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Skins Stats: A Statistical Review of the Alex Smith Trade

Analyzing every angle of the Redskins’ franchise-altering trade for Alex Smith from a statistical standpoint

NFL: Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Trade

The Washington Redskins agreed to trade their 2018 third-round pick (78th overall) and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs for veteran quarterback Alex Smith, last Tuesday night.

Smith, who only had one year left remaining on his current contract, agreed to a four-year extension which will pay him an average of $23.5 million per year ($94M total) in new money and includes $71 million in guarantees.

These two moves signaled both the end of Kirk Cousins’ tenure in Washington and a chance to have stability at the quarterback position on more than just a year-to-year basis. The latter certainly sounds great after the uncertainty that we’ve witnessed the past three years, but was this really the best course of action for the team to take? Was this a trade that will ultimately benefit the Redskins in both the short and long term?

If you were paying any attention to Redskins Twitter when everything initially went down, you know the resounding consensus at the time was that it was most definitely not a move which furthers the Redskins’ cause of becoming a legitimate perennial contender.

But then something funny happened, as I read through and listened to the mountain of analysis that followed over the course of the next several days, I realized many people were now supporting and even embracing the move.

Was I missing something? Was there blind homerism or some kind of Redskins Stockholm Syndrome playing out here? Maybe, upon further reflection, people were discovering the Redskins genuinely made a shrewd decision here.

I decided to take deep dive into the numbers to find out for myself. I looked at everything the team gave up in the trade, received in return and the alternatives that could’ve been. Now that the season has ended and we’ve had time to digest everything that went down, let’s take one more unbiased look back at the trade to figure out if the Washington Redskins have actually improved as a result of this deal or not.

The Draft Pick: 78th Overall

The Redskins’ third-rounder, the 78th overall pick in this April’s draft, was the first part of the compensation package for Alex Smith that was announced.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much, but when you look back at some of the players and values teams have acquired with similar selections, you begin to realize this was a valuable asset. If you still need convincing then just check out the last five players picked at #78 overall and all of the Redskins’ third-round draft choices of the last five years.

Year WAS 3rd-Rd Picks Pick # 78
2013 Jordan Reed Marquise Goodwin
2014 Spencer Long Spencer Long
Morgan Moses
2015 Matt Jones P.J. Williams
2016 Kendall Fuller Joe Thuney
2017 Fabian Moreau Tim Williams

Most of those names need no introduction, so I’ll just add this: those 11 picks have gone on to play in 331 (30.1 average) and start in 193 games (17.5 average) over the last five years.

And we didn’t even go back that far. Look further into the past and you find that All-Pro guard Louis Vasquez and former Redskins wideout Laveranues Coles were taken 78th overall. Explore some more of the Redskins’ draft history and you’ll notice that franchise legends Russ Grimm, Charles Mann and Chris Cooley were also picked in the third. Don’t even get me started on the idea of trading down to get more picks in the fourth round (Kirk Cousins, Bashaud Breeland, Jamison Crowder, Montae Nicholson).

Every single year teams find gems in the third round between the 75th and 95th picks: Cliff Avril, NaVorro Bowman, Jimmy Graham, Russell Wilson, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Trai Turner, David Johnson, Danielle Hunter, Kareem Hunt, the list goes on and on.

Hitting on guys in this range is far from a sure thing, but you want to take every chance you can get at acquiring players of this caliber for the bottom-basement price the CBA calls on teams to pay players taken in this part of the draft. Over the Cap projects the 78th pick in this year’s draft to receive a contract of under $3.5 million total. That is virtually nothing in today’s NFL.

When you miss out on a value like this or you give it away, as the Redskins did in our next case, you have to go out and find a replacement that is likely going to be much more costly in terms of hits to your salary cap.

The Redskins used a third-round pick to acquire the other asset they surrendered in the Alex Smith trade. They will not be able to replace him with a third rounder this year, and in all likelihood, they will have to use their first-round choice (13th overall) if they hope to immediately plug someone in who can make as big an impact as he did in 2017.

The Player to be Named: Kendall Fuller

Kendall Fuller was the piece that put the Redskins over the top; had he not been included in the deal, the Chiefs likely would have shipped Smith to one of the handful of other suitors looking to trade for him. There is a good reason for this: Andy Reid and the rest of the Kansas City brass realize how good Fuller is and what he has the potential to become.

The Bust

Before his breakout sophomore campaign last season, Fuller struggled mightily as a rookie in 2016. He gave up more receiving yards in the slot than any other player (554 yards) and finished the year ranked 111th out of 118 qualifying cornerbacks in passer rating allowed (120.9), yards per coverage snap (1.78) and coverage snaps per reception (7.3).

Bleacher Report’s NFL 1000 series ranked him 89th out of the 133 corners they graded, and Pro Football Focus tagged him with an abysmal grade of 45.5. Simply put, Kendall Fuller was horrible in coverage as a rookie.

The Breakout

There were reasons for his struggles, though. In 2016, Fuller was one of the youngest players in the league, he was learning how to play a new position (slot corner) and he was recovering from a major injury that limited to him to just 170 defensive snaps in his final college season. The writing was on the wall for a bounce-back, but nobody saw Fuller’s 2017 coming.

In just one year, he essentially went from worst to first among slot defenders. The same Bleacher Report series which ranked him 89th in 2016, gave him the highest grade among all slot corners in 2017. Eagles’ CB Patrick Robinson was the only one at the position with a higher PFF grade (90.6 to Fuller’s 90.0).

Fuller wasn’t just one of PFF’s highest graded defensive backs (ranked 6th among cornerbacks and 9th among all DBs in the NFL), he was the highest graded player on the entire Redskins’ roster. That’s pretty amazing, considering he was the 6th youngest player on the team last season - only Montae Nicholson, Samaje Perine, Robert Davis, LeShun Daniels and Su’a Cravens are younger.

Fuller ranked 2nd and 1st in slot yards per coverage snap and passer rating allowed, respectively. He finished 10th and 7th among all corners in those categories, regardless of alignment.

More Than Just Some Nickel Cornerback

Despite all of that, there are some out there who simply don’t understand the value of defending the slot, and more specifically Kendall Fuller’s value.

What people don’t realize is, some of the best receivers in the NFL work out of the slot and the importance of defending that position will only increase as time goes on.

For example, you may not have known that the following receivers are their team’s primary slot men: Larry Fitzgerald, Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry, Adam Thielen, Julian Edelman, Juju Smith-Schuster, Sterling Shepard and Doug Baldwin. These are players that have combined to rank in the top-10 of multiple receiving statistics in the last two years.

Fuller isn’t just a slot corner, either. He is a phenom capable of playing any position in the defensive backfield. He won the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year as an 18-year-old-true freshman at Virginia Tech, and he did it playing as a boundary/outside corner. He was not just the best slot cornerback in the NFL last year, Kendall Fuller was one of the best corners in the entire league, period; and he doesn’t turn 23 until next Tuesday.

He is fully capable of playing on the outside again and the Chiefs’ recent release of Darrelle Revis seems to indicate they plan on using him in that capacity. Barring an extension, Fuller will cost the Chiefs under $2 million total across the next two seasons.

That is utterly tremendous value that Washington will struggle to replace. There are few, if any, players it would have been worse for the Redskins to trade.

The front office may not have realized all of this, but at least there are some out there who did.

The Remains of the Cornerback Corps

That leaves the Redskins with the following cornerbacks under contract: Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Joshua Holsey. Outside of Norman, this is an extremely inexperienced group.

Redskins Cornerbacks Career Experience
Player Full Age Years G GS Snaps
Josh Norman 30.1 6 83 67 4525
Quinton Dunbar 25.5 3 40 7 931
Fabian Moreau 23.8 1 16 0 59
Joshua Holsey 23.6 1 12 0 9
TOTAL 11 151 74 5524
Minus Norman 5 68 7 999

Dunbar, Moreau and Holsey have combined for what basically amounts to one starting season between them (7 starts and 999 defensive snaps). This is a promising trio, but we really don’t know what this group is capable yet. For example, how confident would you be in all three of them starting if Norman were to get injured next season? What about when Norman is gone?

