Alex Smith's deal provided cap space, so why aren't Redskins spending big?

Quarterback Alex Smith's contract -- rather than a big one for Kirk Cousins -- was supposed to help the Washington Redskins do more with deals for others. And, yet, the Redskins have been quiet. Which leads us to the lead question in this week's mailbag.

John Keim: Yes, that was what everyone was told. However, it wasn’t just for the start of free agency. I don’t know if they would have signed receiver Paul Richardson had they used a tag on Cousins (he wasn’t signing a long-term deal). They would have been in the market for a receiver, though, so it’s possible. But had they used the transition tag on Cousins, it would have cost them $28.8 million so they essentially saved $10 million with Smith’s cap hit this year.

And if they sign defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins it would have been hard to see them landing both him and Richardson if Cousins had remained. Of course, as Redskins fans are shouting in unison, you have to actually ...sign ... him. But the possibility exists in part because of the extra room (that doesn't mean they should overspend, not with good options in the draft. But he is proven and those others are not). They have around $20 million in cap space available.

When I’d talk to people in the organization about Cousins’ contract, it was as much about being able to extend players – key starters -- they want to keep rather than spend crazy in free agency. And the names I always heard: Preston Smith, Jamison Crowder and Brandon Scherff. Matt Ioannidis is up after the 2019 season. For what it's worth, I haven't heard anything yet on extensions. The former draft picks they let walk this season they were OK with letting go – at least at the sums they received. Some it wouldn’t have mattered, they were done here.

So the Cousins decision was as much about flexibility now and in the future; here's the cap space Smith occupies over the next several years. Now, they just have to get those deals done.

Keim: There are a few to watch, but the one who could make the biggest impact is safety Montae Nicholson. The Redskins loved what they saw from him in the six games he played; the question will be durability. He just has to prove he can do it over 16 games – and stay healthy.

One note: They did talk to veteran safety Kurt Coleman about coming here, but he opted for New Orleans. He’s a good, calming veteran presence who would have helped this secondary. It’s not always about flat-out talent; it’s also about what else guys provide so if they’re looking for that sort of player it should tell you something.

Anyway, back to this draft class. Chase Roullier, as of now, would be the starting center; he did a nice job filing in for Spencer Long last season, which is why they were comfortable letting him hit free agency. Corner Fabian Moreau is another to watch. Signing Orlando Scandrick provides insurance in case Moreau isn’t ready. But Moreau has excellent skills; he just needs experience and must show the ability to compete.

Linebacker Ryan Anderson needs to make more of an impact; pass-rushers take time to mature but he didn’t show much in that area as a rookie. My guess is that tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and receiver Robert Davis are another year from making legitimate contributions, but we’ll learn a heck of a lot more about them this summer. And with Jordan Reed's injury history, Sprinkle probably will factor this season. He looked raw last season.

Keim: If they don’t sign Hankins, the early draft priorities for me always start with taking the best player available -- at a position of need. There could be multiple players on a team’s board with the same grade, so the best player available could be different in the eyes of those in the room.

But this draft works well for the Redskins picking 13th. Without Hankins, they’d want more help along the defensive line. I know they’ve been telling others this is a priority (which matches my discussions). If that’s the case, then Vita Vea or Da'Ron Payne would be the answer. My guess is that Vea would be gone by 13; Payne is intriguing because he’s only 20. He wasn’t considered a great pass-rusher at Alabama, but in watching some of his film he had a terrific first step -- often ahead of the other linemen. But on his second and third he was too upright, affecting his rush. Take care of that and you could have a very good pass-rusher as well as a run-stopper.

Anyway, after that I’d put running back, offensive line, (emphasis on left guard), outside linebacker (if they don’t sign Pernell McPhee) and safety, more to provide help as a backup/special-teamer (unless they fall in love with someone like Derwin James or if Minkah Fitzpatrick falls there). Heck, there’s no position I wouldn’t look at. They like Davis but could draft another wideout. They could use another corner to challenge those returning. Quarterback is unlikely, unless someone they love falls unexpectedly and they just can’t pass on him. When you haven’t won a playoff game in forever, no position should be safe from addressing.