With Kirk Cousins out in Washington, Jets lead list of possible landing spots in 2018

Alex Smith joked Tuesday about the prospects of playing for the Browns, telling Dan Patrick, "They've got nowhere to go but up. 1-31 over the last two years just sounds amazing."

Hours later, reports emerged that Smith would be traded to the Redskins, which means that Kirk Cousins' career in Washington will officially be kaput when the trade is finalized on March 14, the first day of the new league year.

Cousins, who was franchised the last two seasons, earned $43.9 million in 2016-17. If the Redskins had tagged him again, he would've been in line for a $34.5 million payday in 2018. Instead, the team decided Smith was the better, cheaper option, which means that Cousins will be elsewhere, a possibility he hinted at Tuesday.

"Is money a part of it? Sure," Cousins told PFT Live's Mike Florio about leaving Washington to play for another team. "Is it the only thing? No. It is about winning, and that's what I want more than anything, so I'm going to be willing to make sacrifices or do what has to be done to make sure I'm in the best possible position to win, and that's what the focus is going to be."

And with that said, here are five possible landing spots for Cousins, who suddenly becomes the most sought-after soon-to-be free agent in the 2018 class.

New York Jets

The Jets haven't had a franchise-type quarterback since Brett Favre spent one year in New York back in 2008. That team started 8-3 before losing four of five and missing the playoffs. Since then, Jets starting quarterbacks have included Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Greg McElroy, Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty and Josh McCown. The team also used a 2016 second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg, who hasn't seen a regular-season snap in two full seasons. It's safe to say he isn't the answer -- now, next year, ever. 

Meanwhile, the Jets are coming off a back-to-back 5-11 seasons and the glaring hole at quarterback remains. The team has the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and according to Chris Trapasso's latest mock draft for CBSSports.com, University of Texas offensive tackle Connor Williams still makes a lot of sense. Especially if the offseason blueprint includes landing a franchise quarterback -- and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora thinks the Jets are the favorites to land Cousins.

Another selling point: Cousins is a big fan of new Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates.

"I actually met Jeremy when he was Jay Cutler's quarterback coach in Chicago," Cousins told WFAN from radio row on Tuesday. "That was in the draft, coming out in 2012. And I really liked him then. 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, and wish him well in what he does."

The Jets have $77.6 million in cap space in 2018, according to Spotrac.

Jacksonville Jaguars

You could make the case that the Jaguars were one player away from the Super Bowl, and that one player was the quarterback. That would be a heavy dose of revisionist history; we wrote last week about why Blake Bortles' playoff performance was proof he deserved to remain in Jacksonville, even at $19.1 million for next season. But that was before the chance to land Cousins became a real possibility.

But here's the question the Jaguars have to answer: Is Cousins, who at 29 is four years older than Bortles, worth what will likely be a five-year, $128 million contract with roughly $75 million guaranteed? Bortles will be compensated like a replacement-level quarterback because, well, that's what he is. But he's also not the reason the Jaguars came up short against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

That said, Bortles is an exception to the rule; in today's NFL teams typically don't make deep playoff runs without a legit franchise quarterback. And although Cousins had a mediocre season by his standards, he was among the league's best passers in 2015 and 2016, when he ranked seventh and third, respectively, in total value among all quarterbacks.

The Jags have $20.1 million in cap space in 2018, according to Spotrac.

Denver Broncos

Broncos general manager John Elway was front and center in Mobile last week eyeballing former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. And while that's no guarantee that Denver will draft a quarterback with the fifth-overall pick, it does point to a glaring need at the position after Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch were all, to varying degrees, huge disappointments last season. The trio was so bad, in fact, that it was unclear if first-year coach Vance Joseph would make it to Year 2. He did, and you can bet he won't let any of the quarterbacks who saw the field in 2017 decide his fate in 2018.

Which brings us to Cousins, a proven commodity who was originally drafted by Mike Shanahan, the former Broncos coach who won two Super Bowls with Elway under center. Sporting News' Eric Gelko wrote last week that the Broncos are front runners for Cousins' services, and that was days before the Redskins traded for Smith.

We'll know for sure by mid-March.

The Broncos have $24.7 million in cap space in 2018, according to Spotrac.

Buffalo Bills

If the Jaguars seemed like a quarterback away from the Super Bowl, that was legitimately the case for the Bills. Remember: This is the same outfit that thought so little of Tyrod Taylor that first-year coach Sean McDermott benched him in Week 11 for rookie Nathan Peterman, who promptly threw five interceptions in 30 minutes. McDermott had no choice but to reinsert Taylor, who started the rest of the season. But his lackluster performance in the playoffs reinforced the idea that the Bills, who returned to the postseason for the first time since 1999, needed a franchise quarterback and that would be at the top of the offseason to-do list. Buffalo has playmakers in LeSean McCoy, Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Charles Clay, and Cousins would add some much-needed balance to a one-dimensional offense.

The Bills have $30.9 million in cap space in 2018, according to Spotrac.

Cleveland Browns

Earlier this month, TheMMQB.com's Albert Breer said that Cousins would "seriously consider" playing for the Browns, an outfit that went 0-16 this season and is 1-31 in Hue Jackson's two seasons as coach. 

Thanks to a combination of on-field and front-office futility, the Browns have the first and fourth pick in the 2018 NFL Draft after passing on Carson Wentz in 2016 and Deshaun Watson last spring. In the most recent CBSSports.com mock draft, Chris Trapasso has has Cleveland taking USC quarterback Sam Darnold first overall and running back Saquon Barkley three picks later. That changes should the Browns land Cousins. And while that seems decidedly unlikely for several reasons, Breer noted at the time that the team would consider going all-in on both veteran and rookie quarterbacks.

Cousins would also be the consolation prize for missing out on Smith. According to reports, the Browns tried to trade for Smith before the Redskins pulled the trigger. 

One enormous stumbling block is that Cousins has made it clear that he wants to go to a winner and would even be willing to sacrifice money to make it happen. And while the Jets and Broncos both had losing seasons, recent history suggests they're much more likely to turn things around before the Browns come close to sniffing .500. 

"Ultimately this decision going forward is about winning games,'' Cousins told The Jim Rome Show on Tuesday hours before news of the trade leaked. "I've had an opportunity to earn a good living playing football, so I want to go win. That can be Washington. It really can. (It's) what I'll be remembered for. That's what's going to matter."

The Browns have $102.6 million in cap space in 2018, according to Spotrac.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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