The way we hear it, Tuesday night’s blockbuster report from Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star that the Chiefs have agreed to trade Alex Smith to Washington for a third-rounder and CB Kendall Fuller has little or nothing to do with whether Smith or 2017 first-rounder Patrick Mahomes is best suited to lead them in 2018, and everything to do with a salary-cap situation that had become completely untenable in Kansas City.
The Smith trade will leave the Chiefs with a $3.6 million hit in dead cap money but saves Kansas City $17 million in cap space.
Even after the trade, the Chiefs will still be just about $8 million under the current projected cap of $178 million and at risk of losing key contributors, including Bennie Logan, Albert Wilson and Anthony Sherman to free agency.
Longtime punter Dustin Colquitt is also a free agent but unlikely to be retained at 35 years of age given the Chiefs' current cap issues.
The Chiefs' dilemma was created by veteran contracts — in addition to Smith's — awarded to Justin Houston, Eric Fisher, Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Travis Kelce, Allen Bailey, Mitchell Schwartz, Tamba Hali, Dee Ford and Ron Parker that are still slated to count roughly $110 million combined against the cap.
We’re hearing the Chiefs will choose to create another $7.5 million of cap savings by parting ways with Hali and are strongly considering whether they can afford to bring back the veteran Johnson, 35, or save $8 million more by releasing him and another $8.7 million by waiving Ford.
Should all three veterans be released, Kansas City would find itself approximately $32 million below the cap but sorely in need of reinforcements on the defensive line and at inside linebacker, and very much in need of more options at receiver as they try and develop Mahomes on the fly.
The Chiefs' motives are easy to understand, and if Smith has agreed to what we hear is a four-year, $94 million extension with over $70 million guaranteed, we see what Washington is thinking as well.
Washington would be out from underneath the threat of having to tender Kirk Cousins again at a crippling $34 million one-year deal, and would have bought itself time to find a quarterback of the future.
But is Washington now a better football team?
While Smith slightly outperformed Cousins in 2017, he did not in 2015-16, and he is four years older. There is now no immediate pressure for Washington to find a QB to develop, but it could very well be looking again in a season or two.
Finally there is the future of Cousins, who will turn 30 in August and will soon become the first franchise or near-franchise quarterback with the exception of an aging Peyton Manning to hit the open market since Drew Brees in 2006.
Whether or not he is worth it, we’re hearing he could then become the highest-paid player in the NFL.