The Washington Redskins shocked the football world on Tuesday night, reportedly agreeing to acquire quarterback Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a third-round pick and promising cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Washington then doubled down on Smith, signing the 33-year-old quarterback to a four-year deal worth $94 million.
What this all means for Kirk Cousins — Washington’s starter for the last three seasons — is obvious: His time in the U.S. capital has come to an end.
After being franchise tagged in each of the last two off-seasons, Cousins will hit the free-agent market in March and will likely have the chance to sign the richest contract in NFL history.
Despite a mediocre 17-14-1 record in 32 games over the last three years in Washington, Cousins has demonstrated the ability to perform at a high level. The 29-year-old has completed more than 68 per cent of his passes over the last three season for 9,000 yards, 54 touchdowns (vs. 23 interceptions) and a 99.3 QB rating on largely underwhelming Redskins teams.
There are plenty of quarterback-needy teams who will be champing at the bit for Cousins’s services. But which ones are the best fit? Here’s a breakdown of the three likeliest suitors, plus a trio of other teams who could be involved.
The Jets surpassed expectations early in 2017 (before eventually coming down to Earth), and did so despite a roster with plenty left to be desired, including at quarterback.
Josh McCown had a typical Josh McCown season, providing the Jets with both glimpses of brilliance and some terrible decision-making before an injury ended his season prematurely. Bryce Petty finished the season under centre in predictably underwhelming fashion as New York dropped its final four games.
But, as mentioned above, the Jets displayed reasons for optimism in the first few weeks of the season and the team rewarded GM Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles with two-year extensions earlier this month.
With some formidable offensive weapons in Robbie Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (plus the promotion of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates to offensive co-ordinator), a young defence on the rise and plenty of money to spend, speculation is already rampant that the Jets could be the most logical landing spot for Cousins.
While the Jets appear to make a lot of sense for Cousins, the Broncos have to be considered the most intriguing of the potential suitors out there.
Quarterback has been a revolving door in Denver since Peyton Manning retired in the wake of a Super Bowl 50 victory — and to be honest, it was a revolving door even during Manning’s final season at Mile High. Since No. 18 called it a career, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch have all seen time under centre and — outside of some flashes from Siemian — all have proven disappointing.
John Elway was (and may still be) expected to take a serious look at the impressive stock of quarterbacks available at the top end of this year’s draft, but with Cousins now on the move you can bet the Hall of Famer will have a top-notch pitch ready.
And much like when Manning signed with the Broncos in the 2012 off-season, the Broncos are a great fit. Denver has one of the league’s best receiving duos in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders — a colossal upgrade from Jamison Crowder and … Vernon Davis? — and a defence that, despite giving up an unusual amount of points in 2017, has been in the NFL’s upper echelon for most of the last six seasons.
When news of Washington’s acquisition broke on Tuesday, the Broncos were the first team that came to mind for Cousins, and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the quarterback took less money than expected to sign in Denver.
The Cardinals are another team with plenty of potential should the right man be brought in at quarterback.
Another unfortunate Carson Palmer injury meant Bruce Arians’s final season in Arizona will be remembered for its never-ending flip-flop from Drew Stanton to Blaine Gabbert. And despite the constant unrest at the game’s most important position, the Cardinals still finished 8-8 and won three of their last four games — which included knocking division rival Seattle out of playoff contention in Week 17.
Like the Broncos, the Cardinals have plenty of offensive firepower, including two of the best playmakers in football in Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, and one of the league’s best defences. After an iffy first few games, Arizona’s defence was stellar in the second half, giving up fewer than 280 yards per game and allowing 100 yards rushing just twice over their last nine.
With the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers making power moves in the NFC West, the Cardinals can’t afford to fall too far behind. GM Steve Keim could give new head coach Steve Wilks a huge boost by signing Cousins as the next franchise quarterback.
Other notable possibilities
Minnesota Vikings: All three quarterbacks on the Vikings’ roster will become free agents on March 14, and attempting to sign Cousins could be in the cards should the defending NFC North champions be wary of bringing back any of Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater.
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor’s time in Orchard Park is likely up, and the Bills could tap into that playoff momentum by making a serious pitch to Cousins. However, Buffalo has plenty of holes to fill this off-season and may be better off signing a free agent who will cost much less (Bradford or Keenum?) and use their stockpile of draft picks to select a quarterback of their liking in the first round.
Cleveland Browns: Winners of just one game over the last two seasons, the Browns’ fan base deserves nothing more than a signing of Cousins’s magnitude. But does it make sense for the franchise given the obvious work the entire roster needs? And do we really see Cousins choosing Cleveland over some of the teams mentioned above? It would be shocking. So, like the Bills, Cleveland GM John Dorsey may be better off using his draft assets rather than breaking the bank.