It didn’t take long for general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid to completely revamp the quarterback position in Kansas City. In less than four months the Chiefs moved on from Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, and Alex Tanney and replaced them with Alex Smith, Chase Daniel, and Tyler Bray. In fact, if everything goes to plan, none of the quarterbacks from the Chiefs 2012 active roster will be with Kansas City in 2013. This is what we call an overhaul.
But this overhaul didn’t come without a price. Dorsey sent the Chiefs 34th overall pick in this year’s draft and potentially a second round pick in next year’s draft to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for Smith, a heavy price to pay for any player.
Now consider Smith is already a year into a three-year deal he signed last offseason and things look dicier: Two top 60 picks (potentially) for two years of a slightly above average quarterback. In a lot of ways this trade is not much different from the Royals trade for James Shields except for Shields is a better player comparative to his sport and the Royals received two other players in the deal. The Chiefs lost out on players like wide receivers Justin Hunter and Robert Woods, tight end Zach Ertz, defensive end Margus Hunt, and inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Arthur Brown because of the trade, and will lose out on similar players next year.
Smith is a good but not great quarterback. He is a late bloomer in part because of injuries and in part because of poor coaching. It is no coincidence that in his first full season under a good coach he found great success, going 13-3 with a 90.7 quarterback rating under
John Jim Harbaugh. And while Smith will be playing under a good coach in Andy Reid, the problem is Smith is rarely healthy. 2011 marked just the second time in his career he played a full 16 game schedule. This means he has failed to play in all 16 games five times in seven seasons.
Some of those years are not for injury but because of poor play. In the last four years Smith has had a QBR of 40.2, 40.1, 45.8, and 70.1. Yes, the 70.1 he had in nine starts last year ranked him seventh in the NFL last season, but the three below average years before would have ranked him on par with Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Put this in comparison to Matt Cassel who had QBRs of 52.2 and 51.2 in 2010 and 2011 before falling off a cliff in 2012 with a 36.5.
Now, the argument here isn’t that Cassel is better than Smith, because that is not true either. The point is more that Smith is not the solution the Chiefs longterm quarterback needs. Smith is a smart player who will protect the ball, be efficient in the passing game, control the line of scrimmage, and help the running game, but he is not the dynamic presence a team needs to declare him a franchise quarterback. This is part of the reason why the 49ers had no issue benching him for Colin Kaepernick after Smith’s concussion and why they were fine with trading him to Kansas City. Smith a good but not great quarterback.
Again, all this for two second round picks and two years guaranteed.
So what should the Chiefs do about Smith’s two year deal? Trading two second round picks for Smith means that extending him beyond the 2014 season would be necessary in order to try to obtain the value they need for what they gave up. Remember, the Chiefs gave up at least eight combined seasons of two Arthur Brown type players for Smith. Five total years of above average play from Smith could end up equaling those eight years given the importance of the quarterback position.
The problem is Smith may never be more than average given his history as a player and could end up being the piece that holds the Chiefs back. Kansas City could draft a quarterback and start him over Smith but is it worth wrapping $10 million per season in a backup quarterback?
This is the quandary: Extend a slightly above average quarterback to maximize the value of the trade or lose the trade but get two solid years of quarterback play the Chiefs otherwise wouldn’t be receiving?
The answer is patience.
Dorsey should wait until next offseason to decide whether or not to extend Smith. He and Reid both have to figure out what they have in Smith as well as what the quarterback situation is going to be in next year’s draft. Based on Smith’s performance and what quarterbacks are available to the Chiefs should dictate the direction Dorsey goes when it comes to a potential extension.
Chiefs fans have wanted Kansas City to invest into a quarterback for a long time, and this administration appears willing to do so. They’ve invested heavily into a quarterback they think can win them a playoff game for the first time in decades, signed a reasonable backup, and picked up a young promising talent to try to develop. Two second round picks is an expensive price and more than what Smith was worth, but it is the price you have to pay if you’re looking to try to improve your team at the most important position. I’d much rather the Chiefs be aggressive in getting the quarterback they want than settling for a quarterback they are not interested in.