Norman’s age is the biggest low-key story here. His play has declined in each of the last two years since his exceptional 2015 campaign, which is his only Pro Bowl or All-Pro season, and 2018 will be his age-31 season. The hard truth is that Norman will never be as good as he was in 2015 again.

To further my point, let me point you to a 2017 study conducted by Over the Cap proprietor, Jason Fitzgerald. For the purposes of his discussion about a hypothetical trade of Richard Sherman, Fitzgerald pulled together a group of comps based on Pro Football Reference’s approximate value metric to determine how Sherman would perform over the course of the next several seasons.

He found that comparably productive cornerbacks to Sherman steadily declined after their age 28-seasons and their production fell off a cliff when they hit 32. I took at deeper look at his list of 23 corners and found that only five of them were ever named to a Pro-Bowl when they were 31 or older. The only player with multiple all-star selections after turning 31 was Champ Bailey. Aqib Talib (30) and Norman mentor, Charles “Peanut” Tillman (31), were the only players to be selected as All-Pros after they turned 30.

Those numbers suggest Norman has a shot to put together another strong season in 2018, but what about after that? The Redskins need to start planning for the future now. So why not just go out and sign impending free agent Bashaud Breeland or another walk-year player of similar abilities, you say?

Well, because between last two offseasons, the average and median APYs of the top-7 largest new cornerback contracts were $11.7 and $12.3 million per year. Paying Breeland or another free agent cornerback that kind of money would likely cost the Redskins nearly twice as much as the team will end up saving by signing Alex Smith instead of Cousins.

However, unless the team is comfortable with the potential of experiencing a significant drop-off at one of football’s most important position groups, then they will have to either pay up in the form of big free agent dollars or with a premium draft pick. If they pursue the latter strategy in the draft, they will have to forgo the opportunity of addressing one of a multitude of other serious needs (defensive line, guard, running back, safety, wide receiver, inside linebacker).

The Redskins created another major area of need when they traded Fuller to acquire Alex Smith, and they included one of their best assets to backfill that need (the 3rd-round pick) in the same deal. Is Smith really worth all the trouble?

The Quarterbacks: Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins

Now we finally turn our attention to the man of the hour: Alex Smith. However, in order to determine whether or not the Redskins are actually improving as a result of this trade, we must compare him to what they had. We must compare Smith to the soon-to-be former starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Kirk Cousins.

Who is the Better QB?

Let’s start at the most obvious place and compare the career numbers of the two quarterbacks:

Career Totals
Category Cousins Smith
Yards/G 261.4 204.4
Y/A 7.7 6.9
ANY/A 6.75 5.80
Cmp/G 22.1 18.4
Y/Cmp 11.8 11.1
Cmp % 65.5% 62.4%
FD % 36.1% 32.7%
TD % 4.7% 4.0%
INT % 2.6% 2.1%
Sack % 4.8% 7.8%
QB Rating 93.7 87.4
Rush Y/G 6.1 15.6
Count 10 2

Okay, so that wasn’t even close. Kirk Cousins bests Alex Smith in 10 of the 12 categories we just looked at, and in most cases the margin is not very slim.

Cousins ranks in the top-15 all-time in yards per game (7th), completions per game (9th), completion percentage (3rd), sack percentage (15th), yards per attempt (14th), adjusted yards per attempt (12th), adjusted net yards per attempt (9th) and passer rating (10th). Even when you adjust those stats for era with Pro Football Reference’s index metrics (not available for yards and completions per game), Cousins still ranks in the top 40 all-time in every one of those statistics.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, only ranks in the top-20 in interception percentage (7th), which is also the only era-adjusted stat that he’s top-70 in. Smith is ranked 100th or worse in TD percentage (117th), sack rate (109th) and yards per attempts (101st).

