivers Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas.
If Cousins isn’t purely looking for a payday he could see the Broncos as his best chance to win a title. The problem is that John Elway has proven to be a meddlesome figure. Cousins would have a lot of pressure and deal with a coaching staff that is under even more pressure.
Arizona and Jacksonville are outside contenders. The Cardinals are low on funds but could make a few moves to jettison salary and pitch him on having running back David Johnson and a stellar defense. Jacksonville would save over $10 million by letting Blake Bortles go. It’d break Jason Mendoza’s heart but the Jags don’t really believe Bortles is the long-term solution and would see Cousins as the guy to get them over the Brady/Belichick hump. That being said even by letting Bortles go they’d only have $26 million to spend.
The sleeping giant in the Cousins sweepstakes is Cleveland. Yes, they went 0-16 last year but they not only have $117.1 million in space next year but they possess the first and fourth overall picks. If they give Cousins a king’s ransom they could draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the first pick and take either the best defensive player available or another weapon for Cousins. Cousins would inherit a solid offensive line led by stalwart Joe Thomas. He also would get a resurgent Josh Gordon at receiver. They would also have enough money left over to lure other offensive weapons build around Cousins. Not to mention use their bounty of picks to either build through the draft or trade for pieces.
It seems silly to trust coach Hue Jackson but the Browns hired former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley is an abrasive person but he delivers results. Cousins would be an instant star in Cleveland and the expectations would be low enough to allow him to grow into the offense. The Browns aren’t an attractive option on paper but as Shane McMahon’s entrance music says “money talks”. Jimmy Haslem landing Cousins would be an even bigger victory than the Pilot lawsuit getting dropped. The NFL is Cousins’ oyster and he has all the leverage.
The Alex Smith trade can’t be officially consummated until March 14 but once it goes through, the NFL hot stove will officially heat up. Until then expect teams to move mountains to set themselves up for next year.