NFL free agency doesn’t officially begin until Wednesday, the first day of the new league year, and already the quarterback carousel has been red-hot. There has already been movement among teams eager to solve the puzzle that is the most important position on the field.
The Kansas City Chiefs made the first splash when they announced that Alex Smith will be shipped to our nation’s capital and will sign a four-year, $94 million contract ($71 million guaranteed) from the Washington Redskins.
Not to be outdone, the Buffalo Bills dealt Tyrod Taylor, who has compiled a 23-21 record in three years as starting quarterback, to the Cleveland Browns for the first overall draft pick in this year’s third round.
Additionally, the Browns dealt Deshone Kizer, who went 0-15 in his lone season as Cleveland’s starting QB, to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for former first-round cornerback Damarious Randall. In that deal, the Browns also swapped their fourth- and fifth-round picks for the Packers’ fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2018.
Analyzing the quarterback trades so far in the infancy stages of the offseason, it appears the Bills are the big winners. After all, it wasn’t long ago that everyone assumed Brandon Beane was simply going to release Taylor before he was due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year (March 16).
Despite guiding the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 17 years in 2017, fans and management seemed to have soured on Taylor, who would have carried an $18 million cap hit in 2018 if the Bills kept him on their roster. In a brilliant move of deception, Beane and the Bills’ brass talked enough about their desire to hang onto Taylor that they attracted trade interest from several teams, including the Browns, and reportedly the Denver Broncos, and the Arizona Cardinals.
“I’ve learned being around this league around 20 years that it’s way too early to take anything off the table other than cutting him at this point, which is not in our plans,” McDermott recently told reporters. “He (Tyrod) is a good football player who has been instrumental in getting us to the playoffs. At this point in the process, whether it’s Tyrod or any of our players, you look at what’s out there, you look at your options and you make decisions based on the best interests of your football team.”
By freeing themselves of Taylor, Buffalo clears $10.44 million in cap space, and $16 million in real money. As if gaining financial flexibility wasn’t enough, the Bills actually got the Browns to give up a valuable draft pick —the first one of the third round (No. 65 overall)—for someone the team didn’t see as a viable part of their plans in 2018.
That is a HUGE gain for the Bills, as Buffalo now has six of the first 96 draft picks, and nine in the first five rounds.
By comparison, in order to get Smith, the Redskins had to give the 33-year-old a new contract with a large amount of guaranteed money ($71 million). It also cost Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller, the team’s 2016 third-round pick who was viewed as an impact starter in the secondary in 2018, and a third-round pick in 2018 (No. 78 overall).
That is a large bounty to pay for Smith, a decent-but-not great quarterback. Especially when you consider how the Redskins wouldn’t have been in this desperate quarterback situation if the team had handled the Kirk Cousins situation properly from the get-go and just offered Cousins a fair long-term contract after his breakout 2015 season. Instead, Smith, who is four years older than Cousins, will now occupy nearly $20 million in cap room, and it cost them a valuable draft pick and an up-and-coming young cornerback.
As consistent and durable as Smith has proven to be during his time with the Chiefs, he still is on the downswing of his career, and Washington, a franchise that always seems to be treading water, paid a steep price to acquire his services. Smith will turn 34 in May, and the guaranteed money runs through his age 38 season.
The Chiefs, conversely, did well to land an excellent slot corner in Fuller, especially considering the team dealt star CB and former Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams. Fuller will make less than $1.4 million on the final two years of his rookie deal. Combine that with the third-round draft pick received from Washington, and having promising second-year QB Patrick Maholmes waiting in the wings and it makes perfect sense why the Chiefs moved on from Smith.
These trades can’t be made official until the start of the NFL’s new league year at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Heading into the new league year with only Nathan Peterman at quarterback on the active roster isn’t a great situation to be in, but the Bills should be pleased to have more cap space and a high-value draft pick in their pocket in exchange for Taylor.