BLOOMINGTON, Minn.— The Washington Redskins in effect said goodbye to quarterback Kirk Cousins before he could bid farewell to them in free agency.
The Redskins' stunning trade with the Kansas City Chiefs for quarterback Alex Smith, the NFL's top-rated passer this season, brought an unofficial end Tuesday to Cousins's tenure in Washington. He presumably will be permitted to leave the Redskins via unrestricted free agency in March, unencumbered by a franchise- or transition-player tag, and shop his services to a group of quarterback-needy teams that could include the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.
The tentative deal between the Redskins and Chiefs was confirmed by multiple people familiar with the situation after being first reported by the Kansas City Star. The Redskins agreed to a four-year contract extension with Smith reportedly worth about $94 million, with more than $70 million guaranteed.
The Redskins will send a third-round draft choice and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs. NFL trades cannot be made official until the start of the new league year March 14. That's also when the free agent market opens. So the Redskins or Chiefs technically could back out of the deal, but that's not expected.
A public announcement of the not-yet-official trade could be made in the coming days, according to one person with knowledge of the discussions.
The Chiefs are moving on from Smith and turning over their starting-quarterback job to Patrick Mahomes, who was a backup this season as a rookie after being selected in the opening round of last year's NFL draft. Smith, who turns 34 in May, had one season left on a contract that was to pay him $17 million for the 2018 season.
Smith's four-year extension will keep him under contract for the next five seasons in all, according to one person familiar with the deliberations.
Smith was in the Minneapolis area Tuesday for the Super Bowl festivities but was not immediately available to comment after news of the pending trade became public. He just had his first 4,000-yard passing season in the NFL, throwing for 4,042 yards this season. He had 26 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, and he led the league with a passer rating of 104.7.
The trade means that the Redskins will not have to ponder using a third straight franchise-player tag to retain Cousins, a maneuver that this time would have resulted in a one-year deal worth close to $34.5 million. Instead, Cousins is expected to be free to sign with any team of his choosing.
The Jaguars become a top contender after they reached the AFC championship game this season, losing at New England, with Blake Bortles as their quarterback. The Jaguars' situation is complicated because they exercised the fifth-year option for next season in Bortles's rookie contract, at a cost of more than $19 million. That option is guaranteed for injury and Bortles reportedly just underwent wrist surgery, meaning that the deal becomes guaranteed if he cannot pass a physical by mid-March. But with the strength of the Jaguars' defense and the presence of prized young tailback Leonard Fournette, many within the league wonder just how good the team could be with a more consistent quarterback.
The Browns possess the top overall selection in a quarterback-rich NFL draft that includes top prospects such as USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. But John Dorsey, the team's new general manager, could opt to pursue Cousins on the heels of the Browns' winless season and use the draft to fortify the roster at other positions.
John Elway, the Broncos' front-office football czar, could be ready to go in a different direction at quarterback after attempting to patch together the position with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler. The Jets are expected to be in the mix, with a major void at the position after relying this season on veteran Josh McCown. The Bills could opt to replace Tyrod Taylor as their starter, and the Cardinals must find a successor to the retired Carson Palmer.
The timing of the Redskins' trade agreement with the Chiefs and their farewell, in effect, to Cousins was extremely unusual, coming in the middle of Super Bowl week. Conversations about prospective trades and potential free agent deals generally do not intensify until much closer to the opening of the league's free agent and trade market in March.