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Cousins gone, Redskins acquire Smith
The first bomb dropped Tuesday night in what is expected to an offseason of considerable volatility among quarterbacks in the NFL.
With seven head coaching changes coupled with upwards of 20 teams with offensive coordinators different from who began the 2017 season, instability will again be rampant with offenses.
And that is already the case in Kansas City after the Chiefs agreed to trade quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins when the league year begins March 14.
Still, the Chiefs are taking a leap of faith by likely starting Patrick Mahomes in his second season after what Smith has accomplished in Kansas City after being acquired from San Francisco when head coach Andy Reid was hired in 2013.
While it is Reid's offense the Chiefs play, they also haven' been immune to change in the coaching ranks after coordinator Matt Nagy was hired as head coach of the Bears and running backs coach Eric Bieniemy was promoted to coordinator.
It's no real surprise that the Chiefs dealt Smith, considering they traded up in last year's draft to select Mahomes.
What's eye-opening is that the destination is Washington where the real ripple effect from the deal is felt.
Kirk Cousins has played the last two seasons under the franchise tag. The Redskins refused to truly commit to him long-term, and Cousins was fine with being paid a total of $43.89 million in 2016 and 2017
The Redskins wanted no part of going through a potential transition or franchise tag for another year, but they still could slap a tag on him in the next month in hopes of making a trade.
Coincidentally, Cousins appeared on PFTLive earlier in the day before word of the trade was reported, and said, "I think we'll do what we've done the past two seasons. There's no need to change the script. Stay consistent with the plan: Let the team do what they want to do. We'll see what the Redskins want to do and then I'll react accordingly."
He found out quickly enough.
Still, Washington is making a risky decision not in acquiring Smith but in knowing they will be searching for a quarterback again perhaps in two or three years.
Smith will be 34 on May 7, and reports on a new four-year contract have the dollars pegged at $94 million with $71 million guaranteed. Of course, the devil is in the details, which we won't know officially until the contract is filed in March.
We will probably learn that a much smaller percentage of that $71 million is guaranteed at signing, with much of it in injury guarantees or becoming guaranteed at the start of later league years.
At their media session Wednesday, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who was with Smith in Kansas City, said, "Washington's very fortunate to have a quarterback in Alex Smith. My year with him was one of my favorite years of football. Just being there in Kansas City and getting to work with him, seeing a guy that for some reason people critique all the time. The guy's a winner. Look at him. Look what he did this year. He just keeps coming. He keeps getting better.
"When I was with him, I worked with him every day. He's one of the smartest players I've ever played with, one of the most athletic guys. He can make plays. But most importantly, leadership in the locker room. He can turn a locker room around and guys believe in him. Washington's getting a great quarterback. I'm excited for him and his opportunity. This league's crazy. You never know what's going to happen."
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who was also with Smith in Kansas City, said, "I just hate that we've got to play him twice a year. I'm happy for Alex. I had a chance to work with him for three years. I'm excited and happy for him. He's going to do fine. He's a pro's pro. He's going to come in and he's going to demand perfection of the guys he's working with."
Meanwhile, the next destination for Cousins will be the subject of likely wild speculation in the next six weeks.
Cousins made it clear in that PFTLive interview what he wants. "Is money a part of it? Sure. Is it the only thing? No," Cousins said. "It is about winning, and that's what I want more than anything, so I'm going to be willing to make sacrifices or do what has to be done to make sure I'm in the best possible position to win, and that's what the focus is going to be."
As an unrestricted free agent, he will have a chance to do that, provided a contending team has interest. The one that makes the most sense is Denver.
While Cleveland and the Jets will surely be mentioned, those won't be places Cousins will want to go. All bets might be off, however, if the Redskins try getting value in a trade.
The Chiefs took the high road, electing to send Smith to the Redskins rather than the Browns, who reportedly expressed interest.
The Broncos will be in the market for a quarterback, and considering the lengths they went to try and keep Brock Osweiler before he signed with Houston in the 2016 offseason, they should go hard after Cousins.
