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March 20, 2018

NFC East free agency grades: Redskins edition

NFL free agency is now essentially a week old, and teams around the league have revealed what their strategies were. While some additional minor moves are likely to be made, now feels like an appropriate time to take a look around the rest of the NFC East and grade each teams' free agency period.

On Monday we started with the 3-13 Giants. Today we'll look at the third place Washington Redskins.

Kirk Cousins out, Alex Smith in

In a surprise move the week of the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs agreed to trade QB Alex Smith to the Redskins for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller, ending the Kirk Cousins era in D.C.

The Redskins were in a terrible situation with Cousins' contract, as they had franchise tagged him in each of the last two seasons. Had they franchise tagged him a third time, they would have owed him $34.5 million in 2018. 

In hindsight, the Redskins should have gotten a long-term deal done with Cousins several times over in the last few years that would have been much more palatable, though I can understand the apprehension of hitching your wagon long-term to an average starting quarterback with question marks. In the end, Cousins left for the Minnesota Vikings, and the Redskins will likely get a third round compensatory pick in 2019 in return for losing him.

A look at Smith's and Cousins' numbers in 2018:

 PlayerComp-Att (Comp %) Yards (YPA) TD-INT Rating 
 Alex Smith (33)341-505 (67.5%) 4042 (8.0) 26-5 104.7 
 Kirk Cousins (29)347-540 (64.3%) 4093 (7.6) 27-13 93.9 

In 2010, the Redskins traded with Andy Reid for 33-year old Donovan McNabb, a move that blew up on them spectacularly. Eight years later, they traded with Reid for another 33-year quarterback in Smith.

This time, they reportedly also handed Smith a contract extension worth $70+ million in guarantees, with the following cap hits, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network:

  1. 2018: $18.4 million
  2. 2019: $20.4 million
  3. 2020: $21.4 million
  4. 2021: $24.4 million
  5. 2022: $26.4 million

While those cap charges aren't out of control, it's worth noting that the Redskins are married to Smith for at least three years, and probably four, according to John Keim of ESPN:

In other words, they aren't viewing Smith as a "bridge quarterback" to some rookie that may be taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. He's their guy.

Smith had good numbers in 2017, but there's perhaps some logic in the notion that a mobile quarterback with below-average arm strength may not age well. Smith will turn 34 in May. Handing out $70+ million in guaranteed money along with forking over a third-round pick and a good player in Kendall Fuller for Smith's services is not the direction I would have gone, personally.

Clearly, the Redskins felt that they were not in a good enough position to select one of the better quarterback prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft at 13th overall. By contrast, the Philadelphia Eagles were originally drafting 13th overall in 2016, when they made a pair of deals to put themselves in position to draft Carson Wentz second overall.

Smith may very well be a modest short-term upgrade over Cousins, but this is a Redskins team that doesn't look anything like a Super Bowl contender anytime soon. It feels a lot like a panic move that could keep them mired in mediocrity.

They took another swing at a receiver

Last offseason, the Redskins swung and missed, hard, when they signed WR Terrelle Pryor to a one-year contract worth $6 million. At the time, that deal looked like a bargain. 

Narrator: "It wasn't." 

The hope was that Pryor could help offset the losses of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, but Pryor stunk out loud, catching just 20 passes for 240 yards and 1 TD.

This season, the Redskins swung hard again, signing former Seahawks WR Paul Richardson. In four seasons in Seattle, Richardson had 93 catches for 1302 yards and 8 TDs. He had his best season in 2017, when he had 44 catches for 703 yards and 6 TDs. Richardson is a speedy, field-stretching wide receiver who should fit in well into the Redskins’ offense, but the cost was a five-year contract worth $40 million ($20 million guaranteed). What?!? 

Certainly, when the Redskins lost Jackson’s ability to stretch opposing defenses, their offense took a hit, and their pursuit of a suitable replacement is understandable. However, paying a wide receiver $8 million per season on potential is extremely risky.

They also signed an old, oft-injured slot corner

We're referring to CB Orlando Scandrick here, who the Redskins signed to a two-year deal worth up to $10 million, which is baffling. To begin, Scandrick (31) isn't always available. His last four seasons:

  1. 2014: Suspended four games for PEDs, with the suspension later being lifted because his use of amphetamines counted under the substance abuse policy (not the PED policy), where it would take multiple offenses to be suspended. Anyway, he ended up missing two games before that suspension was lifted.
  2. 2015: Missed the entire season with a torn ACL.
  3. 2016: Appeared on the injury report eight games with foot and hamstring injuries, missing four games.
  4. 2017: Missed a game early in the season with a hand injury, then missed four games during the stretch run with a back injury, eventually landing on IR.

Scandrick was set to count for $5.2 million on the cap in 2018 with the Dallas Cowboys, a team that has wildly overrated their own players, and they cut him. Meanwhile, former Eagles slot corner Patrick Robinson, who was among the best slot corners in the NFL last season, made $5 million per year on the open market on the first day of free agency.

And yet, the Redskins somehow found Scandrick worthy of up to $5 million per year. We'll see when the official terms come out if a big chunk of that is unlikely to be earned incentives, but if the actual money is anywhere close to $5 million per season, that is a laughable deal. I can understand the Redskins' need for a corner after they traded away Fuller and are set to lose Bashaud Breeland, but holy crap, who in that front office is making value judgments?

They kept some of their own

LB Zach Brown: Brown was 9th in the NFL in tackles in 2017 with 127 of them, despite missing three games. He's a good player, and worthy of the three-year, $24 million deal he got to stay in Maryland.

K Dustin Hopkins: Decent kicker. 14 of 17 (82.4 percent) last year. 29 of 40 (72.5 percent) of kickoffs were touchbacks.

And they lost some guys

OLB Trent Murphy: Murphy had a breakout season in 2016, collecting 9 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. In 2017, he got pinched for PEDs and tore his ACL. He signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Bills. Bleh.

TE Niles Paul: Core special teamer who feels like he's been on the Redskins' roster for 20 years. (It's only been six.)

C/OG Spencer Long: Long played four years with the Redskins, starting 31 games after being picked in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He was kind of "just a guy," in my view. Somehow he cashed in with the Jets, signing a ridiculous four-year deal worth $28 million. I have no idea what they saw to think Long was worth that kind of money, but the Redskins were right to let him walk.

Some other guys left, and then failed their physicals

Oddly, two Redskins players -- CB Bashaud Breeland and WR Ryan Grant -- signed big money deals, only to fail their physicals with their new teams. I'm not sure what to make of that, and won't try, but Breeland and Grant are two more players the Redskins will likely lose.


Forget the overpays of Richardson and Scandrick. Who cares, really? Ultimately, the Redskins' 2018 offseason will be judged on the decisions they made at the quarterback position. Smith is the type of quarterback who needs a strong cast around him to be successful, which in my view, the Redskins don't have. At a minimum, they're way behind many of the teams in the NFC. 

For that reason, logically-speaking, I just can't wrap my head around spending a boatload of valuable resources on a good-not-great 34-year old quarterback when the team appears to be far from contending for a Super Bowl. By the time the Redskins can put together a roster that can reasonably be expected to compete in a stacked NFC, how old will Smith be then? 

In the meantime, valuable resources are going toward Smith instead of building for the long-term, which is where the Redskins' heads should be.

Grade: C-

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