The two best quarterbacks that were likely to be available this offseason have now become intertwined.
Smith will also reportedly sign a four-year extension worth $94 million, with $71m in guaranteed money.
This obviously means Kirk Cousins’ days in Washington are numbered as he’ll now hit free agency as a much sought-after commodity who will be pursued by several quarterback-starved teams.
But while Washington swap one established quarterback for another, Kansas City are now expected to hand over the reins to their young wildcard.
Here’s how the trade looks for both teams:
Washington’s shift change
Whatever you think of Cousins – and opinions on him can vary wildly depending on who you ask – the gap between him and Smith isn’t sizeable in either direction.
Smith, of course, is coming off a much better year in which he led the league with a 104.7 passer rating – compared to 93.9 for Cousins – and is much safer with the ball in his hands, tied for seventh all-time in career interception rate at 2.1 per cent.
But he’s also four years older than the 29-year-old Cousins and owns a 2-5 record in the playoffs. Cousins’ impressive 2015 campaign, in which he boasted a career-best passer rating of 101.6, may well be an outlier and he may be closer to the quarterback we saw this past season (93.9 passer rating), but it’s not ridiculous to believe his best days could be ahead of him in another setting.
And it’s also fair to wonder how much of Smith’s recent success in Kansas City can be attributed to the playmakers he had around him and Andy Reid’s innovative offensive scheme, which maximised his strengths and negated his weaknesses.
In Andy Reid's offense Smith was basically a screen and shot-play passer.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 31, 2018
In Gruden's offense Cousins was expected to do a lot more work past the line of scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/YNKiCj34gS
Where this trade works in Washington’s favour is in the salary cap. Even with Smith’s rich extension, the damage done to Washington’s cap won’t hamstring the team as much as Cousins’ next contract. There’s no doubt that Cousins will become the highest-paid player in NFL history this offseason, potentially commanding $30m or more in annual salary. The $7m saved annually on Smith can go to shoring up other parts of the roster.
Washington, however, had to give up a third-round pick and a useful cornerback in Fuller to solidify their position, so it’s not a one-for-one quarterback swap. And even forgiving Washington’s botched negotiations with Cousins the past couple years, the rosiest outlook for this trade translates to minimal gains in the short term.
It’s Mahomes time
Smith’s fate was sealed the second the Chiefs traded up in last year’s draft to select Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. The only question was when the switch would be made from the veteran to the young gunslinger.
It looks like Kansas City are done waiting. With Smith gone, Mahomes is now in line to inherit an offence that racked up the fifth-most yards (375.4 per game) and sixth-most points (25.9) in the league this season.
The stylistic differences between Smith’s game and Mahomes’ game are drastic. While Smith has built a reputation as a consistent, high-floor passer, Mahomes’ ceiling is exponentially higher due to his monster arm and quick-strike ability.
However, the trade-off for Mahomes’ vast potential is a greater likelihood of mistakes and turnovers. It’ll be interesting to see if the Chiefs let Mahomes rip it without any training wheels, or Reid tailors a system to his talents that takes some control out of his hands.
Either way, Kansas City can literally afford to wait for Mahomes to develop. For a team that’s good enough to make the playoffs, having your starting quarterback on a rookie contract is a massive luxury.
The Chiefs may not be better off in the short term, but their ceiling was hard-capped with Smith and with this trade, they at least open up more possibilities.
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