Funnily enough, Washington considered tagging Cousins a third time, but decided in the end to give up (quite publicly) on him and, instead, engineer a trade for the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. On paper it was a blockbuster exchange (which cost Washington a third-round pick and Kendall Fuller, an ascendant defensive back). But in reality, the move, which won’t be official until the start of the new league year on March 14 (and guarantees Smith a four-year extension worth $71 million), keeps things at a status quo.
A former first-overall pick of the 49ers, Smith, 33, has rebounded nicely from a near-bust in San Francisco to a solid starter there and in Kansas City. His statistics over the past nine seasons (64 percent completions, 7.14 yards per attempt, 2.52 touchdown-to-interference ratio) are virtually identical to Cousins’s. And his advantage in playoff appearances (seven) is undercut by his losses (five), the most recent coming in a stunning wildcard upset by the Tennessee Titans at home this past season.
Drew Brees, on the other hand, is no one’s idea of average. Over the past decade he’s not only consistently rated among the league’s most prolific passers, he also won a Super Bowl for the New Orleans Saints. His only downside is his age—39, which is ancient for a quarterback. Or at least it was before Brady was playing into his 40s. Technically, Brees is a free agent too, but all signs point to him staying home.
The Minnesota Vikings—the same team that a job-fearing Mike Zimmer saw upset the Saints in the playoffs on an improbable last-second pass—have three quarterbacks who are scheduled to become free agents: Sam Bradford, a former first pick who has largely underwhelmed; Teddy Bridgewater, a 2014 first-rounder whose slow rise was undercut by a gruesome knee injury; and Case Keenum, the journeyman who orchestrated Minnesota’s fairy-tale season. And Zimmer, it seems, could just as easily stick with one of those guys as take a flier on Josh McCown (an old but trustworthy veteran, formerly of the New York Jets), Mike Glennon (an untried 28-year-old who found himself the odd-man out in Chicago), or AJ McCarron (the Cincinnati Bengals’ auspicious backup).
Or: He could try his luck in this year’s draft, which is loaded with star quarterbacks. UCLA’s Josh Rosen is a classic drop-back passer with pro swagger. USC’s Sam Darnold isn’t as mechanically fluid, but strong-armed and accurate anyway. Wyoming’s Josh Allen is even more raw, but scouts find his potential beguiling. Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman Trophy with a bold and inventive playing style that belied his 6-foot(ish) frame. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, dazzled as a thrower and a runner. (Still: At the combine, teams wanted him to try out at wide receiver, a request that dredged up creaky ideas about the aptitude of black quarterbacks.) All of these prospects are projected to go off the board within the first 90-odd selections. And if those choices still seem too iffy? Recall: Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles (who does not have a no-trade clause in his contract) could be pried away from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for maybe two first-round draft picks, and Colin Kaepernick (who just four short years ago was being touted as the future of quarterbacking) is still on the street.