Alex Smith Trade Starts a Domino Effect for N.F.L. Quarterbacks

The Kansas City Chiefs’ decision to move on from the Alex Smith era this week, by trading the quarterback to the Washington Redskins, will send ripples across the N.F.L. throughout this off-season.

The deal, which was first reported by The Kansas City Star and will not be official until March 14, was a sign that the Chiefs had committed to using Patrick Mahomes, whom they chose 10th after trading up in last year’s draft, as their starting quarterback. It also virtually assured that Kirk Cousins would not return as Washington’s quarterback.

In return for Smith, the Chiefs received a third-round pick and the third-year cornerback Kendall Fuller, according to multiple news media reports.

But beyond those immediately affected, the deal will have ramifications for virtually every quarterback seeking a new team or a revamped contract, as well as any team trying to make a change at football’s most vital position.

For the Chiefs, the move was straightforward. Smith went 50-26 in his five seasons with the team, made three Pro Bowls, and was at his best early in the 2017 season. But he was 1-4 in the playoffs, and, at 33, he has a very limited chance of significant improvement.

Mahomes’s professional experience is fairly limited, but in Week 17 he completed 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards against the Denver Broncos. In what the Chiefs are hoping is a sign of things to come, the big-armed Mahomes connected with Demetrius Harris on a 51-yard pass.

Mahomes most likely will not match Smith’s regular season success initially, but the general belief is that he offers more explosiveness, which could be a strong combination with Kareem Hunt, who led the N.F.L. in rushing as a rookie in 2017. And Fuller, a promising young cornerback, will join a secondary in need of a playmaker.

For the Redskins, who reportedly have agreed to a four-year contract extension with Smith, the move saves money. Cousins would have cost more than $34 million next season if the team used the franchise tag on him again. The deal also promises at least a mild upgrade on the field in the short term. Cousins is four years younger than Smith and has a stronger arm, but he has been much more inconsistent over his three seasons as a full-time starter. In that time, Cousins had a combined record of 24-23-1 and led Washington to the playoffs once.

Where things get truly interesting is what happens to Cousins, Case Keenum and any other quarterback who ends up entering free agency. The list of teams that believe they are a quarterback away from being regular contenders includes Minnesota, Denver, Arizona and Buffalo. Cleveland and the Jets will most likely be in the market for a free-agent quarterback as well.

Cousins will get his choice of destinations, and will presumably receive the long-term deal that he sought in Washington. Keenum would probably be the second choice among teams that would rather sign a known entity than pursue a quarterback in the draft.

It is only then, after the trade is completed and Cousins and Keenum sign, that players like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers will look at how things went and decide just how much they are going to demand from their teams in renegotiations.

And all of that comes, essentially, as a result of the Chiefs wanting to switch to Mahomes from Smith.