Perhaps Cousins’ numbers are built on the strength of one truly insane, outlier type of year, though. After all, his sample size of qualifying seasons (see explanation below) pales in comparison to Smith’s (3 to 9). Maybe this is inflating all of his measures of efficiency. Let’s take a look at the number of top-10 seasons by Cousins and Smith to determine if this is true and to see how frequently they have ranked among the best in the league.

**Please note the NFL requires players to reach certain minimums to qualify as a leader in per-game stats, percentage stats and passer rating. The post-1978 requirement is 14 passing attempts per game, which comes to 224 total attempts in a 16-game season. Only qualifying seasons were observed when individual season rankings were counted in this study.**

Top-10 Seasons (min 224 Att)
Category Cousins Smith
All Years 6 12
224 Att Years 3 9
Comp 3 1
Cmp % 3 4
Pass Yds 3 1
Pass FD 3 1
Pass TD 1 1
INT % 1 6
Sack % 2 0
Y/A 3 1
ANY/A 2 2
QB Rating 2 3
PFF 1 2
DVOA 2 1
QBR 2 2
Count 5 4

Comparing them from this point of view seems to help Smith’s cause, but at the end of the day Cousins still comes out on top. Cousins has two more top-10 seasons in five of the categories, while Smith only beats out K.C. by more than one season in interception percentage.

Unfortunately, for Smith, things don’t change much when we slightly alter our approach and count the number of seasons in which the two have hit some statistical milestones.

# of Seasons (min 224 Att)
> or = unless otherwise noted
Category Cousins Smith
Years 6 12
224 Att Years 3 9
4,000 Pass Yards 3 1
200 Pass FD 2 0
25 Pass TD 3 1
7.5 Y/A 3 1
7.0 ANY/A 2 1
95 QB Rating 2 2
< 5.0% Sack Rate 2 0
< 2.0% INT Rate 1 6
65 Total QBR 2 0
85 PFF Grade 1 2
15.0% DVOA 2 1
Count 8 2

You might be noticing that the #1 is showing up a lot in Alex Smith’s column. Those 1’s are all virtually coming from one season: 2017. Smith set new career highs in completions, completion percentage (among qualifying seasons), passing yards, passing touchdowns, TD percentage (among qualifying seasons), interception percentage, all four yards per attempt stats and passer rating.

This makes it look like Alex Smith is the one being buoyed by a single outlier season, not Cousins. Smith’s numbers would pale in comparison even more if not for his performance last year. In many key metrics, only his 2017 numbers topped Cousins’ worst output as a full-time starter, which also happened to come from 2017.

Cousins' Worst Season vs. Smith's Best Season (min 224 Att)
* - Denotes the stat was recorded in 2017
Category Worst KC Best AS AS > KC Worst
Cmp 347 * 341 * 0
Cmp % 64.3% * 67.5% * 1
First Downs 191 * 184 * 0
TD 25 26 * 1
Pass Yards 4093 * 4042 * 0
Y/A 7.58 * 8.00 * 1
QB Rating 93.9 * 104.7 * 2

Could I be wrong here? Maybe 2017 isn’t the outlier, maybe it’s the new normal. Perhaps we just witnessed Cousins’ regression to mediocrity and the beginning of Smith’s ascendance to the upper echelon of passers. It’s certainly possible, but I highly doubt it.

Superior Supporting Cast and the 2017 Outlier

There is a reason the play of Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins went in opposite directions last season: Smith enjoyed what was likely the best supporting cast of his career and Cousins’ suffered through his worst.

Cousins lost not one, but two 1,000-yard receivers last offseason, which is something that had never happened in the history of the NFL. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon weren’t just a pair of one-hit wonders, either; they had already posted a combined five 1,000-yard seasons prior to 2016 (4 Jackson, 1 Garcon). The only 1K-yard wideout the Skins had going into last season was Terrelle Pryor (1 season), and we all know how he worked out.

It wasn’t just about the receiver position. The Redskins’ offensive line was decimated with injuries and it had a dramatic effect on Cousins’ play.

