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Alex Smith's injury should make Redskins think about drafting QB

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ASHBURN, Va. -- Alex Smith’s injury, combined with his age, will put the Washington Redskins in a position they didn’t think they’d be in for a couple years: looking for quarterback help.

They've been in the market in recent weeks to cover the rest of the season. But they might want to expand that search in the offseason, for short- and long-term reasons.

It didn’t help that two weeks after Smith broke his leg, Colt McCoy did the same. The Redskins are left with their top two quarterbacks sidelined, with their offense being run by two quarterbacks who weren’t even in their thoughts three weeks ago, in Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson.

While the coaches' immediate concern lies on the field and trying to stay alive in the playoff race, the offseason will present the organization another set of questions.

When will Smith return?

Smith broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg and needed surgery; his recovery has been pegged with a recovery time of 6-10 months. But just being recovered doesn’t mean a player would be ready to play. So his availability for the start of next season could be in jeopardy. Multiple people in the organization have echoed the same thought: If anyone can come back from a tough injury, it’s Smith. They love his competitiveness and work ethic. That gives them hope he’ll not only return, but will still be capable of playing at a certain level. They also know it was a bad injury and there's still uncertainty regarding his situation.

The complicating factor here is McCoy’s situation. The Redskins did not put him on injured reserve despite his broken leg because they’re holding out some hope he could return this season if they make the playoffs.

Had McCoy been sidelined a long time, the Redskins would have been without their top two quarterbacks for the entire spring practices and perhaps into training camp. But if they’re holding out any hope for McCoy this season, then it’s reasonable to expect him to be fine in the spring. Still, they’ll need at least one more quarterback.

Would the Redskins draft a quarterback?

There’s absolutely a chance. They’d be foolish not to consider it, unless they add another veteran through free agency to back up McCoy. There’s no doubt the Redskins will keep three quarterbacks next season because of Smith’s timetable. An eight-month recovery would put him on pace for training camp; a 10-month recovery would threaten his availability for the regular season.

This quarterback draft class is not considered as strong as 2018, when five players were selected in the first round, four in the top 10. All five are slated to start for their teams this week. The Redskins need top underclassmen such as Oregon's Justin Herbert and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins to declare, giving the draft some depth.

There’s no need for the Redskins to make a decision now. Because the draft is four months away, they’ll also have a lot more information on Smith -- and the quarterback prospects -- than they do now. They’ll know how well Smith is recovering and when they might expect him back.

Based on last season, if the Redskins continue to lose and finish either 6-10 or 7-9, they’d likely pick anywhere between No. 9 and No. 14. That would put them in a tough spot to draft a quarterback unless they trade up. But it could mean taking one in the second round.

Of course, a lot of this depends on whether or not the Redskins make any sort of moves in the front office or with coach Jay Gruden. A new general manager or new coach might want a different quarterback, or at least get one ready to groom.

But there’s a reason why it might not be wise to trade up to draft one.

What is Smith’s contract situation?

This plays into any future decision. Smith signed a four-year extension with $71 million guaranteed after being traded to Washington last offseason. So he’s signed through the 2022 season. His 2020 salary of $16 million is already guaranteed for injury; it becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster the fifth day of the 2019 league year.

If they wanted to cut Smith after the season -- and they don’t -- they would have $42 million in dead money. If they did it after June 1, 2020, they’d have to spread $16.2 million over two seasons on their cap, with $5.4 million the first year and $10.8 million the second.

So it would be difficult for the Redskins and Smith to part ways. But if they have a rookie (or second-year) quarterback on the roster, someone on a cheaper deal, they could absorb the hit. For example, Smith would count $21.4 million vs. the cap in 2020. Let’s say the Redskins drafted a quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round this offseason. That player would only count about $1.2 million against the cap in 2020.

But that’s why it would be hard to trade up in the first round to draft a quarterback, because that salary would be higher. It would be quite an investment in one position because of the financial commitments already made to Smith.

They could sign a free agent, the most attractive being Saints backup Teddy Bridgewater, who impressed in the preseason with the Jets. His name was mentioned often by members of the Redskins' organization last offseason before trading for Smith. But Bridgewater would be more expensive and will have multiple suitors -- and therefore better options. His talent would make sense; the logistics don't.

What is McCoy’s status?

Had McCoy continued to play, he might have been able to void the final year of his contract. He needed to play at least 25 percent of the offensive snaps (plus 25 percent of two playoff games) to do so. That means he’ll return in 2019.

But the question will linger: Who will be there with him? And when?