17 Days: Alex Smith, Trent Green and the Case of the Franchise Quarterback


Mar 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback speaks with hall of fame quarterback Len Dawson (right) after the press conference at The University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: Every evening from now until July 26 – the day every Chiefs player is expected to report for training camp – we will countdown and discuss some of the more important questions for the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs. 

Quick: What are your feelings on Trent Green?

I’d assume they would be positive, why wouldn’t they? Green has been the most successful starting quarterback the Chiefs have had since Joe Montana. In fact, he is probably the third best quarterback the Chiefs have had in their franchise’s history behind Len Dawson and Montana. You could even argue Green would rank higher than Montana based on longevity and total numbers.

Yes, a 48-40 overall record as a starter with an 87.3 quarterback rating, 118/85 touchdown-t0-interception ratio and 61.9% completion rate, and no playoff wins makes Green one of the two or three best signal callers in franchise history. Sad, but true. The standards for Chiefs quarterback are quite low.

Still, nobody looks at the six season Green was the starting quarterback as his failure. The defense was awful in those years plus the Chiefs had to deal with the Rich Gannon in Oakland era as well as the rise of San Diego Chargers. Few people would but the fault of the Chiefs not winning more games, especially in the playoffs, on Green.

This is surprising when you consider where Green came from.

The Chiefs gave up the 12th overall pick in the 2001 draft for Green. Yes, the 12th overall pick. 12. This was what was written by Don Banks of Sports Illustrated at the time the trade was made.

"While Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson was said to be opposed to trading his first-rounder almost even up for Green, Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil favored the deal and was successful in bringing Peterson around to his point of view.“Trent Green, when healthy, will make more contributions to the success of this organization than any first-round pick that’s out there right now,” Vermeil said.…“I’ve never been for trading a first, and I never have traded a first-round pick,” Vermeil said. “But if that’s what it takes to get the job done, then that has to be a part of it.”If there was a late sticking point in the trade negotiations it was that the Chiefs still have some concerns about the health of Green’s left knee, which underwent some clean-up arthroscopic surgery in late February, after being surgically reconstructed in August 1999.Vermeil said for the first time Friday that according to Chiefs doctors, under the best case scenario Green won’t be ready to play until the opening of training camp. The worst case scenario, Vermeil said, has Green out until midway through training camp."

To recap: The Chiefs traded the 12th overall pick for a 31-year-old with a reconstructed knee who had started a grand total of 19 games in his career. What would Chiefs fans do if Kansas City traded valuable picks for an off-injured quarterback who has shown flashes of success but never proven anything.

Oh wait, they did.

Jun 5, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Trent Green (right) speaks with quarterback Alex Smith (11) after the mini camp at the University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

John Dorsey and Andy Reid traded two second round picks to San Francisco for Alex Smith in March and the move has been met with mix feelings. There is no doubt Smith improves the quality of play at the quarterback position for the Chiefs but he also comes with a lot of baggage. He’s started 16 games in a season just twice in seven seasons because of either injury or poor play, possesses a career completion percentage under 60%, and has never thrown for more than 20 touchdowns in a season (his career high is 18). But he is a former number one overall draft pick and was dealt a disastrous coaching situation in Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Smith’s career turned once his team’s coaching improved.

Alex Smith has a better pedigree and is coming to Kansas City two years younger then Trent Green, but the anxiety around Smith is caused by the two second round picks the Chiefs gave up to acquire him in addition to a long history of quarterback woes. Smith is not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady but the Chiefs don’t need him to be either of those things to make this trade successful. They need him to be Trent Green.

Can Alex Smith be Trent Green?

Trent Green (Career w/Chiefs): 61.9% completions, 4.2 TD%, 3.1 INT%, 87.3 QB rating, 2777 attempts

Alex Smith (Last 6 seasons): 62.1% completions, 4.5 TD%, 2.3 INT%, 88.2 QB rating, 1377 attempts

This isn’t a perfect comparison by any means but the last four seasons of Smith is a pretty good indication of what the Chiefs should be getting at the quarterback position, and we are comparing this to essentially the best seasons of Green’s career. Smith will be a different player no doubt but there is nothing to suggest he can’t be as good as Trent Green assuming good health.

In other words, the Chiefs traded for a player who could potentially be as good as the second best quarterback they’ve ever had in their history. This sounds lofty but, again, Chiefs quarterbacking history hasn’t been all that great.

There is reason to be concerned about Smith’s health, and Ron Jaworski‘s recent rating of Smith as the 20th best quarterback in the NFL isn’t filled with encouragement either. But Jaworski has Smith Ranked on par with Andy Dalton who is a playoff caliber quarterback.

If Smith can be Trent Green – a play-action master who can find the open man, protect the ball, and get out of the way of his stud running back – then Chiefs fans should be thrilled. And maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs will have the closest thing they’ve had to a franchise quarterback since Green.