Washington’s offense was on the field for 1,112 snaps in 2017, which means there were a total of 5,560 snaps (1,112 * 5 = 5,560) and 80 starts (16 * 5 = 80) to go around for the 5 primary offensive linemen. The Redskins’ opening-day starting O-linemen only played a combined total of 3,368 snaps (61%) and made just 55 total starts (69%). Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses accounted for 896 of the lost snaps and 8 of the lost starts.

It also would have been nice if the Redskins got anything out of their rushing attack. The team ranked 27th in rushing yards and their leading rusher, Samaje Perine, gained just 605 yards on the ground.

Washington never ranked higher than 20th in rushing yards during Cousins’ time as the starting quarterback and the team never produced a running back who recorded more than 751 rushing yards in that span. The Chargers, Colts and Lions are the only other teams that can also claim the former and the Eagles and Lions are the only clubs without a 751-plus-yard back since 2015.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, has always had the luxury of a terrific running game. Frank Gore rushed for at least 1,100 yards in three of Smith’s four qualifying years with the 49ers and either Jamaal Charles or Kareem Hunt hit the 1,000-yard mark in three of his five years in Kansas City. In fact, Charles led the NFL in touchdowns in 2013 and Hunt led the league in rushing yards last season.

The 2017 Chiefs were just the fifth team in league history with a 1,000-yard rusher (Hunt), wide receiver (Tyreek Hill) and tight end (Travis Kelce). The others were the 1981 Chargers, the 1981 Vikings, the 1997 Broncos and the 2007 Browns. The historic, Super Bowl-winning 97 Broncos squad was the only other one of those teams that saw each member of their trio (Terrell Davis, Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe) rank in the top-15 in terms of either rushing or receiving yards.

The Skins’ new signal caller was a revelation as a deep-ball passer in Kansas City last season, which is something that runs completely counter to the narrative that he is a dink-and-dunk passer. Smith ranked 2nd in yards per attempt (8.0) and 40-yard passes (13); he led the league in adjusted yards per attempt (8.6), quarterback rating (104.7) and QB rating on deep passes (131.4).

How did someone who had never ranked in the top-5 (barely in the top-10 in a couple of instances) of any of these statistics do this for the first time in what was his age-33 season?

Enter Tyreek Hill, who took advantage of a 360-snap increase from 2016 and led the Chiefs in receiving yards last season. Hill ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day two years ago and that speed has certainly translated to the NFL. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he posted the two fastest speeds by a ball carrier in 2016 and was ranked in the top-15 four times last season.

Hill opened the 2017 season by setting an NFL record for the most consecutive games with a 60-yard touchdown (5), and he finished the year with a league-high 9 receptions of 40 or more yards. He and fellow teammate and free agent to-be, Albert Wilson, both ranked in the top-5 of average yards of separation at the QB’s release. The Chiefs’ receiving corps led the NFL in this metric for the second consecutive year.

Tyreek “the Freak” Hill is one of the fastest and most explosive players in the NFL and his presence greatly benefited Alex Smith. Of Alex Smith’s 13 completions of 40-plus yards last season, 9 of them went to Hill (69%). Smith posted league highs in deep passing yards (1,344) and touchdowns (12), but almost half of that production came on throws to Hill.

So ask yourself this question, is it more likely that Alex Smith completely changed his playing style and went from one of the most conservative passers in the league to a legendary deep-ball thrower at the age of 33 or that his 2017 season was an outlier which came on the strength of an elite supporting cast? I think we all know what the answer to this question is.

The King of Dinking and Dunking

Smith’s deep-ball proficiency in 2017 is not at all representative of how he has played throughout his career. The fact is that Alex Smith is a dink-and-dunker of the highest order. There is not some false narrative, it’s reality.

Below you can see his rankings from all nine of his qualifying seasons in yards per attempt, air yards per attempt, average depth of target (aDOT) and first down percentage.

