The Washington Redskins will struggle to find a good fit in free agency for one of their biggest needs: quarterback. With Alex Smith’s future uncertain for 2019 and beyond after a compound leg fracture, the Redskins must decide if they want to pursue more quarterback help via free agency or the draft.
They do have Colt McCoy under contract, but they need more than just one healthy quarterback. Smith’s contract makes him uncuttable until after the 2020 season; he has cap hits of $20.4 million this year and $21.4 million next season.
With the help of salary-cap experts Joel Corry, a former agent who now writes for CBS Sports and John Clayton Football, and J.I. Halsell, a former agent and a cap analyst, here’s a look at the Redskins' free-agent quarterback options:
The upper level
This group will be unaffordable for Washington because the team has only around $20 million in available cap space. With so many needs, it does not make sense for the Redskins to spend a lot on a veteran quarterback, especially if he's not considered a top-tier passer. To sign or trade for someone in this group, the Redskins would take on another quarterback salary of more than $20 million -- in addition to Smith’s cap hits.
The middle level
This is where there could be some temptation. But even this seems to be a long shot. However, it’s worth taking a longer look just in case.
Tyrod Taylor: Last offseason, Buffalo traded him to Cleveland for a third-round draft pick. Taylor had signed a two-year contract worth $30.5 million with $15.5 million guaranteed in 2017. He was hurt early in Week 3 vs. the New York Jets and then lost his job to rookie and top overall pick Baker Mayfield. As Corry said, it helps Taylor that he was benched for a quarterback who stood out. And it should also help that the Browns’ offense looked a lot different after Cleveland fired coach Hue Jackson and coordinator Todd Haley. Taylor played under the original scheme and not with new coach Freddie Kitchens calling plays. Both Corry and Halsell anticipate Taylor making more than Teddy Bridgewater, but not by a lot -- possibly getting a deal in the range of $8 million to $10 million per year with incentives.
Teddy Bridgewater: The New Orleans Saints' backup quarterback -- and former Minnesota Vikings starter -- could be the most intriguing. Redskins coach Jay Gruden knows Bridgewater's former coach well -- he and Mike Zimmer were coordinators together in Cincinnati. Also, Bridgewater's name was mentioned as a possibility last offseason, so it would make sense that the Redskins would at least consider him again in 2019. But if there’s real demand for him, it’s hard to see how the Redskins could snag him -- they simply can’t pay a lot, not with other needs and the possibility of drafting a quarterback instead.
It’s hard to know Bridgewater’s price tag, or to judge his abilities. He has played one game in three seasons -- the Saints' season finale last month -- since a horrific leg injury in 2016. But most important, Bridgewater looks healthy; he’s only 26 and looked good during camp with the Jets before he was traded to the Saints in August. Still, figuring out his next contract is tricky; there’s not a good comparison, Corry said. Halsell said he could see Bridgewater receiving a similar deal to the one he got from the Jets: one year, $6 million, with another $9 million possible through incentives. He’s not a surefire starter, but he’d compete for that job.
Jacoby Brissett: He’s not a free agent, so this would require a trade with the Indianapolis Colts. The 2016 third-round pick is attractive because he has one year left on his original rookie deal, so he would cost only a draft pick (or two), plus a cap hit of $915,000. But then he’d have to be signed after the season. Indianapolis acquired Brissett from New England for Phillip Dorsett in 2017; the draft cost to get him now would likely be steeper than a third-round pick.
Blake Bortles: If the Redskins want to excite the fan base, this might be their last move. Bortles nearly took Jacksonville to the Super Bowl following the 2017 season, but he was benched for Cody Kessler this past season and could be cut. It’s hard to imagine Bortles being paid like a starter, so he’d be more cost-effective. Perhaps he was just with a bad organization in Jacksonville -- for all the Redskins' issues, they’ve been far better, save for one season, in the past 11 years. The Jags have just one winning season during that period, which also should serve as a warning for those who’d prefer that the Redskins tank. Picking high does not equal success. Bortles is considered good in the locker room, but at this point a stronger No. 2 option than a legitimate starter. Corry said it is tough to determine Bortles' market value.
Josh Johnson: He makes sense considering he started the final three games of 2018 for Washington. He wouldn’t cost a lot and could serve as a backup to McCoy and, perhaps, a rookie. There’s also Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his penchant for turning the ball over wouldn’t help.