Bills fans shouldn't get hopes up for Kirk Cousins after Alex Smith trade

Kirk Cousins could see a historic payday soon. Which team will give it to him? Amber Searls/USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's offseason got off to an early start Tuesday night, when the Washington Redskins agreed in principle to a trade to acquire quarterback Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs.

The deal cannot be consummated until March 14, when the 2018 league year begins, but the move has jump-started speculation that the Buffalo Bills could be suitors for Kirk Cousins when he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent the same day.

Bills fans should not hold their collective breath in hopes of landing Cousins. While interest cannot be ruled out, the expectation is that Buffalo will not be part of the bidding war that could make Cousins one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

David Canter, an NFL agent who represents 21 players, tweeted Tuesday evening that Cousins could be worth $30 million per season with $90 million guaranteed.

It is easy to envision Cousins, who turns 30 in August, approaching or possibly exceeding those figures, considering Smith's four-year extension with the Redskins. Smith, who turns 34 in May, will be paid $23.5 million per season with $71 million guaranteed, league sources told ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.

In theory, Smith would have made sense for the Bills as an experienced bridge quarterback who could eventually turn the reins over to a young quarterback the Bills select in the 2018 draft. But Buffalo giving Smith the sort of contract the Redskins offered -- along with cornerback Kendall Fuller and the third-round draft selection Washington is giving up -- would have been a massive mistake for a team looking to find stability and long-term promise at quarterback.

The asking price for Smith was too high for the Bills and their situation, in which a lower-cost veteran would be the most appropriate target. Maybe there would have been interest in Smith if he remained on a manageable, short-term contract and required only a midround draft pick to acquire. Instead, the Redskins paid Smith as if he is a 28-year-old who will win in Washington, where Cousins did not.

The trade of Smith and his extension sets the table for a possibly historic payday for Cousins. There will be quarterback-needy teams willing to make a big bet that Cousins can be a franchise quarterback. The Cleveland Browns could have $100 million or more in cap space, the New York Jets could have more than $70 million, and the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars, while not flush with cap space, might also show interest.

Before any resolution to Eric Wood's likely retirement or any decision about Tyrod Taylor, the Bills are expected to have about $30 million in 2018 cap space. They could theoretically fit a deal for Cousins under their cap, but the bigger issue is whether splurging on a free-agent quarterback is the best strategy as general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott try to build the Bills into long-term contenders.

Consider what Beane said about free agency during his introductory news conference last May: "I’m going to build through the draft, first and foremost. You’re not going to see big splashes of free agency."

Cousins' contract would make the Bills' $100 million deal for Mario Williams in 2012 look cheap, and such a deal probably would not align with Beane's philosophy on how to build a team.

The Bills have positioned themselves to be flexible in the 2018 draft, having shipped players away and acquired extra first-, second- and fifth-round selections. Outside of the top two overall picks, owned by the Browns and New York Giants, the Bills have the chips to move up if they feel strongly about a quarterback prospect.

They could also stick with the No. 21 and No. 22 overall picks and use those to draft a quarterback -- or any other position on a roster with extensive needs. Perhaps they could use one of their midround picks on a quarterback, like when the Redskins used a fourth-round selection on Cousins in 2012.

Cousins developed into a better NFL player than Robert Griffin III, whom the Redskins mortgaged their future to acquire in the same draft. Six years later, Cousins has become the rare established quarterback to hit the open market. Just don't expect the Bills to be the ones making the big bet to sign him.