"Yeah, without a doubt," Gruden said when asked Tuesday at the Annual League Meeting, via ESPN. "I don't want to compare two players, but we're always trying to be better at every position. We got better. Alex's experience is well-noted, and his record the last five years is what it is. You could argue that all day, but we feel very good."
Of course, that's what Gruden must say at this stage, whether or not he truly believes Smith is an upgrade on Cousins. The Redskins traded promising cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick and saved about $28 million in guaranteed money by going from Cousins to Smith.
With the Redskins' brass botching the Cousins situation for years, claiming the position has been upgraded is necessary. If Smith continues to play the way he did in 2017, Gruden might also not be wrong in his evaluation either. Both Pro Football Focus and NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal ranked Smith ahead of Cousins based off last season's performance.
"It's not one thing, it's everything. It's the entire body of work," Gruden said of Smith. "He's very good at the intermediate ball. He's good with the quick game. He can run zone reads, the [run-pass options]. Very exciting. ... The ability to ad-lib, make plays that aren't there and keep plays alive. Coaching him for the first time will be exciting because I don't think there's a limit on what he can do. He has all the thing you want a quarterback to be able to do."
Smith's athleticism is an upgrade on Cousins and the Redskins' new signal-caller protects the ball better. The question is whether Smith's see-it-then-throw-it style will work in Gruden's system with his current set of receivers. Smith put up dazzling numbers last season under coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, with a good running game behind Kareem Hunt. He now heads to a Redskins team without a stable run game and must break in new receivers. Will he be as willing to push the ball deep in Washington or revert to being a check-down champion?
Cousins improved each season in Washington, compiling an impressive tape of tough throws behind a banged-up offensive line, with a diminished group of receivers. The Redskins' failures in the win column were not on the quarterback.
Washington swapped QBs to provide stability after bungling the situation for so many years. The team might believe they improved the position in the process. They also brought in a quarterback whose two previous teams believed he could be upgraded upon.