NFL observers got a very early head start on the free agency period when it was reported that the Chiefs would trade Alex Smith to the Redskins. How does this shift the 2018 quarterback market, in a year that the Broncos need one? Here’s a quick bullet point list of what thoughts I have:
- Alex Smith was never going to be a Bronco. I had always thought this was going to be a very long shot. Why would the Chiefs help a division rival improve at quarterback? And if the Chiefs were willing to do a deal, the Broncos should have had suspicion of the Chiefs’ assessment of Smith’s future. It was nice to see some confirmation what I had thought all along.
- Kirk Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent. All scenarios of a possible tag and trade being necessary to acquire Cousins may now be discarded. It would be lunacy for the Redskins to trade for a veteran quarterback and give him a new contract in principle, while at the same time adding another eight figure liability against their salary cap. Cousins will become the most prominent quarterback on the market since Peyton Manning in 2012, and the most prominent UFA since Drew Brees in 2006.
- The price to sign Kirk Cousins will still be high…but perhaps not the highest. Had Cousins been transition tagged by the Redskins, it would have given him a negotiating benchmark of around $28.5 million APY to use. That would have been the highest salary in the NFL. But with that no longer in play, Cousins might settle in a range around $24 million (just below his 2017 salary) to $25 million (what Derek Carr averages at). Smith reportedly getting a $23.5 million APY extension may confirm this more even if he’s four years older than Cousins. The caution with this is that only takes one team to fall in love and go crazy with an offer way over the top of all other suitors.
- The Broncos are fully capable of signing Cousins. I remain steadfast in the point that if the Broncos want Cousins, they can get him without drastically tearing down the team. After RFA and ERFA tenders, they should have about $20 million in 2018 cap space to work with, and that can raise to over $25 million after they cut Menelik Watson, a move I think the Broncos can more clearly be aggressive with if the quarterback position is definitively solved. Here’s just one general idea of how they could make it work. But there always has to be a limit as to how much a team is willing to pay, and Denver is very good about adhering to those limits. If another team goes crazy on getting a player, that’s a game the Broncos may very well step away from.
- If Cousins does not sign with the Broncos, root for the Browns or Jets to sign him. This point is pretty straightforward: these are the two teams, along with the Giants, that pose the most threat in challenging Denver for a rookie quarterback within the top five of the 2018 NFL Draft. If the Browns get Cousins, it takes at least one of the 1st or 4th overall picks out of play for a quarterback. If the Jets get Cousins, it takes them out of the running as the one team able to leapfrog Denver for a quarterback without selling the farm.
I may have other thoughts later, and if so I’ll add them to the comments section, and you are free as always to add your thoughts there as well.