The Washington Redskins' agreement to acquire quarterback Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs has the reciprocal consequence of essentially ticketing current 'Skins QB Kirk Cousins for free agency. Cousins, who played the past two seasons under the franchise tag — the first quarterback to be saddled with consecutive tags — would've cost Washington more than $34 million to franchise a third time.
With that course of action obviously no longer viable, Cousins will finally have the opportunity to test a market where the going rate for passers on long-term deals is $25 million-plus annually.
Here are the likeliest suitors for Cousins:
1. New York Jets: Cousins was, per multiple reports, a trade target for Gang Green in the past, and he could make a lot of sense now. The Jets are projected to have more than $70 million in cap space this year, and their hole under center — which has existed since Mark Sanchez crashed and burned — is as deep and dark as ever with Josh McCown, who had a surprisingly good 2017 campaign, no longer under contract and not a legitimate long-term option given he'll turn 39 next summer. And even with the sixth pick of the draft at their disposal, the Jets might not get a crack at the top or second-best prospect.
2. Cleveland Browns: Their free agent war chest will likely have more than $100 million. Attracting Cousins would also allow new GM John Dorsey to spend his litany of draft picks, including the first and fourth overall, on blue chippers for the supporting cast — hello, Saquon Barkley? — rather than rolling the dice on Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. Bottom line, Dorsey has options, so this isn't a scenario where Cousins could shake down the Browns for every last penny.
3. Denver Broncos: Their continued inability to replace Peyton Manning was never more apparent than in 2017, when a 25th-ranked passing offense guilty of 22 interceptions undermined a defense that remains championship-caliber. However GM John Elway would probably have to get creative in order to free up sufficient funds to lure Cousins.
4. Minnesota Vikings: They'll be hitting the reset button to some degree in the wake of OC Pat Shurmur's departure. And QBs Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater -- all have made notable contributions to this team over the past three seasons, yet each comes with his own baggage -- are headed into 2018 without contracts. It seems probable the Vikes would find a way to keep Keenum and/or Bridgewater given they'll have around $50 million plus to play with in free agency and the option to use the franchise tag. But Minnesota would be another attractive option for Cousins given it's home to the league's No. 1 defense and a nice suite of offensive playmakers.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: If Cousins is looking for a place where he could enjoy instant and sustained success, this would be it. The Jags own both the league's top ground attack and best young defense (though the receiving corps is likely headed for an overhaul). However it's worth wondering how Blake Bortles' wrist surgery impacts the team's ability to move on from him in a fifth-year option guaranteed for injury.
6. Arizona Cardinals: They're in desperate need after Carson Palmer's retirement and at a major competitive disadvantage in the NFC West, where the other three teams look to be set under center for the next decade. The desert might be a nice draw considering the presence of RB David Johnson, WR Larry Fitzgerald — probably — and a sixth-ranked defense. But GM Steve Keim already has a lot of money tied up in this roster and looks to be quite hamstrung from a cap perspective heading into free agency.
7. Buffalo Bills: They'd obviously like to replace Tyrod Taylor. But it's unclear if they can make an enticing pitch given overall average talent, plus the fact that their best player, tailback LeSean McCoy, will be 30 before opening day.