Yards Per Attempt: 19th, 24th, 18th, 17th, 29th, 24th, 14th, 16th, 2nd (3 bottom-10 & 1 top-10)

Air Yards Per Attempt (Data since 2009): 26th, 27th, 20th, 35th, 31st, 27th, 28th, 11th (6 bottom-10 & 0 top-10)

aDOT (Data since 2007): 30th, 27th, 31st, 37th, 33rd, 35th, 29th, 26th (8 bottom-10 & 0 top-10)

First-Down Percentage: 26th, 30th, 29th, 19th, 23rd, 10th, 27th, 8th, 11th (4 bottom-10 & 2 top-10)

What’s worse is that many of his bottom-10 rankings also fall in the bottom-5, while only one of those top-10 performances ranked 5th or better (2017 YPA).

But what about Kirk Cousins, you say? Well, he has yet to rank in the bottom-10 in any of the aforementioned categories and has posted at least one top-10 season in all of them. This was, in fact, a false narrative that hung around Cousins for a while. If only the same accusations against Smith were untrue.

Maybe you’re still not sold yet, so let’s turn our attention to Football Outsiders’ ALEX metric (which may or may not be named after Alex Smith) to prove this point once and for all. Here’s a brief explanation of this:

For those new to this metric, it is called Air Less EXpected, or ALEX for short. ALEX measures the average difference between how far a quarterback threw a pass (air yards) and how many yards he needed for a first down. If a quarterback throws a pass to a receiver 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage on third-and-13, then that would be -17 ALEX.

I was only able to find the results from the last three years, so all I can personally tell you is Alex Smith finished 35th, 25th and 21st between 2015 and 2017 among players with at least 224 passing attempts in each of those seasons. Here are few snippets from Football Outsiders’ annual ALEX review articles that should help further illuminate things for you:

ALEX: 2015 Season Review

We do have a new low benchmark with Alex Smith’s minus-3.4 ALEX beating out 2009 Trent Edwards (minus-2.8). Smith and Blaine Gabbert now account for five of the 10 lowest ALEX seasons since 2006. Nine of those 10 seasons have ranked 26th or worse in conversion rate.

ALEX: 2017 Season Review

How about our usual Alex Smith check? He was right behind Taylor at 22nd (+0.7 ALEX), which is his highest finish since 2007. Smith was definitely more aggressive in his first 4,000-yard season, and he had a stellar first half in the playoffs last week. Unfortunately, it led to another second-half collapse, and Smith’s biggest problem was really not pulling the trigger on some third downs. He tried to scramble and just couldn’t make anything happen.

The last part of that quote exemplifies Smith’s playing style. He is a conservative passer who far too often eschews riskier intermediate and deep passes in favor of short conservative throws, scrambles or taking sacks (Smith’s 7.76% career sack rate ranks 6th worst among current starting quarterbacks, Cousins’ 4.81% ranks 5th best).

This isn’t entirely a bad thing, though. It’s why Smith already ranks 19th all-time in rushing yards by a quarterback (2,433) and will likely finish his career in the top-12, if not the top-10. It also probably has a lot to do with his historically low interception rate of 2.1% (7th best all-time and 22nd best when adjusted for era).

In a vacuum, those are great attributes to have, but when those are your quarterback’s best qualities and they are coming at the expense of an explosive/more dynamic passing attack, it just isn’t worth it. The NFL is a passing league and it rewards teams that understand this and use an aggressive approach. You need look no further than last week’s Super Bowl to find proof. As Herman Edwards once told us and Doug Pederson showed last week, you play to win the game.

Unfortunately, history tells us that Smith isn’t likely to improve as he enters his mid-30s.

Fighting Father Time

Alex Smith will turn 34-years-old in just under three months from now. Most NFL players are forced to retire long before they hit that age, but things are a bit different for quarterbacks, who often play well into their 30s before they finally hang em’ up. Smith should be able to stick around for a while longer, but that’s not the problem; the issue is how effective he will be.

I used Pro Football Reference’s similarity scores and some statically similar players of my own choosing to come up with a set of historical comps for Alex Smith. This list included some very solid QBs like Mark Brunell, Phil Simms, Chad Pennington, Jim Harbaugh, Doug Williams, Matt Hasselbeck and Joe Theismann (yes, there happened to be a lot of former Redskins in there).

