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The 5 O’Clock Club: A look at the Redskins’ new starting quarterback

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

Giving the fans what they asked for

Hogs Haven and the 5 o’clock club is undoubtedly a powerful forum for the voice of the fans. On September 14, 2017, the 5 o’clock club article asked whether the Redskins should trade for Alex Smith.

The poll question that day asked this question: What’s the best option for Doug Williams, Bruce Allen & Eric Schaffer to use at the quarterback position for 2018?

The #1 answer, with 332 votes (33%), was to trade for Alex Smith and draft a young guy to develop behind him.

Well, it looks like the fans may get their wish. The first part of that plan — trading for Alex Smith — is widely reported to have already been agreed to.

What’s been reported

So, here’s the deal for Alex Smith as it’s been reported so far:

Redskins get Alex Smith with one year left on his current contract, and sign him to a 4-year extension (total = 5 years).

Chiefs get the Redskins 2018 third round pick & Kendall Fuller.

Reported numbers on the extension: Average of $23.5m per year, $70m in guarantees.

Let me address the parts of the deal one at a time.

Trading away Kendall Fuller

When I first heard the report, everything sounded about right to me except the part about Kendall Fuller. I thought, “No way would the Redskins trade away one of our best players who has two years left on a contract that pays him about $900,000 per season.”

Well, Fuller has confirmed via Twitter that he’s been traded to the Chiefs.

This part of the deal really bothers me.

I would have considered Fuller to be the single most untradable player on the roster in terms of the Redskins front office taking care of business.

This is the biggest WTF?! move I can remember in my life as a Redskin fan.

I got nothin’ more on that part of the deal.

The third round pick to the Chiefs

Personally, I figured that the Chiefs would get a 4th rounder from some team for Alex Smith. Then, around the end of the season I read a tweet from a journalist that said the Chiefs would be wanting to get more than they’d given up to get him — and they gave up a pair of second-round picks.

That sounded way too high to me, and I said then that I wouldn’t want to give up that much draft capital.

While I figured Smith was worth a 4th rounder, giving up the 2018 third round pick doesn’t really sound like highway robbery to me.

Especially, when you consider that the Redskins have a very good chance of getting a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2019 in return for losing Cousins, the draft pick sent to Kansas City doesn’t sound that bad. Before you laugh at me for my Hogs Haven obsession with comp picks, consider this from OverTheCap:

If the Redskins can receive a compensatory pick for Cousins (which would be a 3rd rounder) then in essence this could be seen as a trade of Cousins for Smith but that will require the Redskins to be pretty careful in free agency to not lose that comp pick.

So, if we were to remove Kendall Fuller from the equation, then you could look at it as trading 3rd round picks, and the Redskins replace Cousins with Smith.

There are a few reasons why this makes some sense:

  • If Cousins didn’t want to be in DC, there’s really no good option for keeping him
  • If Cousins was willing to remain in DC, then it likely would have cost $28m+ per season, with large and meaningful guarantees, to sign him
  • Smith will definitely be cheaper, and my guess is that his guarantees will be lower and less meaningful (more on that later in the article)

From the Redskin standpoint, if you take Fuller out of the equation this deal can be seen (effectively) as trading an expensive Kirk Cousins for a cheaper Alex Smith — something I argued pretty strongly for just a few weeks ago:

I’m content to see the Redskins take the field in September with Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, AJ McCarron, Alex Smith or Ryan Tannehill under center IF Kirk leaves, as long as the defense is bolstered with excellent young talent at ILB, Safety and DL.

This ‘great defense, non-elite quarterback’ concept is by no means an innovative idea. I’ve heard the saying “Defense wins championships” since I was a boy, and lots of teams have had a lot of success by putting the burden on the defense to win games, allowing a quarterback who is merely good (not great) to do enough to win.

I even quoted from OverTheCap in that article, talking about how the Redskins could emulate teams that focus on building a great defense, saying that the Redskins could win that way:

“The goal of these teams is to create a defense that decreases the opponent’s quarterback to the point where your “lesser” quarterback can outperform that elite quarterback you’re facing in the playoffs.”

