By DERON SNYDER
Washington’s NFL franchise doesn’t do simple. It doesn’t do clever or competent, either.
No, pro football in the nation’s capital is a ham-handed operation, one series of shaky decisions followed by another. It’s a sequence of questionable rationalizations and a string of baffling moves.
Sound judgment and stability? Insightfulness and foresight? Hah! Those are foreign concepts in Ashburn, treated like enemies of the state. The franchise’s operation manual apparently can be summed up thusly: “Determine how New England, Pittsburgh or Green Bay would proceed, and then do the exact opposite.”
We figured Kirk Cousins had played his last game in burgundy and gold after two years of painful irresolution. Adore him or abhor him, he likely was heading elsewhere next season, freeing us from the daily, mind-numbing debate on his worthiness to receive a market-value contract.
Of course, smart organizations don’t position themselves to lose a homegrown, highly productive quarterback entering his prime. For that matter, neither do clueless organizations. Washington’s ineptitude in reaching this stage is a well-documented precedent, the NFL’s first instance of back-to-back franchise tags slapped on a quarterback.
But here’s something we’ve seen before – acquiring a veteran quarterback from Andy Reid. The experience didn’t go well.
It was Reid, then-coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, who shipped Donovan McNabb to D.C. in 2010 for a second-round pick and a conditional third- or fourth-rounder the following year. McNabb turned 34 during his lone, forgettable season in Washington (58.3 completion rate with 15 interceptions and 14 touchdowns).
This time, Reid coaches the Kanas City Chiefs and Alex Smith – who turns 34 in May – is the aging discard slated to be Washington’s new starter.
On the surface, replacing Cousins with Smith is meh, at best.
If you want solid, uninspiring play, Smith is your guy. He’s coming off a season with career-highs in yards (4,042), touchdowns (26) and rating (104.2). He also has led K.C. to the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and four of the last five.
But he’s not demonstrably better than Washington’s soon-to-be former starter. Cousins threw for more yards in each of the last three seasons. His touchdown totals were 29, 25 and 27. He led his team to one postseason appearance, where he completed 63 percent of his passes for 329 yards.
One can argue that Smith and Cousins are close in performance and upside. However, productivity isn’t the reason one is coming and one is going. Smith was acquired because he’s cheaper and better than nothing – which is what Washington otherwise would have after Cousins departs.
The team saved money … and immediately wasted some by agreeing to a four-year contract extension that averages roughly $23 million per season with $70 million guaranteed.
Never mind that a similar deal could’ve secured Cousins’ services before now if Washington had a clue. Never mind that better, less prohibitive options could’ve been found later this offseason.
Again, the relationship with Cousins was too sour to continue and Smith allows the team to move on with a bona fide NFL starter under center. The extra money and extra years are less-than-desirable, but at least Washington won’t have a career backup taking snaps. Great.
The relative similarities between Cousins and Smith; the contract extension and financial investment; the third-round draft pick; all those factors could be tolerated if not enthusiastically embraced.
Unless the Chiefs also demanded, I don’t know, the up-and-coming young defender who’s widely considered a future star at arguably the league’s most important position after quarterback.
Washington went off the deep end by giving away cornerback Kendall Fuller. Equally adept at covering outside or in the slot, Fuller earned an elite rating from Pro Football Focus.
To recap, Washington significantly weakened its defense – hardly a strong suit – to secure a potentially short-term QB who doesn’t significantly upgrade the offense.
The franchise also demonstrated, yet again, its penchant for operating like school districts on snow days: No class.
Fuller found out he was traded after Twitter already had the news. Previously, the team distastefully disclosed terms of a contract it offered Cousins. And former general manager Scot McCloughan had his character assassinated in a figurative hit job when he was fired.
Some will say Washington did the best it could with a bad situation. In a vacuum, that’s a fair assessment.
But the only vacuum associated with this organization is the absence of hope as it’s sucked away year after year, in every form and fashion.
Smith is about to learn for himself that Washington’s culture – defined from insiders’ point of view as “how we do things here” – can be described in many ways.
But simple, clever and competent aren’t applicable.