Speaking with the Redskins Talk podcast during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, Bruce Allen made clear he will not count out Alex Smith for the 2019 season.
What Allen didn't say is almost as important as what he did say.
Few expect Smith to play in 2019, which would take a wild comeback after suffering a compound leg fracture last November. But Allen's reticence at the suggestion of Smith being shut down for the season might mean more for 2020 than people have considered.
Even if Smith doesn't play in 2019, the Redskins still owe him more than $20 million for the 2020 season.
The word from Ashburn is that the team won't consider the 'nuclear option,' a term used to describe possibly releasing Smith this offseason and taking a massive $40 million cap hit. The advantage of that option: pain now for relief later. Washington can move on from the Smith contract in 2020 after taking a serious lump in 2019.
This offseason, Allen repeatedly said he thinks the Redskins are close to competing at the highest levels of the NFL. Jay Gruden made similar remarks when the season ended. Both said that Smith's injury in 2018 buried the team's chances of competing, and in their defense, the 'Skins were 6-3 in Week 10 before Smith got hurt.
If the team truly believes they are close, they're not going to consider the nuclear option. And if they're not going to cut Smith, that means he will be making a return in 2020, at least contractually.
It might seem a tall order, but Smith keeps himself in incredible shape. In another 18 months, could he be close to a return to football? Maybe, maybe not, but if the Redskins have to pay him another $20 million anyway, why not wait to find out?
And it's with that thought in mind that brings the next one: Washington might not have any interest in an early round quarterback in the NFL Draft.
Think about it.
If the Redskins are going to hold out hope for a Smith return, or at least delay the cap hit, does it make sense to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback? Add in the fact that Colt McCoy is under contract for 2019, and up and down the Redskins organization, folks have supported McCoy as a possible QB1.
In a recent MMQB article, Jonathan Jones makes that exact case. From Jones:
Washington is in an incredibly difficult position. Alex Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury in the first year of his $96 million contract with the team and then suffered complications from surgery. It’s possible he doesn’t see the field until 2020. And in this thorough OverTheCap article, it’s difficult to find an out for Washington. Jay Gruden really, really likes Colt McCoy, and I envision he’ll get a chance to win the starting job in camp. And because Smith’s future is unclear, you probably don’t want to spend a high draft pick on a quarterback this year.
Jones concludes that the best move for the Redskins is signing a veteran free agent to compete with McCoy, or even be his backup. Considering the money owed to Smith, the Redskins can't spend much in free agency, which means Washington is probably shopping in the Ryan Fitzpatrick aisle.
This line of thinking would not preclude the Redskins from still drafting a QB, but it wouldn't come until at least the second or third day.
As much as fans and media like to discuss first round quarterback possibilities, it's entirely possible the Redskins would be better suited taking the best player available at 15 rather than grabbing a passer. Add an edge rusher or cornerback, let McCoy and another veteran battle it out for QB1, and let a late-round QB learn.
Plenty of theories will emerge. It's more than two months until the NFL Draft. But as long as Smith remains on the Redskins payroll in 2020, adding a first-round QB presents cash flow problems.
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