In a sense, the Redskins front office is giving me exactly what I asked for in that article — a cheaper quarterback. Sure, it cost the team a 3rd round pick, but we should get that back next year, and meanwhile, we should have an extra $5m or $6m dollars per year to pay for a free agent — that means, potentially, 5 years of having an extra premium defensive player over the next five seasons.

Of course, you have to ignore Kendall Fuller to buy all those arguments. Losing Fuller hurts, plain and simple.

Alex Smith and his career

I’m going to focus on the contract numbers in this article, and leave the discussion of Alex Smith as a player for the endless debate that should be with us from now until at least September, but I do want to say a few words about him before I get to his contract.

I think Alex Smith is a good quarterback. According to Pro Football Reference, Smith has a career record of 88-62-1 as a starter. In the last 7 seasons (2011 to 2017) with two different teams, Alex Smith has a winning record in every season, with an overall record since 2011 of 69-31-1, a 68.3% winning percentage. Across a 16-game season, that equates to an 11-5 record.

Lest we forget, Smith was the first overall selection in the 2005 draft. He has a career TD:INT ratio of 183-96 (26-5 in 2017), and he’s been to the pro bowl 3 times, including back to back in ‘16 and ‘17.

In my opinion, Alex Smith is exactly the quarterback that Jay Gruden wants — conservative, careful with the ball, doesn’t make mistakes, has a quick release, situational awareness, can read a defense and understands the offense. I think that Alex Smith may be the ideal quarterback for Jay’s style of coaching.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Smith — who just put up his best career numbers as a passer in 2017... I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up bigger numbers in 2018 with Jay Gruden in charge.

Yes, really.

The Alex Smith contract

It may be a while before we know a lot about the contract details, but I’ve been taking notes on what is being reported on Twitter, and I think I have a handle on the headline numbers in the deal.

  • Smith will get paid $17m (and count for $17m against the Redskins cap) in 2018 because that was his contract with the Chiefs. Kansas City will eat the $3.6m dead cap that took their cap hit to $20.6m for 2018.
  • Reports of $23.5m per year for 4 years on the extension means $94m in new money
  • Reports of $70m in guarantees in that extension
  • Adding it up, this is $111m over 5 years = $22.2m per year

The first question is whether this seems like “market value”. Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap, which specializes in discussing player values, said that he estimates Alex Smith’s value at $22m per year, so that seems like some sort of third-party affirmation that the APY is about right for the market.

The two questions that remain unresolved revolve around Alex Smith’s age, and the reported $70m in guarantees.

The chances are very good that we will need to wait 6 or 7 weeks to find out the structure of the contract, so anything I say here will be mere speculation on my part.

Having looked carefully in the past at quarterback deals for guys like Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck, I’ve become very wary of taking Twitter-reported-numbers at face value. They’re not wrong, exactly, but the early headline numbers often omit or gloss over details that make all the difference in the end.

Here are my guesses about what that four-year extension will look like:

  • I’m guessing that the contract will not have a big signing bonus; instead it will have annual roster guarantees. The effect will be to minimize or eliminate the dead cap hit year-by-year and at the end of the contract.
  • I’m guessing that the contract will not be backloaded; I think that the cap hits will be relatively flat from year-to-year. If the salary escalates from the early part of the contract to the end, I think it will be very mild, and I don’t expect that to be far wrong.
  • I’m guessing that the $70 million guarantee we’re hearing about on Twitter turns out not to be fully guaranteed at signing, similar to the Andrew Luck contract, where Twitter said $87m in guarantees and we found out later that only $43m was guaranteed at signing.
  • I predict that the guarantees for ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21 seasons will mainly be roster guarantees, meaning that if Smith isn’t on the Redskin roster on the 5th day of the league year his money isn’t guaranteed.

So here’s how I see the structure of the Alex Smith deal. Remember that the 2018 figures are known -- they are his current contract with the Chiefs. For the 4 year extension from 2019-2022, I am relying on Twitter reports for the headline numbers and taking educated guesses for the rest of the structure.

  • I’ve used a $10m signing bonus pro-rated over the 4-year extension
  • I’ve added roster bonuses of $20m per year x 3 years to reach the $70 in total guarantees

What does this mean for the marriage between Smith and the Redskins?

