The Minnesota Vikings are firmly in a Super Bowl window, with a talented roster they felt needed an upgrade in one area: quarterback. The Washington Redskins want to enter that same window, which meant they needed a quarterback who could afford them one key thing: cap room to build.
Those feelings are reflected in the contracts handed out to Kirk Cousins (Minnesota) and Alex Smith (Washington). It's hard to not compare their deals because the Redskins essentially replaced Cousins with Smith.
However, the Redskins never wanted to pay a certain amount for Cousins, knowing they needed more around him to make it work. Their comfort level ended at about $23 million per year -- or $5 million less per year than what the Vikings gave Cousins. And once the tag was used in the 2016 offseason, Cousins was a long shot to sign a long-term deal.
Minnesota, though, was one game from the Super Bowl and has a deep core that should be together for the next several years. A quarterback -- even one ranked by some in the 10-15 range -- could make the difference. As such, the Vikings were willing to pay more than just about any other team, aside from the cap-rich and desperate-for-QB-help New York Jets.
Smith's contract is expensive up front in terms of cash flow and shows the staggering investment Washington has made in the position over a three-year period. However, it also puts the Redskins in a favorable cap spot at quarterback over the next few years -- provided Smith plays well, of course.
At the end of this coming season, the Redskins will have spent $84 million the past three seasons for their starting quarterback. That includes the $27 million signing bonus for Smith and his $13 million base salary this season. It also includes the $44 million in guaranteed money with two franchise tags on Cousins. The Redskins didn't want to pay Cousins' three-year, $58.5 million in guaranteed money at the end of the 2015 season.
However, had they accepted those terms, they would have needed to sign Cousins after this season anyway -- though they would have had an option to use the franchise tag for a first time. Either way, a long-term deal would have been tough, given where the market is headed, their thoughts on Cousins' talent and how his side wanted to get the fully guaranteed money.
Over the next two years, Smith will receive $1 million more than Cousins. It's not as though Cousins is widely considered that much better than Smith; it typically depends whom you ask, but regardless, the two QBs are in the same ballpark. Smith just happens to be four years older than Cousins.
Another key part of Smith's deal is the salary-cap hits. In 2018, Smith ranks 16th among quarterbacks, at $18.4 million. In 2019, he ranks 19th, at $20.4 million, and in 2020, he ranks ninth out of the 20 quarterbacks with contracts extending into that season. He'll fall a lot farther once other quarterbacks -- such as Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers -- sign extensions. Over that span, Cousins' cap hits rank sixth, third and second, respectively.
The Redskins will be dinged for giving Smith so much money in the first year of the deal; the Vikings will be knocked for giving Cousins so much money overall. But if the Redskins didn't have one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, they didn't want to be hamstrung by the cap. As such, they got a good quarterback at a favorable cap hit. The Vikings wanted one final piece and got that -- they hope.
Of course, to make it work, the Redskins must use that cap space wisely -- some of it eventually will be spent extending their own players, such as linebacker Preston Smith and guard Brandon Scherff. And the Vikings must win it all. No pressure.