Every player I looked at played into their 30s, but the vast majority of them either retired, hardly played or were ineffective by right around the time they hit Alex Smith’s current age. Maybe you don’t like my comps though or you don’t trust a process that isn’t as exhaustive and transparent as the one I just presented. I can understand that, but, at the very least, consider these next facts.

Only 30 non-Hall of Fame QBs (likely HOFers were also excluded) have had a season with above-average passer rating and ANY/A numbers (per PFR’s era-adjusted index metrics) after their age 33-seasons (minimum 200 attempts). Those 30 players combined to produce 62 “above average” seasons per the requirements I just laid out.

Conversely, 75 non-Hall of Fame signal callers between the ages of 30 and 33 were able to hit those numbers and they combined to do so 134 times.

These “above-average seasons” have basically occurred more than twice as frequently for quarterbacks between the ages of 30 and 33 than they have for players that are 34 or older. Kirk Cousins doesn’t turn 30 until a month before the 2018 seasons begins, Alex Smith turns 34 in three months. Alex Smith will be 38-years-old by the time Kirk Cousins turns as old as Smith is today, which also happens to be when Smith’s current contract expires.

The Verdict

If you’ve read everything up until this point, I’m not really sure how you could debate that Alex Smith is a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins. Cousins is clearly the better player in almost every regard, and it’s not particularly close.

The gap will likely only widen as Smith progresses into his mid-30s and is forced to depend on what will likely be a far inferior supporting cast compared to what he’s grown accustomed to.

The Costs

Where’s the Value?

So let me get this straight: as a result of this trade, the Redskins are worse off at quarterback, cornerback and in terms of draft capital. And what did they make all these sacrifices for? They did it for the almighty dollar.

Now, I could understand that if they were saving a substantial amount of money. They could use those cap savings to put a strong supporting cast around Alex Smith. This sounds great in theory, but the fact is, the team is not going to realize significant savings by moving on from Cousins because of the amount they paid to Smith. The full breakdown of his contract has not been released yet, but we do know he will cost the team an average of $22.2 million per year against the cap. Here is Spotrac’s guess at what the full contract might look like.

Assuming this is true and that his contract is not heavily back-loaded and short on true guaranteed money, then the difference between what Smith and Cousins are going to be paid is not really substantial.

In all likelihood, Cousins will get a contract which carries an average cap hit of approximately $28 to $29 million per year and includes $100 million in guarantees (with around $70 million of that being guaranteed at signing). This deal will be more expensive to get out of than Smith’s, but on a year-to-year basis it is only going to cost about $6 million more. The difference is frankly not enough to justify what the Redskins are losing out on.

For one, they could have saved an average of roughly $6.6 million per year over the course of the next three seasons by moving on from Terrell McClain, Colt McCoy, T.J. Clemmings and Su’a Cravens (trade). That alone would cover the difference for the next three years. But what if they plan on making most of those transactions anyways and the point is moot? Well, releasing the oft-injured Jordan Reed would save the team almost $8.5 million APY over the course of the next four years, which would easily make up for the difference.

And don’t tell me Cousins didn’t want to be here and that he would have declined any offer made by the team. How can anyone even presume to know that’s true when he was never once offered a contract resembling anything close to market value (see below in reference to Cousins and the new Jimmy Garoppolo deal)?

I’m not sure what the Washington front office thinks they can do with these savings; $6 million per year simply isn’t going to get you very far in the current contract landscape.

That kind of money has been enough for a handful of quality players in the last couple of years (DeMarco Murray, Richie Incognito, Eric Weddle, Danny Trevathan, Casey Hayward, Mohamed Sanu, etc.). But those are the highlights, those are all best-case examples and not the norm, because $6 million is simply not the kind of money you have to pay to acquire a premium player. That will not even be enough to keep Zach Brown in the fold and it is far less than what the team would need to spend to replace Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller.

Opportunity Lost

It’s not just about the draft pick, Fuller and Cousins, though. We also must consider the opportunities the team passed up on when they made the trade.

