Even as the Super Bowl inches ever closer to our doorstep, the offseason chapter of the NFL calendar decided to get off to an early start. NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday night that the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins had agreed in principle to a deal that would send Alex Smith to the team that would now let Kirk Cousins walk in free agency.
The compensation was later reported to be a third-round pick and up and coming cornerback Kendall Fuller. Rapoport reported on Wednesday morning that with the four-year, $94-dollar extension Washington will dole out to Smith, they would now have him under contract for the next five years and pay him $71-million guaranteed.
After operating on the fence with the player they drafted in the fourth-round back in 2012 and developed into a starting quarterback, Washington elected to finally hop off and let Cousins explore the open market and leave in March. A new team will welcome his services in less than two months' time. Kansas City will move on with a hopeful franchise passer in the fold in 2017 10th overall pick Patrick Mahomes. The trade will send shockwaves throughout the NFL universe, affecting fantasy players from all teams involved. Here's what you need to know for each of the three parties.
Kansas City fielded the sixth-ranked scoring offense in the NFL in 2017. Mahomes will take the reins of head coach Andy Reid's spread offense. The long-time offensive coach clearly has faith that Mahomes can be not only a franchise-level passer but one who can take them over a hump that existed throughout Smith's tenure.
We saw Mahomes just once during his rookie year in a Week 17 start for the resting Chiefs against the long-since lifeless Denver Broncos. Mahomes threw for 284 yards with a pick on 35 attempts while playing with mostly backups against the Broncos defense. The game film shows some of the aggressive, high-degree of difficulty throws his draft profile indicated he could bring to the Chiefs offense.
Mahomes is an unknown, but if he hits his theoretical ceiling, he could further unlock some of the talents on the Chiefs roster. We know who those players will be, as the Chiefs have been a funnel offense flowing through just three playmakers for most of Reid's tenure as the head coach. Kareem Hunt handed a 67.2 percent share of the team's total rush attempts, while Travis Kelce absorbed 43 percent of the allotted passing targets with Hunt finishing third in the pecking order with 63. Whether Mahomes proves to be an immediate upgrade over Smith is largely inconsequential for these players. Their roles will keep their projected fantasy draft value for 2018 completely locked-in.
Alex Smith leaves behind perhaps one of the most stable offensive ecosystems and target distribution tables to one in a transition phase. Washington has just four wide receivers under contract for next season and only Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder could be called "established players" among the group.
In the tight end room, veterans Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis are on the books for 2018 but the team could reconsider that in the coming months. Reed vanished with yet another injury after six games and 27 catches and carries a hefty $10.1-million cap charge. Davis was a solid replacement for Reed in stretches of the season but is 34-years-old and will count $5.3 million against the cap.
Here at the end of January, it's difficult to project who Smith will be throwing to come Week 1 of the 2018 season, especially since Washington's offense has typically spread the ball around. So while we could speculate on how he would theoretically mesh with players like Doctson and Crowder, it's best we write those hot takes in pen later on down the line after the team inevtiably adds more bodies.
However, what we can know for sure is that, no matter what you think about Smith as a quarterback, his addition keeps the Redskins' offense out of the disaster waters. It's clear as day now that Cousins was never going to return to the team this year after far too much damage was done in the relationship. For both parties to pull the ripcord on a return with almost a month-and-a-half left before the new league year speaks volumes.
As such, it doesn't matter if Smith is better for the 2018 offense than Cousins. That debate is hot air sent into the atmosphere that carries no consequence to the discussion. It matters whether Smith is better for the offense than the likely alternative. If you were planning on drafting any Washington players in fantasy football, you're probably better off with Smith running the offense than a lackluster free agent addition, a rookie drafted at 13th overall, or heaven forbid Colt McCoy. Yet, Smith himself is likely no longer the safe-floor streamer he was in years past outside the cozy confines of the Chiefs offense and Reid's tutelage.
While the NFL gave us a nice offseason spoiler in the form of the Smith side of this trade, we'll have to wait for the box office to actually open to learn how the Cousins storyline ends. Around the NFL writer Chris Wesseling provided a ranking of the seven most-likely landing spots for the former Washington quarterback. For the selfish fantasy pursuers, there are several interesting options.
Wesseling has the Denver Broncos as the No. 1 team on his list. That checks the boxes for fantasy purposes. Cousins would immediately solve the Broncos long-standing quarterback issues and elevate an offense that does have some solid players. The only catch would be that welcoming a mega-deal for Cousins to the salary books may cause the Broncos to make tough decision on the projected $20.8 million combined cost of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. If one or both aren't back, this landing spot would take a small hit.
Another top option is the Arizona Cardinals at No. 3 on Wesseling's list. Arizona is currently bereft of a plan at the quarterback position and has its top receiver in retirement limbo. Cousins presence could entice Larry Fitzgerald to lock-in his decision to play in 2018 and would make for a fine trio with elite running back David Johnson.
One of Wesseling's dark horse options is the Minnesota Vikings at No. 6 overall. This one feels like a stretch but all of Minnesota's quarterbacks will be free agents this offseason. If the team decides to wash their hands of all their question-laden options and go into the offseason with the "we're a quarterback away" mindset, they could give chase to Cousins. The Vikings talented skill-position players would get a nice uptick with Cousins in the fold.
Whoever lands Cousins will see a significant increase in the appeal of their entire offense. High-caliber quarterbacks under the age of 30 don't hit the market too often. Regardless of where you or his former team would like to place him in the pantheon of NFL quarterbacks, Cousins has proven to be that.
Matt Harmon is a writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.