Washington Redskins turn to Alex Smith at quarterback in 2018

Alex Smith has already agreed to a four-year extension with the Redskins. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Washington Redskins:

2018 cap hits of top returnees:

Alex Smith -- $17 million (once the trade with Kansas City is official March 14)

Colt McCoy -- $3.6 million

Pending free agents: Kirk Cousins

Key stat: The Redskins’ quarterback stats over the past three seasons under Cousins ranked among the best in the NFL. They were third in completion percentage, fourth in yards per attempt (18th in air yards per attempt), fourth in total QBR, fifth in passer rating, 10th in touchdowns, sixth in yards and 11th in fewest interceptions thrown.

Money matters: The Redskins were unable to re-sign Cousins, but they did spend to keep him around the past two years at a cost of $44 million guaranteed. Though the Redskins at times wanted more, or better, from him he did provide solid numbers -- twice setting franchise records for passing yards. But in those two years, the Redskins were a combined 15-16-1; their defense was bad and the run game inconsistent. They would have been fine paying him in this range again, but when his price tag appeared to soar, their interest ended. The past two seasons showed that Cousins alone couldn’t carry a roster. If they were going to pay big money, they wanted to do so to someone who could.

Big picture: The Redskins had stability the past three seasons, even if it felt like the past two were anything but as Cousins played on the franchise tag. But since 2015, he was the starter and McCoy was the No. 2. The Redskins have struggled to find any sort of long-term answer at this position, which is why many fans clamored for them to retain Cousins. Since winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, the Redskins have drafted 13 quarterbacks. Cousins is the only one who has become a quality starter for more than a year. The trade for Smith represents the third time since 2004 that they’ve gone this route to acquire a starter (Mark Brunell in ‘04, Donovan McNabb in ‘10 were the others). The Redskins haven’t had a quarterback who was the primary starter for four seasons in a row since Mark Rypien, who left after the 1993 season.

The game plan: The Redskins made their plans clear Jan. 30 when they agreed to a trade with Kansas City for Smith. The trade won’t be official until 4 p.m. March 14, but he’ll also provide what Cousins could not: a longer-term answer. Smith already has agreed to a four-year extension, though considering he turns 34 in May, it’s hard to know how long he can be a quality starter. But for the foreseeable future, the job is Smith’s. McCoy is under contract for one more season and the Redskins have liked him as a backup, though he has been passed over as the starter for two straight years. It’s doubtful the Redskins draft a quarterback, at least not in the early rounds. They’d prefer to keep two on the 53-man roster. But they could always draft one late and try to develop him into a backup if nothing else -- or just draft a guy in 2019 if McCoy doesn’t return.