If they truly wanted to save money, then they could have kept Fuller and the third rounder and signed someone like Sam Bradford or Josh McCown for far less (at the very least $5 million per year less than what they are paying Smith). They also could’ve just rolled with Colt McCoy, who is already under contract next season for the low cost of just $3.6 million.

Had they decided against retaining Cousins in favor of one of those options, then they would have had a legitimate shot at pulling off a tag-and-trade scenario. They still have expressed interest in doing this, but nobody out there is taking them seriously because they have little-to-no leverage left to feasibly pull off such a move.

If the Redskins had taken this approach in the first place, they could have used the assets they received in return to trade for a signal caller like Smith, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, etc. instead of using their own pick and Kendall Fuller to do so. Or maybe they could’ve just paid up for someone like Bridgewater or Keenum and used all of those extra picks to surround them with even more talented young players.

I personally think they should have just signed Cousins, but my second choice, and perhaps the wisest option, would have been to tag and trade him to a team with a high draft choice, so they could use the selection on someone like Baker Mayfield.

If that wasn’t going to work, my preference would’ve been to trade him for draft picks and use those picks, and maybe the third rounder they ended up using to acquire Smith, to move up near the top-5 to take a quarterback. Such a move would have been more than feasible according to every major value chart out there (Jimmy Johnson, Approximate Value and CBA adjusted).

If the Skins could have pulled off such a strategy, they’d have a 21-year-old QB of the future who costs $5 to $6 million per year instead of a 34-year-old stopgap who runs them $22.5 million annually, and on top of all that, they’d still have Kendall Fuller and maybe their third-round pick.

There are countless ways the Redskins could have addressed their quarterback situation, most of which would have been better than the approach they ultimately chose.


The Washington Redskins traded one of their youngest, cheapest and most talented players and a valuable draft pick for a conservative, aging quarterback whose value was inflated by an outlier season and who isn’t as good as the QB they already had.

The team is worse off in all three regards (passing offense, passing defense and draft capital) for making this deal, and the paltry value that was added in terms of cap space will likely be erased trying to backfill the aforementioned assets they gave up.

What’s even worse, they were in no way backed into a corner and they did not have to make this trade. There were many paths that they could’ve taken, but they chose one of the least optimal ones possible in terms of value added. Simply put: this was a horrible trade.

I strongly believe that, but at the same time, I also still support the Redskins and think that Alex Smith is a good quarterback. Both things can be true, it’s not black and white. Do not forget about this trade or try to rationalize it away with the notion that they “made the best of a bad situation,” because they didn’t.

Perhaps I’m a battered diehard, a fool or both for knowing how bad of a deal this was and still sticking by the Washington Redskins, but at least I can call this trade for what it is.


On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being "poor" and 5 being "excellent," how would you rate the Washington Redskins trade for Alex Smith?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    (239 votes)
  • 20%
    (168 votes)
  • 23%
    (194 votes)
  • 15%
    (126 votes)
  • 11%
    (90 votes)
817 votes total Vote Now


What should the Redskins have done about their quarterback situation this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Exactly what they did do (the Alex Smith trade)
    (165 votes)
  • 6%
    A similar trade, but for a different veteran QB (Dalton, Taylor, McCarron, Foles, etc.)
    (47 votes)
  • 27%
    Sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal
    (190 votes)
  • 11%
    Tag & trade Cousins, and use the picks to build around a free agent QB
    (81 votes)
  • 11%
    Tag & trade Cousins, and use the picks to move up in the draft for a rookie QB
    (77 votes)
  • 18%
    Tag & trade Cousins, and use the picks to build around a QB drafted with the 13th overall pick
    (127 votes)
687 votes total Vote Now

*All statistics are courtesy of Air Yards, Bleacher Report, CSN Mid Atlantic, ESPN, Football Outsiders, Football Perspective,, NFL Gamebooks, Over the Cap, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Sporting Charts, Spotrac,, Sharp Football Stats, Team Rankings and The Washington Post*