The Washington Redskins can’t really say when Alex Smith might be healthy, mainly because they really don’t know. What they do know is they’re not ready to divorce themselves from the injured quarterback. Just in case.
During Super Bowl week, Redskins president Bruce Allen told both WTEM-AM The Team 980 and NBC Sports Washington’s podcast that the team is not planning for life without Smith. Allen also said the Redskins don’t have to draft a quarterback in the first round.
Here’s what it all means:
They do plan on keeping Smith around. The so-called nuclear option -- cutting him now and taking a cap hit of $40 million (after the $12 million insurance policy kicks in) -- was not an option for them anyway. For a couple of months, the refrain from Redskins Park has been to acknowledge the long road Smith faces after his compound leg fracture in November and multiple surgeries, how the odds are against him for the immediate future and that “if anyone can do it, Alex can.” The point is, the Redskins are not ready to dismiss any scenario, which means there’s no reason to cut the 34-year-old now.
If they cut him after next season, having determined his career is over, they would have to account for $32.2 million in dead money. They would get $12 million in insurance relief; it’s just a matter of when it would be applied -- whether all on the 2020 cap or spread over two years. And that depends on whether Smith is released with a post-June 1 designation (spreading the hit over two years).
They still are considering life without him. Just in case, of course. However they want to phrase it, they have no choice but to think about this scenario. The big question is whether it’s short- or long-term planning. There’s a reason the Redskins are looking at whatever options exist to find another quarterback. At this point, they have only one who will be healthy when spring workouts resume: Colt McCoy. They have been interested in re-signing Josh Johnson since the season ended.
Barring a change in thinking and cap space, they can’t afford a high-end free agent, and it doesn’t make sense to trade for a quarterback with a big salary. That’s too much to invest in one spot. So they’ll look at a quarterback such as Johnson or a mid-level one such as Teddy Bridgewater, perhaps.
They are looking hard at quarterbacks in this draft class, but the question that can’t be answered now is which round makes the most sense. The more they learn about Smith’s future, the more this question can be answered. They could opt for a quarterback in the first round or a mid-to-late-round pick; perhaps even an undrafted one.
The Redskins have remained firm in their belief in McCoy, though they have never given him the starting job outright -- he has played only when others ahead of him get hurt or benched. But the bottom line is that in this scenario, they would enter the season with no quarterback proven over 16 games.
They’d enhance the run game. If they’re not going to take a quarterback in the first round, then they’d better invest a bit more to enhance the run game. That means finding a solid left guard. They can’t pay a lot for one anyway, not with big deals already at both tackle spots -- and with right guard Brandon Scherff engaged in talks about an extension.
It also means adding a consistent blocker at tight end and finding a way to keep running back Adrian Peterson around. There have been preliminary talks with Peterson. With Derrius Guice set to return from a torn ACL, it would be wise to have a strong option to pair with him; after all, Peterson rushed for 1,042 yards this season and averaged 4.44 yards per carry in the first eight weeks behind a healthier offensive line.
The Redskins had a solid strategy of trying to win with defense, a strong run game and few turnovers. It helped that they built a 6-3 record before the quarterback injury disasters struck. They’re not going to lure a great quarterback to Washington this offseason, so they must bolster the talent around this position. Otherwise, they’ll make it a lot harder on whoever plays quarterback -- now or in the future.