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Alex Smith trade to Washington leaves Browns' QB situation muddled

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Schefter: 'Cousins is free from Washington' (0:52)

Adam Schefter breaks down the ramifications of Washington acquiring Alex Smith and the possible landing locations for Kirk Cousins. (0:52)

So much for assumptions and the ideal scenario.

News that the Kansas City Chiefs will trade Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins leaves the Cleveland Browns in another of what seems like a never-ending string of "now what?" situations at quarterback.

The safe assumption in this offseason was that the Browns would see Smith as a viable veteran alternative to hold the quarterback position while they groomed a young draft pick and DeShone Kizer. New general manager John Dorsey knew Smith well from their days in Kansas City, so the assumption was that he would be willing to give up one of the Browns' second-round draft picks to bring Smith to Cleveland. That part of the assumption was true, as the Browns did offer one of their second-round picks for Smith, according to a league source.

Instead, Smith goes to the Redskins for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller, and the Redskins give Smith a four-year contract extension worth a reported $94 million. That's $23.5 million per year -- with $71 million guaranteed -- for a 33-year-old quarterback who went 1-4 in the playoffs with Kansas City.

Which leads to the question: If Smith is worth $94 million, what in the heck will free-agent-to-be Kirk Cousins make?

It sounds odd in general that a team with three second-round picks was outbid by a team offering a player and a third-round pick, and it brings back memories of Jimmy Garoppolo going to San Francisco, not the Browns, before the last trade deadline.

Except for one thing, which Smith made clear Tuesday on the Dan Patrick Show: Given his druthers, Smith preferred to play for a team that could win sooner than later. Washington clinched it by offering $71 million in security via a four-year extension, something the Browns were not willing to do. The Browns have extra draft picks and cap space, but they also have one win the past two seasons. Washington won 24 games the past three and gets Smith for five more. Now Cousins will be the most attractive free-agent quarterback, and he will hit the market at the optimal time to make the maximum money.

Many teams will be interested in Cousins. Among those discussed are Denver, Buffalo, the Jets, Arizona and Minnesota. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship Game the same year the Browns were 0-16.

Cousins made it clear Tuesday that he too wants to play for a winner. If that's true, he'll look to a few other places before Cleveland, if he looks to Cleveland at all. There isn't much thinking in Washington that the Browns have a lot to offer that would interest Cousins other than gobs of money.

Where does that leave the Browns? It's hard to say, but perhaps the most likely option will be the one they could not complete at the trade deadline: Bengals backup AJ McCarron.

McCarron's free-agent status between restricted and unrestricted will be determined after a grievance hearing Feb. 15. If the Browns were interested enough in McCarron to complete a trade at the deadline, they might be interested in him now. If he is ruled an unrestricted free agent because the Bengals wrongly put him on the non-football injury list as a rookie, he will command an impressive contract.

The free-agent list contains names such as Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Drew Stanton and Mark Sanchez. Try selling season tickets on that group coming off 0-16. Buffalo could release Tyrod Taylor. There might also be a surprise.

None of these names brings the credibility of Smith, who had fewer than 10 interceptions while starting at least 15 games in each of his five seasons in Kansas City. None of these names is Cousins, who will set records for money earned on the open market.

At this point, the Browns are looking at perhaps adding a Bengals backup, paying a king's ransom for Cousins, pursuing other less-than-stalwart players, hoping for a surprise or going young with a draft pick and Kizer.

Dorsey said he'd have a plan for the position; hopefully his plan has options.

But the result remains: Barring a miracle get of Cousins, this trade doesn't make the situation of a winless team any better.