The Alex Smith Trade Is Sound & Fury Signifying Nothing
I awoke yesterday morning to a text message informing me the Redskins had traded for a new quarterback. My hopes that it was going to be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers were probably unrealistic, but my guess that it was Alex Smith was confirmed when I went online. I spent the rest of yesterday pondering what I thought about the trade, amidst going out to dinner and getting absorbed in the newest version of Murder On The Orient Express.
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I’m still undecided about the merits of the trade on its face, but more important is that the one conclusion I have reached is that I doubt its going to matter all that much in the final standings.
The positives start with the fact Alex Smith is a highly underrated quarterback. This year’s Kansas City Chiefs team was uncharacteristically poor on defense, especially after losing Eric Berry for the season in Week 1, and in the offensive line. They were characteristically weak at wide receiver. Basically, the combination of Alex Smith throwing the football to tight end Travis Kelce, singlehandedly delivered the Chiefs a 10-win season and AFC West title.
Smith deserved better than the talk of benching that went on during the team’s midseason slide. He should have been in the MVP conversation. That case doesn’t look very good in light of the team’s playoff disaster, but Smith was hindered by what’s apparently a league rule that any player in the uniform of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns or even the old Houston Oilers, must play drastically below their capabilities after the New Year.
The flip side is this—Kirk Cousins is another player who is underrated. The Redskins’ receivers’ corps was decimated this year by free-agent losses and injuries. More injuries kept the offensive line in a state of flux and the defense was one of the league’s worst. Kirk Cousins kept the Redskins at least watchable. They won seven games. Without him, they might have been 2-14.
If you ask me to pick between Smith and Cousins, I’d lean toward Smith, all things being equal. But all things aren’t equal—Cousins is younger and the Redskins gave up corner Kendall Fuller. Now, Cousins was not likely to re-sign with the ‘Skins in any event, but the option of keeping Fuller, the draft pick that was also traded, promoting Colt McCoy and drafting a young quarterback, was a realistic option.
For anyone who scoffs at that, let me point out that in a world where Blake Bortles and Case Keenum played in conference championship games and Nick Foles may win a Super Bowl, I would hope that we’re now beyond reducing the whole of a football team to the quality its quarterback and instead start judging them by the content of their line play and secondary.
But the most revealing thing in my day-long consideration of the trade was this—I really don’t care about the third-round draft pick. Not because such a pick isn’t valuable, but because I have no confidence that the Redskins’ front office is capable of making it translate into anything. I feel the same way about the boatload of picks the team gave up for the chance to draft RG3 in 2012. Whatever another team might do with a draft pick is irrelevant. The Redskins of Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder don’t make their picks count. We might as well get a known commodity for them.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Football is a game where the organizations with the best systems win. Alex Smith will play well next year and the Redskins will end up somewhere in the 7-9 to 9-7 range that they’ve been in since 2015. That net effect of this trade, the subsequent Twitter explosion and my 24-hour mediation period is going to be that it was all sound and fury signifying nothing.