How the Alex Smith trade shakes up the NFL landscape

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Alex Smith (left), quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, evades being tackled in an attempt to throw a pass down the field during the 2014 National Football League Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium, Hawaii, Jan. 26, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Matthew Bragg)

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The Kansas City Star was the first to report the blockbuster news that the Kansas City Chiefs have agreed to trade starting quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.

The move will reportedly save Kansas City $15.6 million dollars, as Smith was entering the final year of his contract in which his cap number would have hit $20.6 million in 2018. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that Smith will sign a four-year extension with Washington, averaging $23.5 million per year with $71 million in guaranteed money.

The 33-year-old Smith is coming off the best season of his career, as he set career highs in passing yards (4,042) and touchdown passes (26) while finishing with the best passer rating in the NFL (104.7) and throwing only five interceptions.

The move allows Washington to move on from previous starter Kirk Cousins, who had been franchise-tagged these past two seasons. If the Redskins tagged him a third time, Cousins would have been owed $34.5 million, and the transition tag would’ve cost $28.8 million.

Speculation is abound that Cousins may fetch $90 million on the free agency market, and it appears that Washington simply wasn’t willing to pay such a hefty price for a quarterback they never totally believed in. From Washington’s point of view, acquiring Smith is a cheaper option while maintaining and perhaps even improving the performance level at the quarterback position, all while leaving them with around $20 million of cap space to improve the roster elsewhere.

According to Schefter, Kansas City made the trade because of the 22-year-old Fuller. The Virginia Tech product is a promising corner that proved to be one of the league’s top slot defenders this past season, as he recorded 55 tackles, 10 passes defended and four interceptions. The Chiefs will play him opposite shutdown corner and temper-tantrum extraordinaire Marcus Peters, filling a glaring hole in the Chiefs bottom-feeding defense.

Smith posted a 50-26 record as a starter in Kansas City, making two straight Pro Bowls and adding stability to a position that had been shaky in the years prior to Smith’s arrival in Arrowhead Stadium.

Despite impressive regular season stats, Smith’s performance declined considerably with each successive game this season and his 1-4 career record in the playoffs convinced Kansas City that it was time for a change.

The Chiefs appear to be going forward with backup quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, entering his second year out of Texas Tech.

It’s the same old story for Smith, who has been replaced by a younger and more exciting quarterback after not being able to win the “big one” yet again, first with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and now with Mahomes. The former No. 1 overall pick is looking for more stability in Washington but I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffered the same fate a year or two down the line in favor of another young gunner, perhaps taken in this year’s draft.

Only playoff success will buttress Smith from this likely fate and even then, Redskins owner Dan Snyder is the kind of guy who may get rid of him anyway sometime down the line.

Meanwhile Cousins is about to get handsomely paid by someone. Denver, Cleveland and New York are all in desperate need of help at the quarterback position. Inevitably, somebody will overpay for him and Cousins will definitely “like that.”

Denver looks to be the most promising landing point for Cousins considering they have the strongest roster out of the likely suitors but it’s possible that a “Dark Horse” team (Jacksonville anyone?) that’s flying under the radar may seduce him. It still remains to be seen whether people will finally start getting his name right.

Will either of these teams win the Super Bowl next year? Probably not. Are these two quarterbacks superstars? No. Is this trade more fun to talk about than it will be actually watching these two teams play next year? Yup.

So who won this trade? I’ll leave that up to you.

Rory O’Toole writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].