The first domino has fallen in the great quarterback chase of 2018, and now the Jets have their chance.
With the trade of Alex Smith from the Chiefs to the Redskins, the Jets are in the mix for a quarterback capable of solidifying the position for years. Spend enough money and make enough promises of hope for the future, and Kirk Cousins can be theirs.
Cousins’ ouster from Washington was widely expected, with the team dropping hints throughout the season that it didn’t think him worthy of a long-term contract extension. The trade for Smith provided the definitive resolution.
Cousins, 29, finally has clarity about his future, and he’ll be the quarterback most in demand on the open market. He is easily the most talented passer expected to be available, and there will be no shortage of teams competing for his services.
I expect the Jets to make a strong run at him, and they’ve got plenty of cold, hard cash to spend now that general manager Mike Maccagnan has upward of $100 million in salary-cap space. But Cousins may find other situations more attractive.
That said, there is a lot to like about the Jets, and Maccagnan and Todd Bowles can make a strong pitch to entice Cousins. Despite finishing 5-11 in each of the last two seasons, there is a promising core of young players that helped earn the GM and his coach two-year extensions by the end of 2017.
Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were terrific additions, and the return of receiver Quincy Enunwa from a neck injury will restore a major weapon. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams continues to improve, and the return of inside linebacker Demario Davis was another major upgrade.
Should the Jets find a way to convince Cousins to sign, they could use their No. 6 overall draft pick on an offensive difference-maker such as Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, if he’s still available then. Maccagnan also has an extra second-round pick from the Sheldon Richardson trade to Seattle that brought in wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, so he has potential maneuverability on draft day.
Is it enough to persuade Cousins? He’s not saying. He’s making the rounds at the Super Bowl doing media appearances, and while he’s unwilling to say where he might end up, he did make a point of saying he wasn’t intimidated by the New York market.
But that’s only one consideration. The more important determining factors could be the other teams in pursuit of him, and the list of potential bidders is long.
Broncos general manager John Elway has made no secret that he’s looking to upgrade at quarterback, whether it’s through free agency or the draft (Denver has the fifth pick).
Elway can draw on his experience of signing Peyton Manning after the Colts released him; Manning wound up leading the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl 50 in his final season. And although the Broncos may not be quite as loaded as they were when Manning arrived in 2012, there’s still plenty of talent, especially on defense.
Jacksonville is another potential destination, especially after quarterback Blake Bortles failed to lead the Jaguars past the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Cousins, who has had three straight 4,000-yard seasons, could be the missing piece for a team that already has a great defense and a top-flight running game.
The Browns, Cardinals and Bills — and potentially the Vikings, whose top three quarterbacks are not under contract in 2018 — are also potential suitors. Cleveland is awful, but has a new general manager in John Dorsey and a ton of cap space. The Cardinals need to find a successor to Carson Palmer, and the Bills want to move on from Tyrod Taylor.
A crowded field indeed, which is why Maccagnan and Bowles need to be ready to do a good enough selling job on the one guy who can solve their quarterback needs in a New York minute.