This salary structure means that Alex Smith would cost the Redskins 9.6% of the salary cap in 2018, and an estimated 11.1% over the life of the contract.

People in the comments section of the first report on this trade on Hogs Haven who were saying that the reported Twitter numbers mean that we are stuck with Alex Smith to age 39 are likely over-reacting to the Twitter. Those who suggest that the reported $70m in guarantees mean that we are married to him for three years are probably (IMO) also overestimating the strength of the commitment.

If the Redskins and Alex Smith agree to a structure that resembles what I have outlined above, then the ‘Skins can annul the marriage any time they aren’t happy with it.

Cutting Smith at any point in this contract is possible

Let’s look at the APY of the contract if he is cut at the end of any season:

  • cut at end of 2018 - $27m APY (one year salary + signing bonus)
  • cut at end of 2019 - $23.5m APY (2 years’ salary + signing bonus)
  • cut at end of 2020 - $22.3m APY
  • cut at end of 2021 - $21.75m APY
  • completes contract - $22.2m APY

So if he plays only one year, Smith will cost less than Cousins on the Transition tag.

At any point after that, the Redskins can cut Smith and walk away having paid him no more than $23.5m per year for his services.

Note: People may be tempted to point to the “dead cap” number and say it prevents the Redskins from making these moves. The numbers quoted in the bullet list above already take the signing bonus into account, so they have already “absorbed” the dollars that make up the dead cap hit.

So, does this stop the Redskins from drafting and developing a young guy?

This structure literally doesn’t shut the door on replacing Alex Smith at any time with a rookie draft pick or another free agent. That’s kind of been the story of his career.

I admit that the structure I’ve shown above is purely guesswork on my part, but if I were Eric Schaffer, this is the kind of deal that I would aim to put together, given the numbers that we know from Twitter.

I believe it is a fair deal for Alex Smith, given his age and accomplishments. He gets a good pay day for the next five years as long as he performs. Any time the Redskins have a better option, they can cut bait.

2018 Salary cap impact

OverTheCap currently estimates the Redskins available cap space at $52.2m for 2018, but that number hasn’t been updated for signing Dunbar or Foster, trading away Kendall Fuller, or bringing in Alex Smith.

If we make the following adjustments:

  • Dunbar - $3.5m
  • Foster -$2m
  • Dunbar +$900k
  • Smith -$17m

That leaves the Redskins with approximately $30.6m in cap room.

We previously calculated that the ‘Skins need about $2.8m to sign their draft picks. With one less draft pick now, that number drops to around $2.6m.

After reserving around $5m to cover injuries during the season, the Redskins will be able to spend around $23m in 2018 cap money to sign free agents.

Final thought

It sucks to lose Kendall Fuller. I hate that part of the deal.

However, the Redskins have ended the suspense; we know who the starting quarterback will be in 2018.

Personally, I’ve gotten the first part of what I lobbied for at the start of the month -- a veteran quarterback that can win, signed at a fair market rate lower than the expected contract for Cousins.

Now I’d like to see the Redskins front office use the first round pick to upgrade the defense -- specifically, I’d like to get a partner for Jon Allen who can stuff the run and create interior pass rush.

I’m happy for the team to use the second round pick on a running back, and with the third round pick gone to Kansas City, I’d like to see the team use the cap space it has remaining to further strengthen the defense.

The Redskins have committed to a direction at quarterback now, so I want to see the front office get busy finishing the roster.

Poll

NFLdraftscouts.com has Kyle Lauletta from University of Richmond projected in the 5th or 6th round. What do you think about drafting him?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    With Smith & McCoy, he’s the perfect developmental quarterback for the ‘Skins
    (305 votes)
  • 42%
    Lauletta is not the answer to the Redskins’ needs
    (226 votes)
531 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How many seasons will Alex Smith play in Washington?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1
    (30 votes)
  • 19%
    2
    (176 votes)
  • 50%
    3
    (465 votes)
  • 19%
    4
    (184 votes)
  • 5%
    5
    (48 votes)
  • 2%
    6 or more
    (19 votes)
922 votes total Vote Now