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Examining the Redskins’ top quarterback options if Kirk Cousins leaves

Could Alex Smith be a solid replacement for Kirk Cousins in Washington? (Reed Hoffmann/AP)

If there were mutual interest between the Redskins and Kirk Cousins in signing a long-term deal, it seems like it would have been done at this point. In all likelihood, for the first time since Peyton Manning in 2012, a proven franchise quarterback will hit the free agent market. Only this time, that quarterback is only 29 with a clean bill of health. There’s no telling what kind of deal he could command with the current quarterback contract climate.

Franchise Kirk Cousins

This is the nuclear option. If Cousins truly doesn’t want a long-term deal in Washington, the Redskins theoretically could still keep him under contract by exercising the franchise tag yet again. This time, though, it gets insanely expensive: $34.5 million for next season. The highest cap hit currently on the books leaguewide for next season is Matt Stafford at only $26.5 million. Washington, with a little more than $52 million in projected cap space for 2018, could fit that deal under the cap, but it’s an increasingly expensive Band-Aid on a growing sore.

Redskins enter another season of uncertainty

Make a play for Alex Smith

Due to the salary cap situations of both the Chiefs and the Saints, it’s very likely that Alex Smith and Drew Brees will both have their contracts torn up at some point this offseason. While it’s unlikely Brees will want to leave New Orleans, Smith is far less tied to Kansas City, which drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round.

Smith is coming off a career year in which he was PFF’s seventh-highest-graded quarterback. It was also a season in which he shed his reputation as a check-down artist and led the entire league with 1,344 deep passing yards. He’ll certainly be sought after, but the Redskins have a comparable offense and enough money to be one of the front-runners.

Pilfer the Vikings’ backups

At the moment, all three quarterbacks on the Vikings’ roster — Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Bradford — are set to hit free agency. While Minnesota will almost certainly keep one of the three, they’d be hard-pressed to retain any more than that this offseason as all three will be coveted as starters.

Keenum’s success this season could very well lead to him being the guy in Minnesota. He’s PFF’s 10th-highest-graded quarterback and his advanced stats suggest it’s not a fluke. Keenum’s sack conversion and turnover-worthy-throw rates are both among the five best at the quarterback position this season.

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Bradford’s and Bridgewater’s health is concerning, but both were quality starters before their injuries. Bradford finished as PFF’s 11th- and 10th-highest-graded quarterback the past two seasons and had the highest-graded Week 1 outing of any quarterback in the NFL before he got hurt. Bridgewater was the 15th-highest-graded quarterback his last full season in 2015 — only his second season in the NFL.

Roll the dice at pick 13

The 2018 quarterback class already is shaping up much like that of 2017. While there are a handful that could go in the first round, none looks like a surefire franchise option. And even at that rate, there’s no guarantee one of the top-tier options will be available when the Redskins pick at No. 13. Last year, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were all gone by pick 13, meaning the Redskins still may have to trade up if they venture into the draft empty-handed. With the quarterback-needy Browns, Giants, Broncos and Jets all picking before Washington, this would be a risky option.

The Eagles are the NFC No. 1 seed and look nothing like a Super Bowl team

Take your medicine and rebuild

While this is a franchise that has won 24 games over the past three seasons, they’ve trended downward each of the past two years and are still a handful of pieces away from truly contending for a Super Bowl. If they handed over the reins to Colt McCoy or a mid-round rookie for a season while trimming the fat contracts on the roster, it could set them up for a high pick in 2019 and a subsequent run in the following seasons. This is obviously not the option anyone wants, but that decision might be out of their hands. If Cousins walks, the Redskins get outbid in free agency and there’s a run on QBs before pick 13, the Redskins will back into a forced rebuilding year.

Mike Renner is a writer for Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.

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