Column: With Smith out, Redskins’ best path to success is Colin Kaepernick

WASHINGTON — A first-place team losing its starting quarterback in Week 11 is usually a death blow to their season. But for the Redskins, the loss of Alex Smith offered what could have been an opportunity to run away with a bad division.

As bad as we all feel for Smith in the wake of his gruesome leg injury, and as much as we love backup Colt McCoy, neither of these QBs is particularly impressive. The Redskins have won games in spite of the quarterback play this season, and I just happen to know of one man capable of turning their season around for the better:

Colin Kaepernick.

Before I delve into how exactly this would work for the Redskins’ short- and long-term good, allow to me to make two things clear: First, Kaepernick reportedly wants to play. So this isn’t just pulling his name out of thin air.

Secondly, I have zero expectation that the ‘Skins will grant his wish.” Given their political leanings, neither Dan Snyder nor Bruce Allen would make this move, and, if his five-year tenure in Washington has proven anything, Jay Gruden loves him some Colt McCoy.

Even without reading between the lines, this grocery list for their dumpster dive into the free agent QB market tells you all you need to know about their intentions.

Sanchez got the gig because of his ties to the coaching staff, which happens all around the league all the time so it does no good to be upset about it. But if the Redskins were serious about winning a wide open division, they’d keep Colt on the bench, pass on the man best known for The Butt Fumble, and hand the keys to Kaepernick.

If you look at the recipe for the Redskins’ success this season, Kaepernick is the perfect fit. The ‘Skins run the ball well and play good defense, and ask their QB to simply not mess things up with turnovers and sacks. While his 9.18 percent sack rate is less than ideal, Kaepernick has been intercepted on only 1.8 percent of his passes — tied with Tom Brady for second-best in NFL history. McCoy’s sack rate in Washington is 11.7, and his INT rate is 2.0.

Also, if you look at the Redskins’ affinity for the run/pass option plays, who’s a better option than Kaepernick? McCoy runs them well — he had 35 rushing yards on five attempts Sunday — but he’s not the threat to take one of those plays to the end zone like Kaepernick. Just ask the Green Bay Packers.

As long as Kaepernick has been gone, his last NFL start (on New Year’s Day, 2017) was 749 days more recent than McCoy’s last start. Kaepernick posted a 90.7 QB rating in 11 starts that year for a lousy 49ers team; it’s worth pointing out that’s noticeably better than Smith’s present-day 85.7 QB rating in 10 starts. I’d be willing to bet that’s the difference between the Redskins being 6-4 and sitting pretty at 7-3 or 8-2.

Even still, bringing in Kaepernick now would make them the favorite to win a division they already lead by one game. Considering the short turnaround to Thursday’s game in Dallas and McCoy’s propensity to play well against the Cowboys, starting him for the crucial Thanksgiving duel is a no-brainer. The Redskins’ next game is a Monday-nighter in Philadelphia, giving them 11 days to get Kaepernick up to speed in an offense he should fit well.

After the Eagles, the Giants come to FedEx Field. That’s two very beatable defenses — the Eagles are ranked 23rd in total defense and only four teams give up more points per game than the Giants’ 26.3 — before hitting the road to face top 10 defenses in Tennessee and Jacksonville. That’s plausibly enough time for Kaepernick to shake off any rust and get on the same page as his receiving targets (one of whom, Vernon Davis, he’s already had the benefit of playing with in San Fran) ahead of what could be another important division game against the Eagles to end the regular season.

Considering no one on the Redskins’ remaining schedule currently has a winning record, they could still win the NFC East without Kaepernick. But any perceived advantage is mitigated by the fact that at least half of their remaining games are against defenses capable of making life miserable for a team with a backup QB behind a makeshift offensive line. Kaepernick’s elusiveness helps, especially if Gruden can scheme around that ability.

One of the most underrated aspects of Smith’s injury is when — or whether — he’ll be able to play again. The comparison to Joe Theismann’s injury has focused on the coincidences, but the most distressing aspect of this is that Smith and his $71 million in guarantees might, like Theismann, never play again (something Theismann himself alluded to), thus leaving the Redskins in a huge financial and competitive hole.

Kaepernick would help here, too. Assuming he plays well under his undoubtedly cheap, prorated salary for 2018, re-signing him to a 2019 contract comparable to McCoy’s — one that looks good for a backup but is team-friendly for a starter — would give the Redskins a cheap stopgap and buy them some time to draft a long-term replacement.

Ah, but this all makes too much sense to come true. The Redskins’ offense will instead continue to be a one-dimensional eyesore that provides an inadequate complement to the much-improved defense. Even if the ‘Skins don’t lose their grip on the division lead, they’ll be nothing more than a sacrificial lamb to whomever they face in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Just imagine the reaction if that loss comes at the hands of Kirk Cousins’ Minnesota Vikings.

When that scenario plays out in January, just remember the Redskins had a clear path to an obvious QB upgrade, but preferred to play politics over football.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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