Everything you need to know about the Alex Smith trade


Here’s everything you need to know about the actual Alex Smith trade between the Chiefs and Redskins and why each team pulled the trigger.

If you’re just waking up on Wednesday wondering what all the buzz is about, you might have missed the shocking trade made by the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins on Tuesday night. Instead of waiting for free agency or the draft or even a few weeks until the NFL Combine, the Chiefs traded away starting quarterback Alex Smith to Washington, who now moves on from Kirk Cousins.

It was an offseason defining deal for both teams as it directly affects not only the most important position for each franchise heading into the 2018 season, but it has significant ripple effects that will carry far into the future. Washington committed serious money to Smith for the next half-decade, while Patrick Mahomes is now the official face of the franchise at Arrowhead.

Rather than trying to find the ins and outs of the deal in various places, we wanted to make it easy for you to understand all facets of the trade itself and the surrounding context. Here’s everything you need to know about the Alex Smith trade.

What are the terms of the deal?

Alex Smith was traded by the Chiefs to the Redskins in exchange for a 2018 third round pick (No. 78 overall) and cornerback Kendall Fuller.

Is the trade official?

No, due to NFL rules, the trade itself cannot be called official until the first day of the new league year, which falls on March 14—the first date any players can be officially traded. However, this doesn’t mean one side can get cold feet and back out. Given the extension for Alex Smith, this deal is done.

Wait, an extension?

Yes, Alex Smith has a shiny new contract extension with Washington that was already finished in advance of any trade. Any team trading for Smith would want the same thing in place considering he was on the last year of his contract with the Chiefs. For the Chiefs to maximize their trade return, the team trading for Smith would want a guarantee of keeping him around.

Washington decided the price tag to keep Smith around was worth a reported 4-year, $94 million with approximately $70 million in guarantees, depending on the source. The numbers will come in at some point, but that’s good money for Smith.

Didn’t Washington already have a quarterback?

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Yes, and some NFL analysts are already taking Washington’s front office to task for trading so much for Alex Smith. That’s not quite fair.

Kirk Cousins has been the starting quarterback for Washington for the last three seasons and his record as a starter in that time has been 24-23-1. He’s averaged 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions per season in that time, even as he’s become increasingly expensive due to the team’s use of the franchise tag to keep Cousins from hitting free agency.

This year, Cousins would cost the team even more to use the franchise tag and yet it’s also clear that coming to a long-term extension has been problematic for at least one side or the other. No one quite knows the hold-up, but the Redskins officially decided to move on.

Washington’s choice is being painted as if they chose Smith over Cousins, but that’ s not fair at all. What we don’t know is if Cousins told the powers-that-be that he was simply not interested in coming back and that he would bolt for the open market when he could. Even if Washington could force another year out of Cousins, it still prolongs the inevitable.

Making an early, aggressive play for Smith cuts out all of the ensuing drama, allows Cousins to leave free and clear, and the Redskins will recoup at least a third round compensatory pick when Cousins signs elsewhere. Meanwhile, they’ve locked up a new starter for the next five years, a veteran with 50 wins under his belt over the last five seasons who showed off a deep ball prowess last year that should lead everyone to believe Smith has plenty left in the tank, even as he prepares to turn 34-years-old.

But if Smith is so good, why trade him away?

No one in Chiefs Kingdom is really asking this anymore. The Chiefs have become perennial playoff contenders. They can win their division. Beyond that, this team has been a letdown with two historic playoff meltdowns in Smith’s tenure.

That’s not at all to say that Smith was responsible for the Chiefs losses. He’s not. He’s been an incredible leader and community pillar who deserves much, much more credit for his on-field play than the average fan will likely ever give him. This last year in particular was a significant step forward for a quarterback who has already played 12 full seasons.

But the Chiefs had already made up their minds about Smith’s ceiling. No one has said as much publicly, but if you let their actions do the talking, the Chiefs let it be known what they really think when they traded up for Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL Draft.

I read other teams, like the Browns, were also interested.

The fact that Brett Veach struck a deal so early and with Washington are both surprising facts in this shocking news story, that much is for sure. John Dorsey was expected to make a play for Smith in Cleveland, and several other teams were often mentioned as “interested parties”—a list that included the Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and others.

There are two sides to having so many suitors. It can either create a bidding war that results in a strong trade return, but it also means there are several variables at play. The game of musical chairs could have led to the Chiefs being without a seat. When the dust settles on every available quarterback, it was possible that every QB-needy team found something they like in free agency or the draft (or via another trade).

The bottom line is that the Chiefs needed the cap space and had already made an investment in the future. At some point this offseason, they had to make a deal. Veach struck early rather than holding out for some unknown future haul.

So the trade helps the Chiefs financially?

Yes and the amount is not insignificant. Alex Smith originally signed a four-year, $68 million extension with the Chiefs nearly three-and-a-half years ago. Entering his final year, Smith was on the books for a cool $17 million that could be cleared with a release or trade.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Chiefs went from being $8 million over the salary cap for 2018 to $9 million under with this single deal. They have other moves to make (see: Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali) but this was the biggest financial piece of the offseason to figure out.

How should I feel about the actual trade haul?

Very, very good. If you don’t want to believe me specifically, feel free to glance around social media in which nearly everyone is using words like “ripped off” or even “fleeced.”

As we discussed earlier, Washington’s context is likely not getting enough play in the media, and they deserve serious credit for striking so early in the offseason for security at the game’s most important position. Smith does a lot of things very well and Washington’s fans will learn to love him for it.

That said, the Chiefs did get plenty more than just cap space here. First of all, the addition of a third round pick gives them a nice affordable draft asset who could come in and be an instant starter, depending on the position. Remember the Chiefs traded away their first round choice in the Mahomes deal, so adding some ammo in the draft was very important for Brett Veach’s offseason plans.

With three picks in rounds 2-3, the Chiefs can bring in some nice young players to compete and add quality depth. Remember in the past that players like Travis Kelce, Chris Conley and Kareem Hunt were all third round choices.

Next: Lessons learned from the Alex Smith trade

In addition, Kendall Fuller was blossoming into a dynamic playmaker in the Redskins secondary, if he wasn’t there already. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 6 cornerback overall in 2017, and Bleacher Report recently ranked him as the single best slot defender in the NFL.

Don’t forget that cornerback was the team’s Achilles heel on defense during their midseason slump, when Bob Sutton was rotating players like Kenneth Acker, Terrance Mitchell and Steven Nelson in his attempt to find a starter on the outside opposite Marcus Peters. Now the Chiefs have some security at this vulnerable position before free agency or the draft get underway, allowing them some positional flexibility.