Jay Gruden: Alex Smith's mobility can help change offense

The decision came down to this: Alex Smith was available and the Washington Redskins wanted stability at quarterback. They had other options; none appealed to them as much as trading for Smith.

The move was announced Jan. 30 and became official on Wednesday. It cost the Redskins a third-round pick plus promising young slot corner Kendall Fuller. It gave them peace of mind at the game’s most important position. The previous two years were spent wondering whether Kirk Cousins would re-sign. Now they have Smith, who received a four-year extension in the process.

“It became about how, going into free agency, are we going to chase Kirk around or go after Teddy Bridgewater,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “You have a chance to get an established quarterback who has been as successful as [Smith] has been, consistently. So really it was a no-brainer.”

The Redskins couldn’t comment on the trade until it became official so Gruden’s comments represent the organization’s first words on their new quarterback.

The Redskins' decision to let Cousins go into free agency wasn't that surprising. By season’s end, it was clear both sides needed a resolution.

“I had a good feeling we were going to move on,” Gruden said.

He just didn’t know the avenue they’d go down: trade or free agency.

“Plus we had Colt [McCoy] and I felt good about Colt and maybe drafting [a quarterback], which I would have been fine with,” Gruden said.

The Redskins get an established quarterback in Smith, who turns 34 in May. In five years with Kansas City, Smith threw 102 touchdowns to 33 interceptions in helping the Chiefs go 50-26 in his starts. In the playoffs, Smith and the Chiefs went 1-4.

Confidence in system

Smith topped 4,000 passing yards last season for the first time in his career; Cousins accomplished that each of the past three seasons.

“The thing about Jay’s offense is that no matter what he’ll find ways to make sure he’s gonna pass for over 4,000 yards,” said Doug Williams, Redskins senior vice president of player personnel.

Smith has more mobility than Cousins. The latter started using his feet more last season, but Smith has done it throughout his career. In a Week 4 win over Washington last season, Smith’s legs kept multiple plays alive. Some resulted in big gains: A 32-yard run; a 37-yard pass on the game-winning drive. Other times it was more subtle, escaping quick pressure with a quick move to the outside.

“That’s something you can’t coach,” Gruden said. “Some quarterbacks are better than others, and Alex is one of the best at it. His off-schedule plays are well-documented. He’s a problem when he gets outside the pocket. You have to be well aware of your rush lanes when you’re playing Alex Smith. You have to be aware of the coverages you play. You can’t have your defensive backers and safety and corners with their backs to the quarterback covering receivers in two-man because he’ll gut you.

“His movement skills are very, very underrated. He can really, really run. He’s really a good athlete. That’s not to say we’ll run the zone read every time, but the ability to get on the edge and outside the pocket and do some of the college stuff [is appealing].”

Gruden said they likely will incorporate more of the run-pass options, a tactic they used at times last year. He said that doesn’t stem from Smith’s ability to run, but that certainly adds another headache for a defense.

Down-the-field concerns

But one aspect of Smith’s game has been picked apart many times: His willingness to throw down the field. Last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Smith attempted a career-best 59 passes that traveled at least 20 yards through the air (tying him for 10th in the NFL). He attempted 42 the previous year, ranking 26th, (and 25 in 2014). He completed 52.5 percent of those passes this past season -- he was 21-of-36 on throws to receivers.

"This guy is in unbelievable shape. He showed me a picture of himself running underwater with a boulder. Yeah, he's in good shape." Jay Gruden

Cousins also attempted 59 such throws last season -- the same number as in 2015, but 18 fewer than in 2016 with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon at receiver. Gruden said at the end of last season he wanted Cousins to show more trust in his receivers. In other words: Let Josh Doctson go up and make a play, even if he appears covered. The Redskins also landed speedy receiver Paul Richardson to generate more big plays.

“He went downfield a lot last year,” Gruden said of Smith. “Before that they had issues at receiver. But I’m not too concerned. I really didn’t force Kirk to do it; that’s been blown up a little bit. [But] Josh has a skill set that he’s not going to be wide open every time. I want to give him some opportunities. Alex will do that. We’ll coach up the progression the way we want to. He’s been through a lot of them and he’ll make the decisions. I’m sure he’ll be all right.”

There’s also Smith’s age. The Redskins acquired Donovan McNabb -- courtesy of Andy Reid when he coached in Philadelphia -- when he was 33; he didn’t age well and the trade backfired.

“This guy is in unbelievable shape,” Gruden said of Smith. “He showed me a picture of himself running underwater with a boulder. Yeah, he’s in good shape.”

Which is what Gruden and the Redskins hope they are at quarterback.

“I was surprised, very surprised [by the trade],” he said. “It did just kind of pop up. Unfortunately we lost Kendall. We love Kendall. But the chance to get a quarterback in here for the next four, five, six years is exciting.”