If the Washington Redskins needed another reminder of why quarterback Alex Smith can help them, they received it Thursday afternoon. That’s when Jimmy Garoppolo signed a deal that averages $27.5 million per year. And that’s when they could, once more, be thankful that they traded for Smith. Or, excuse me, will trade for him March 14.
He still must prove he’s a better fit in Washington than Kirk Cousins. But they’re comparable quarterbacks and Smith was more affordable. Seeing Garoppolo’s deal with San Francisco hammered that home. It also reinforces what many said two years ago with Cousins when pushing the Redskins to strike a deal: Quarterback money always goes up, and what looks like a lot of money now, quickly changes. The mistake was not anticipating where the contracts were headed.
Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo belongs in that top-paid-quarterback spot when you look at their standing among the other passers. However, that’s not how free agency works, and both will benefit from excellent timing. Cousins played his best season right before entering free agency; Garoppolo did the same. Both served notice to every other quarterback in the future how to use the franchise tag -- or the threat of it -- to their financial advantage. Every time the Redskins tagged Cousins, that became the baseline for talks and his side parlayed that into $44 million over two years. Their proposal to Washington two years ago was a fully guaranteed three-year deal at $19.5 million per year. The Redskins had no desire to pay that much in guarantees.
Garoppolo got paid for what the 49ers -- and many others -- believe he will do; Cousins will get paid because he’s a good quarterback in a league where few such players become available. But Garoppolo has started only seven games; Cousins has been a full-time starter for three seasons but started only one postseason game. That doesn’t make either one unworthy of signing, but it does point out how expensive the position has become.
Before the Garoppolo deal, Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford had the two highest cap hits among quarterbacks this season and the two highest averages per year. Neither has won a playoff game. It’s a team game, so other areas matter quite a bit; Nick Foles winning the Super Bowl did not make him better than Tom Brady.
However, if you’re going to pay a quarterback this much money, there is an expectation that he can lead his team somewhere.
That brings us back to Smith. As of right now, he’ll have the 17th highest salary cap hit among quarterbacks this season. That’s before we know the details of Garoppolo’s deal and before Cousins has signed. Smith also will count $17.5 million less than Cousins would have had the Redskins used the franchise tag on Cousins or $11 million less than the transition tag.
The Redskins' thinking for more than a year has been: If they don’t have Brady or Aaron Rodgers, they don’t want to pay a quarterback at the upper end of the pay scale. So without that sort of quarterback, pay less for a quality QB and build around him. Of course, it’s hard to do the latter, just as it’s hard to find a good starting quarterback.
As has been stated often, it’s hard to truly know how beneficial Smith’s deal is because the details are unknown. But it will average $23.4 million per year. Considering the cap is expected to keep rising for the next few years, if his play remains at the same level as the past couple years, he’ll be paid accordingly. There will likely be an out after two years of the extension in case his play starts to drop.
Quarterbacks up for new deals between now and 2019: Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are up in 2019, but both their teams likely would pick up their fifth-year option, pushing this to 2020. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are up after the 2019 season, but both could end up retiring (or already be retired).
But all of this means the Redskins, if all goes right, will have a quarterback at a more desirable price. To make it work, though, Smith must continue be a solid starter. Even more so, the Redskins must finally build a complete team. And that, folks, is the hard part. It’s not as if the Redskins have been held back by the quarterback's money, so it’s time to finally get it right.