ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins enter the offseason the same way they did in 2018, with a major question surrounding their next quarterback. It could be a lot tougher to find an answer in 2019.
Last offseason the Redskins traded for Alex Smith, hoping he would fill that hole for several years. But when he suffered the compound spiral fracture of his right leg in November, it left his career in doubt and the Redskins needing to plan for life without him. The Redskins have made it clear that Smith’s health, regardless of football, is most important.
However, they also know they must figure out how to replace him, and for how long remains to be seen.
“He’s 35, so there’s concern, but when you talk about a guy like Alex, you have some glimmer of hope,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But you never know. A lot still has to happen before we talk about him playing again. First things first: We have to get him well and get him up on his feet and moving around and go from there and then see where his mind is at. He’s been through a lot. It’s been a tough go for him.”
On Monday, Gruden said he had not talked to Smith “in a few days” but had texted with his wife.
"He's recovering; that’s all I can say,” Gruden said. “I know it's going to be a long process for him. We're obviously hopeful he can turn a corner and start the rehab process and possibly get back on the field. That’s all we can hope for right now.”
Releasing Smith is not a great option. If the Redskins do, he would count $40 million against the salary cap; it would be $12 million more if not for an insurance policy. They could recoup some of his signing bonus if he retired, but there’s little incentive for him to do so at this point, knowing the financial ramifications. Short of restructuring his deal to push money into the future, the first real chance at cap relief would occur after the 2020 season.
There will be free agents available, but the Redskins might not be able to afford them. They currently have about $20 million in cap space.
They could create more room by releasing a handful of expensive players, but doing so creates more holes they’d need to fill. That costs money. It’s not impossible, but that’s also a difficult way to go for a quarterback who could be more stopgap than long-term solution.
Tyrod Taylor is a potential free agent, as is Nick Foles. They were interested in Teddy Bridgewater last offseason before trading for Smith. Bridgewater will be a free agent again, but will have more suitors and therefore a higher price tag.
That’s why the best option could be drafting a quarterback. It’s considered a thin class and, picking 15th, the Redskins are not in prime position in the first round. But they will have options in the first few rounds if nothing else.
The Redskins have Colt McCoy under contract for one more season and have interest in re-signing Josh Johnson, though he’d be viewed as a backup. Those two, plus a rookie, could be the direction they choose. Gruden felt confident in what McCoy could do replacing Smith, but McCoy broke his leg in his second start.
Gruden admitted both he and Smith were adjusting to each other when he was hurt in Week 11. It wasn’t as if Smith was putting up big numbers: He had thrown for 10 touchdowns and had five interceptions. Teammates mentioned adapting to his elongated delivery. But many players mentioned that Smith’s style fit in with what Washington wanted: smart decisions, taking care of the ball and managing the game. Others in the organization knew they’d have to improve the skill talent around him to maximize Smith’s value.
But numerous players pointed to Smith’s departure as the major turning point in the season. The Redskins went from 6-3 to 7-9. They valued him for his intangibles.
“There was this aura about him,” Redskins running back Chris Thompson said in early December. “He just gave everybody that extra boost of confidence. It wasn’t so much anything he said; it was just that his presence made a difference.”
The defense loved what he added.
“It was tough trying to hold on to something that Alex brought,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “He brought a lot to the table as far as time of possession; that’s key, man.”
The Redskins have other needs and other big decisions. But on the field, none will be bigger than what they do at quarterback.