MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Kansas City Chiefs beat the New England Patriots in the first game of the 2017 season last September, with Alex Smith outdueling an out-of-rhythm Tom Brady, it was difficult to imagine that just five days before Brady will appear in the final game of the season, Smith would be traded.
Free agency is more than a month away, but the Chiefs and Redskins opened the high season for quarterbacks with a blockbuster trade with myriad implications, sending Smith to Washington in exchange for a third-round draft pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller, who fills an immediate need for the Chiefs. It means Kirk Cousins will hit the open market after receiving the franchise tag two years in a row. And it means that Patrick Mahomes, a first-round draft pick last year whose debut in the regular season finale offered a tantalizing glimpse of his good feet and big arm, will be the Chiefs new starter.
Smith, who got a four-year, $94 million extension that guarantees him a whopping $71 million, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, got the long-term deal from the Redskins that they inexplicably would not give Cousins, underscoring how damaging it was that the Redskins did not sign Cousins to a long-term deal in 2016. The Redskins' lukewarm relationship with Cousins -- he was drafted the same year as Robert Griffin III and wound up saving the franchise from complete embarrassment when Griffin flamed out -- has long been confounding. The price the Redskins paid was in the enormous guaranteed money Smith will receive.
In Smith, the Redskins get a steady veteran who is coming off his most productive season -- he led the league in passer rating and will be the first such quarterback to play for a new team the next season. That does not necessarily make him an upgrade, though. Cousins is just 29 to Smith's 33 and their statistics are similar. The difference: if the Redskins had tagged Cousins again, they would have had to pay him $34.5 million. And it had become clear recently that Cousins had cooled on the idea of remaining in Washington. The Redskins presumably expect this trade to work out better than the last time Andy Reid sent them his franchise quarterback -- in 2010, Reid, then the Eagles' head coach, traded Donovan McNabb within the division. McNabb played just one season in Washington, going 5-8 as the starter and throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes.
By moving on from Smith, who enjoyed great regular season success but could never get the Chiefs on a deep playoff run, the Chiefs move forward with a tantalizing quarterback with a high ceiling and a low rookie contract. The savings are likely to be used to help fortify the defense of a playoff team.
The biggest reverberation, though, will be felt when free agency opens and Cousins hits the open market as by far the most in-demand option for the multitudes of teams desperate for help. Cousins is one of just five quarterbacks with at least 4,000 yards passing in each of the last three seasons (Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are the others).
Consider the teams that could take a look: the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. That competition will send Cousins' price soaring -- he is practically certain to eclipse the $71 million in guaranteed money Smith just got -- because, with Smith off the market, there are few other viable options if those teams are not impressed by the current draft class. Another winner: the 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, with whom the team is trying to negotiate a long-term deal.
The on-going drama that envelopes the Redskins and that triggered all of this shuffling because of the need to replace Cousins prompted at least one amusing reaction to the trade.
Not Cousins, though. He once strode off the field and playfully demanded of a reporter "You like that?" Some team is about to give Cousins the answer he wanted and never heard from the Redskins.