With the two-day free agent negotiating period beginning today, the Washington Redskins have already completed their most important deal. The trade to bring Alex Smith to D.C. should be official on Wednesday, allowing the team will move on from the year-to-year dealings with Kirk Cousins.
But how did Smith take another step forward in his 12th NFL season?
Three skill-position players did the bulk of the work with Smith in 2017 and each had Pro Bowl seasons.
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt ran for 1,327 yards and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. He forced defenses to respect the run game, but was also very good in the passing game, with 53 receptions for 455 yards and three receiving touchdowns. Hunt has underrated speed and ran away from plenty of defenders en route to the league’s rushing title.
Tyreek Hill was a flat-out blur in his second season with 75 catches for 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. Hill reportedly ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at his college Pro Day, but then hit 23.24 and 22.77 miles per hour during kickoff return touchdowns in 2016. The two times were the fastest by any ball carrier that season, according to Next Gen Stats. His 21.64 miles per hour during a 64-yard touchdown reception in 2017 was tied for the fifth-fastest last season. Hill was a threat to go deep on every play — 15 catches of 20-plus yards and nine of 40-plus yards — as the Chiefs tapped into that ability in 2017 and proved that Smith was more than a dink-and-dunk quarterback.
Smith, in fact, was the most accurate passer on throws of more than 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 56.5 percent adjusted completion percentage. The ACP accounts for drops, throwaways and passes when the quarterback is hit while throwing. Smith led the league with 1,344 deep passing yards and was 11th in the league with 12.3 percent of his passes going deep.
The signal caller continued to show love to tight end Travis Kelce, despite Smith’s newfound affinity for the throwing long. The fifth-year veteran had his second-consecutive 1,000 yard season (1,038) and caught a career-high eight touchdowns. He reached the Pro Bowl the last three seasons playing with Smith.
Those three combined to receive 54.9 percent of the Chiefs’ targets in 2017. Now, can the Redskins replicate that dynamic for Smith in Washington?
The Redskins don’t quite have those same types of weapons, but Coach Jay Gruden’s offense has proven to be able to reach the 4,000-passing yards plateau with Kirk Cousins in each of the last three seasons.
Jordan Reed is one of the most dangerous tight ends in the league when healthy. However, he’s yet to play a full 16-game season and finished 2017 on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
Adding another running back this offseason is a priority, but Chris Thompson has proven to be a dynamic, versatile player out of the backfield, particularly in the passing game. He’s coming off a broken leg suffered in November. Thompson (5-foot-7, 191 pounds) has mostly been used as a third-down/situational back and that role figures to continue.
Another receiver is expected to join the offense, with Jamison Crowder in the slot and Josh Doctson on the outside. Few in the league have Hill’s top-end speed, but that weapon helped push Smith to another level.
The Redskins don’t have the same mixture that the Chiefs featured, so all eyes will anxiously await how Gruden maximizes Smith’s skill set by filling in those supporting roles this offseason.