The Kansas City Chiefs decision to trade Alex Smith caught a lot of us off guard. Their decision to move on from Smith was not stunning, but the timing of it was unexpected. Normally trades don’t materialize until the NFL Combine. Instead, Washington and Kansas City agreed on a deal that sent Smith to DC for a third round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Regardless of which team you think won the trade, quarterbacks across the league are the big winners for two reasons. The first is that the trade includes Alex Smith signing a contract extension worth $94 million over four years, with $71 million in guarantees. We don’t know yet what is fully guaranteed, but it’s a sizable deal, including a $23.5 million APY that currently ranks fifth in the NFL. That sets a sizable baseline for a lot of quarterbacks, ranging from Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, to Jimmy Garoppolo and eventually Matthew Stafford.
The second reason is one of the quarterbacks that benefits from this trade. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins played the last two seasons under the franchise tag, earning nearly $44 million in fully guaranteed money. His status for 2018 was up in the air, pending a potential third franchise tag, but now he is likely to hit unrestricted free agency. Washington could still tag him in hopes of trading him, but that seems unlikely.
Cousins is not the best quarterback in the NFL, but he will be the best to hit unrestricted free agency in a long time. And he’s the best player of any position to hit free agency in arguably 20+ years. He’s going to set salary records, in both total and fully guaranteed money.
Bill Barnwell broke down winners and losers of the Alex Smith trade, and naturally included Cousins as a winner. He suggested it would not be shocking to see Cousins top $90 million over the first three years of his contract (Stafford set the record at $87 million), and could become the first player to secure over $100 million in “meaningful guarantees.” Stafford had $60.5 million fully guaranteed at signing on his August 2017 extension. I see no reason to think Cousins does not exceed that amount.
I am a big fan of players getting a chance to cash in. Cousins has said he will value winning over total money earned, but even if he takes a little less, he’s going to cash in big. If he was restricted by the franchise or transition tag, there would be fewer teams capable of signing him to an offer sheet. In what looks to be completely unrestricted free agency, Cousins is going to make some crazy money.
This will only help Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers quarterback is likely to be franchised, so it will not be an apples-to-apples comparison. But you have to think Garoppolo and agent Don Yee will be keeping an eye on the Cousins situation. The 49ers could blow them away with a huge offer, but I have a feeling we don’t see Garoppolo sign any kind of extension until after Cousins has inked a new deal.