With Alex Smith apparently on his way to a suburb of the nation’s capitol, assuming his trade from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins goes through on March 14, the Bills’ quarterback quandary has grown more intriguing.
All along I thought the Bills would be in the mix for possibly acquiring Smith in a trade, especially given the tight relationship between Bills head coach Sean McDermott and his mentor, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
Smith, coming off his best NFL season, even though it ended in bitter disappointment in a playoff loss to Tennessee, had one year left on his contract and seemed like a perfect bridge to whoever the Bills might select in April’s draft. Not only that, he would have been an upgrade over Tyrod Taylor who could have given the Bills a chance to make the playoffs.
Sal Maiorana and Leo Roth talk about some of the tough decisions coming for the Bills as they plan for 2018. Sal Maiorana, Leo Roth, Virginia Butler
Last year, McDermott and Reid found common ground on two deals. First, there was the draft day trade that enabled the Chiefs to move up to pick the quarterback who will now replace Smith, Patrick Mahomes. The Bills netted two picks, including an extra first-rounder in 2018. Then, during training camp, the Bills dealt linebacker Reggie Ragland to Kansas City in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
I don’t know if the Bills were in on trade talks for Smith – I’d like to think they were – but it’s a moot point now and they need to move on to the next step in their plan.
And if the plan is to sign a free agent, and not trade up in the first round to pick one of the consensus top four rookies – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen – here’s my take on the quarterbacks who might make sense.
Let’s start with one who doesn’t: Kirk Cousins. Look, he has piled up some impressive numbers including three straight 4,000-yard seasons. By comparison, in the Bills’ 58-year history they have exactly one year where their quarterback topped 4,000 yards – Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
However, Cousins is 26-30-1 as a starter, he’s lost his only two playoff starts, and he will likely command a contract that will include $100 million in guaranteed money. That’s crazy for a player who has yet to prove he can win on a consistent basis. Further, with the lack of top end passing targets on the Buffalo roster, Cousins would likely struggle to reproduce his statistics from his Washington days.
Former Redskins GM Scott McCloughan made a telling statement during a radio appearance earlier this month when asked about Cousins. “He’s a good player. Is he special? I don’t see special.”
If the Bills pass on Cousins, and assuming they are indeed going to release Tyrod Taylor, who’s left who could come in and immediately be Buffalo’s starter in 2018? Mine is a short list and it includes Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Teddy Bridgewater, plus one wild-card – A.J. McCarron.
The three Minnesota quarterbacks – Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater – must be evaluated in trio because the Vikings are going to keep at least one, and perhaps two. For the Bills, Bridgewater would be my target.
Bradford is 30 and his injury history is extensive, so he’d be a risk. There was talk last year that his latest knee injury may be the one that relegates him to backup status for however long he decides to play. As for Keenum, my hunch is that the Vikings will keep him and slap the franchise tag on him. There’s a chance Keenum caught lightning in a bottle last season and that’s the best he’ll ever be, so by tagging him, the Vikings would pay the one-year premium, but could also parachute out if his play declines.
That leaves Bridgewater, who Minnesota could very well bring back, maybe even on a transition tag. He hasn’t started in two years due to a devastating knee injury that surely has teams wary, but if his knee is OK, there’s real upside with Bridgewater. He was 17-11 as a starter in 2014 and 2015, and completed 64.7 percent of his passes, though his TD to interception ratio (28/22) wasn’t great.
McCown is going to be 39 in July, so he would only be a one-year bridge candidate. Like Keenum, he’s coming off the best season of his career and somehow guided a bad Jets team to five wins before getting hurt in December. Can he do that again? It’s probably unlikely.
Fitzpatrick really isn’t starter material anymore, but he played fairly well in Tampa Bay in place of Jameis Winston for stretches last year. If he had to pick a landing spot, Buffalo would definitely be near the top of his list. We know he’s no great shakes, but when you scan down the free agent list and start seeing names such as Chad Henne, Drew Stanton, Derek Anderson, Ryan Mallett, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Kellen Clemens, Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, T.J. Yates and E.J. Manuel, Fitzpatrick looks somewhat enticing.
A.J. McCarron may be ruled an unrestricted free agent
A.J. McCarron may be ruled an unrestricted free agent later this month. (Photo: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports)
Which brings me to McCarron. He was a fifth-round draft pick by the Bengals in 2014 after a storied career at Alabama where he led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national championships in 2011 and 2012. He saw action in three games as a rookie after Andy Dalton got hurt, and he went 2-1 in those games, completing 66.4 percent of his passes.
He saw almost no action the past two years, but the Cleveland Browns thought enough of him to execute a trade at the Oct. 31 NFL deadline. The Bengals agreed to the deal, but somehow, the Browns didn’t inform the NFL in time and the trade was voided. Shaking my head, as the kids say.
At present, McCarron is considered a restricted free agent because he didn’t dress for enough games as a rookie to earn an accrued season in the league to put toward unrestricted free agency. However, he claims the Bengals kept him on the non-football injury list longer than was necessary, and he has a hearing set for Feb. 15 to try to convince the NFL that he should get that 2014 season and be unrestricted.
If he wins, he hits the market, and Buffalo might be the right landing spot. He has proven he can win, and with such limited NFL experience, his price tag wouldn’t be all that high. It’s something to keep an eye on.