The Jets' search for a franchise quarterback might have gotten a little bit easier on Tuesday night.
In a stunning move to kick off an offseason that has barely just begun, the Kansas City Chiefs traded quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, according to multiple reports. And that, of course, means that Washington has no need to keep Kirk Cousins, who will now become an unrestricted free agent on March 14.
And when the market opens, the Jets absolutely will be one of the teams in pursuit, according to a team source.
Until the shocking deal went down on Tuesday night - the Chiefs sent Smith to Washington for a third-round pick and a player to be named later -- there had been some uncertainty surrounding Cousins' situation this offseason. The Redskins could have used the "franchise tag" on the 29-year-old for the third straight year, or maybe the transition tag, though the price of those made them unlikely. More likely was the possibility that the Redskins and Cousins could've agreed to a long-term deal.
That's obviously out now, which means Cousins - a rare franchise quarterback to hit free agency in his prime - can go wherever he wants. Several NFL sources believe the bidding will be fierce too, with an expectation that he ends up getting in the neighborhood of $25 million per year.
Cousins turned down a five-year contract extension last July that would've included $53 million in guaranteed money, Redskins president Bruce Allen said back then, choosing to play under the $23.9 million franchise tag instead. He figured he could do better, and he's likely right since after trading for Smith - who is four years older than Cousins - the Redskins reportedly signed their new quarterback to a four-year extension worth $94 million, including $71 million in guarantees.
Cousins, in a bidding war, should even exceed that. And that's not really crazy money for a franchise quarterback, which is why the Jets, the Broncos, the Cardinals and maybe the Bills and Browns could all make offers. One big advantage for the Jets is that they are expected to begin free agency with more than $100 million in salary cap space to spend.
Another advantage for the Jets could be their soon-to-be new offensive coordinator, Jeremy Bates. In an interview on WFAN Radio on Tuesday, Cousins said he's known Bates since the coach scouted him before the 2012 draft. "And I really liked him then," Cousins said. "I just think he's a good football mind. Everybody I've talked to who knows him, loves him. I think it was a smart hire by the Jets."
Cousins will be by far the biggest prize in what is an unusually crowded field of free agent quarterbacks. Among the others expected to be available are Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater from the Vikings. The Jets also could always turn back to Josh McCown for another year.
None of those have the resume that Cousins does, though. He's started each of the last three seasons for the Redskins and, completing 67 percent of his passes and averaging 4,392 yards, 27 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions per season. Those totals would be the best single season for a Jets quarterback in franchise history.
That makes him ideal for the Jets, who have spent decades searching for a franchise quarterback. And if they don't land Cousins, they have a fallback plan because they can still draft a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft.