The Washington Redskins, unable to strike a long-term contract with Kirk Cousins, have solved their uncertainty at quarterback by trading for Kansas City’s Alex Smith, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deal.
The move will bring the 33-year-old Smith, a 13-year veteran, to the third NFL team of his career and is expected to be finalized Wednesday.
Under the agreement in principle, Smith, who had one year remaining on his contract with Kansas City, will sign a four-year contract extension, the person said. According to ESPN, the Redskins are sending a third-round draft pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs.
ESPN also reported Smith’s deal is worth an average of $23.5 million annually and $71 million guaranteed.
Those figures are substantially less than the roughly $35 million that would have been required to prevent Cousins from leaving via a third consecutive NFL franchise tag.
The move means that Cousins, 29, who had shown no interest in striking a long-term deal with the Redskins, will be get what he has long sought: A chance to test his value on the NFL’s free agent market and have a choice in his employer for the first time in his career.
Meanwhile, the Redskins get a proven quarterback who is coming off the best season of his career. The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Smith threw for 4,042 yards last season, leading the Chiefs to a 10-6 record and AFC West title while throwing a career-high 26 touchdowns to five interceptions. He finished the season with a career-high 104.7 quarterback ratings and was named to his third Pro Bowl.
And it represents a sorely needed victory for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and President Bruce Allen, who in the view of several NFL executives had mishandled contract talks with Cousins and faced the financially untenable prospect of paying him $35 million — on top of the roughly $44 million they have paid Cousins under back-to-back franchise tags — to keep him under wraps. The slightly less burdensome option of barring Cousins’s departure via the NFL’s transition tag (roughly $28 million) carried the additional risk that a rival team would offer the quarterback a long-term deal that the Redskins wouldn’t want to match to keep him.
The deal, first reported by the Kansas City Star, drew high marks from former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, now an analyst with NFL Network.
“This is a smart move because the Redskins head into free agency with the quarterback position set,” Casserly wrote in an email exchange Tuesday night. “This is what they needed to do whether they signed Cousins or traded for Alex Smith. Smith and Cousins have similar ability to play quarterback.”
Indeed, the Redskins have myriad needs following a disappointing 7-9 season as they head free agency in March and the NFL draft in April. Their defense, which opened the season strong, stumbled down the stretch after losing key contributors on the defensive line to injury, including rookie Jonathan Allen. Injuries at inside linebacker and defensive back further thinned their ranks, and they ended the year ranked 27th in points allowed (24.2) and now will have to replace Fuller.
That was a lot of points for Cousins to overcome — particularly after losing 2,000 receiving yards with the offseason departure of wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Injuries to favorite targets Chris Thompson and tight end Jordan Reed made matters worse.
While Cousins topped the 4,000-yard passing mark for a third consecutive season, he wasn’t at his best in some crucial moments and key games. The upshot did little to convince the Redskins front office that he was worth the sort of money that franchise quarterbacks demand.
And Coach Jay Gruden signaled as much in his postseason remarks, giving Cousins a tepid endorsement that focused on the team’s record under his leadership in this season.
But the notion of mutual trust between Cousins and the Redskins had grown strained by that point. Allen wasn’t eager to sign Cousins to a long-term deal after he led the team to the NFC East championship in 2015. And after Cousins followed with another strong performance in 2016, it was Cousins who wasn’t eager to tie his future to that of the Redskins.
A standout at Utah, Smith was chosen by San Francisco with the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft with the enthusiastic backing of the 49ers’ vice president of player personnel, Scot McCloughan, who served just over two years as the Redskins’ general manager.
Smith had a rocky start to an NFL career, and the tumult in the 49ers organization didn’t help. He was traded to Kansas City following the 2012 season and immediately flourished under Coach Andy Reid, winning his first nine starts.
In Smith’s five seasons as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Kansas City has compiled a 53-27 record, reached the playoffs four times, won the AFC West twice and never finished worse than second in their division. In that span, Smith started all but four of 80 regular season games