Linebacker Von Miller hopes that is the case. After the Broncos lost to Washington 27-11 on Dec. 24, Miller said, "A lot of teams would kill to have a quarterback like that."
Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show Wednesday, Miller said, "He knows exactly how I feel about Kirk Cousins and what he'd mean to our team. And what he would mean to a lot of other teams. He's the hot quarterback on the market right now. ... Yeah, we need Kirk. We need Kirk. I'd like to have Kirk. Kirk could take us over the edge."
The excuses were there if the Redskins wanted them. A crippling rash of injuries to key players and one of the NFL's toughest schedules made 2017 a miserable slog that ended with a 7-9 record.
But few players were biting on breakdown day after an ugly 18-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday ended things. The Redskins head into the offseason uncertain about the contract status of quarterback Kirk Cousins and knowing other roster changes could take place as the organization has stalled.
"Obviously, you saw what happened, 2017. You obviously saw what happened, 2016," Washington cornerback Josh Norman said. "In 2018 we cannot allow it to happen. We've got to take ownership of that."
A coaching change is unlikely after Redskins head coach Jay Gruden signed a two-year extension in March that was tacked onto the final year of his contract. Washington improved from 4-12 in Gruden's first season to 9-7 and an NFC East title in 2015.
The Redskins have hovered around .500 since, however - 8-7-1 in 2016 and 7-9 this season. No Washington coach has started a fifth consecutive season for owner Dan Snyder since he bought the team in 1999.
The Redskins played five of the eight division champions, six games against teams with at least 10 wins and 10 games against teams with winning records. The offense still managed to stay relevant with Cousins under far more pressure thanks to the offensive line injuries and a reduction in weapons with Reed, Thompson, Kelley and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor all on injured reserve for six weeks or longer.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The offense still managed to stay middle-of-the-pack in the NFL despite critical losses on the offensive line, tight end, running back and wide receiver. Kirk Cousins topped 4,000 passing yards for the third year in a row and had 27 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. The defense was much improved in the first half of the season against the run, but after a season-ending injury to rookie defensive end Jonathan Allen (Lisfranc Sprain), that changed for the worse. Safety D.J. Swearinger and inside linebacker Zach Brown were excellent additions in free agency and helped stabilize the defense.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Injuries. The Redskins had 20 players go on injured reserve, which was third-most in the NFL. But it wasn't the number that hurt, it was the quality of players lost. Losing left tackle Trent Williams, who played hurt much of the season, running backs Chris Thompson (broken leg) and Rob Kelley (knee), and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) proved unsustainable. An inside linebacker unit that featured limited depth lost Mason Foster (shoulder) and Will Compton (Lisfranc Sprain) and Allen, the No. 17 overall pick, was having a wonderful rookie season before his injury. The outside wide receivers (Pryor, Josh Doctson) weren't as good as they needed to be, either.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year, $8 million contract and was supposed to help ease the burden on second-year pro Josh Doctson, a first-round draft pick in 2016. Instead, Pryor never got on the same page with Cousins, lost the trust of his coaches and didn't play after Week 9 before going on IR. An ankle injury in Week 2 didn't help matters. It's almost certain Pryor won't be re-signed.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Tight end Vernon Davis, at age 34, helped ease the sting of losing Reed. Davis faded some at the end as defenses could focus almost entirely on him as injuries mounted. But he was a force in the middle of the season and finished with 43 catches for 648 yards. That was his most receiving yards since 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers (850). Davis' three touchdowns and his 15.1 yards per catch were also his most since 2013 (13 touchdowns, 16.3 yards per catch).
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Wes Phillips, the tight ends coach, should get plenty of looks this offseason at a higher level with other teams. He could have left with former Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay last January to join the Los Angeles Rams staff and his dad, Wade Phillips, who is the defensive coordinator there. But Washington wanted Wes Phillips to stay. He has been on Jay Gruden's staff since 2014 and gradually taken on more offensive responsibilities.