It’s not official yet, but it’s being widely reported that the Chiefs have agreed to give the San Francisco 49ers this year’s second round pick and a conditional draft pick next year in exchange for quarterback Alex Smith. Smith, statistically, was the best quarterback in the NFL last year before a concussion sidelined him mid-season. His back-up, Colin Kaepernick, came in and sparked the 49ers offense, so head coach Jim Harbaugh let him start the rest of the year, all the way to the Super Bowl. Seeing as how the team would pay Smith more than $10-million dollars this year to sit the bench, they decided to trade him and found a willing partner in the Chiefs.
There’s no question the Chiefs need a new quarterback. Matt Cassell was one of the worst quarterbacks last year and failed to spark the offense. His back-up, Brady Quinn, had more zip on his passes but he, too, failed to get the offense into the end zone. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is confident Smith will be the answer to the quarterback conundrum and help lead the team to the playoffs this season.
I’ve been trying to decide if the Chiefs made the right decision or if this trade will come back to haunt them, just like the trade for Matt Cassel did. In fact, Scott Pioli put all his eggs in Cassel’s basket and you see how that worked out. There are two sides to this, so let’s look at them to see if Alex Smith is the answer Chiefs fans are looking for.
1) The Chiefs have the first pick in this year’s draft.
The problem is there is no clear cut favorite in this year’s draft at quarterback. They could take West Virginia signal caller Geno Smith with the first pick, but Geno failed to inspire his team to victory last season. He threw up great numbers and an awesome touchdown to interception ratio (42-to-6), but some question his leadership style, his ability to get the best out of his teammates. He had a great combine and could end up being a great NFL quarterback, but there is just too much risk. What if he flames out like JaMarcus Russell did for the Oakland Raiders a few years ago? The Chiefs have so many needs to fill (cornerback, inside linebacker, offensive guard, wide receiver, defensive line) that now their first pick is freed up to get someone else.
Who should they draft? Many critics say the Chiefs should take offensive tackle Luke Joekel, but if they re-sign Branden Albert, that is a wasted pick. Eric Winston mans the right side, so would Luke even play? If they don’t re-sign Branden then they still waste the pick by filling a position they could fill by franchising him. No, I personally think the Chiefs should choose between two players: Chance Womack and Dee Milliner. Womack played guard for Alabama and is considered, by some, to be the best pound for pound player. He plays next to Albert and they can spend the next five years clearing holes for Jamaal Charles to run through. Milliner is a cornerback from Alabama. The Chiefs secondary was torched last year. By drafting Milliner, they can tighten up their pass defense and eliminate the big plays that often lead to touchdowns.
The best case scenario is the Chiefs trade their first pick for that team’s first and second rounder, draft Womack with that new first round pick and then take a corner or wide receiver with the second rounder. They also will be looking to draft a solid backup quarterback and a solid running back in the later rounds. I personally hope they end up drafting Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, who is coming off a knee injury but has the tools to be a great change of pace back to give Charles some rest during the game.
2) Alex Smith has experience
Some believe Smith is Matt Cassel 2.0. Here’s why he’s a much better option. One, he actually played in college. Smith had great success at Utah and led a school not known for great football to a top 10 ranking. He knows how to take losers to make them winners. Look at the 49ers. He struggled in their system because San Francisco kept bringing in new offensive coordinators, making it hard for Smith to understand what was expected of him. Harbaugh ran the West Coast offense with Smith, and he mastered it, leading the 49ers to 19 wins over the past two seasons. Andy Reid runs a very similar style offense, so the transition should be pretty seamless.
Smith has also improved as a signal caller over the years. He’s a smart guy. Smith graduated from Utah early and is very bright as far as understanding defenses and what plays to run versus certain formations. Also, Reid is well known for getting the best out of his quarterbacks. Add that Smith is only 28 years old and you get a recipe for success. There will be a lot of pressure on Smith to lead the team to victory, but after coming through the tough years in San Francisco, he knows what it takes. And it helps he comes to a team with some really good talent, though lacking depth at key positions.
The only negative to Smith is his arm strength. He isn’t known for throwing a great long ball. But if the whole philosophy behind the West Coast offense is to dunk it off and make short passes, then Smith has all the tools to do that very well. Just don’t expect to see a lot of bombs down the field during games.
3) Similar trades have cost teams more
Many don’t like the fact we gave up two draft picks for an expensive free agent. But history suggests this is a very fair deal. Let’s look at past trades involving starting quarterbacks.
2011: Oakland gets Carson Palmer from Cincinnati for a first and second round pick
2011: Arizona gets Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia for a second round pick
2009: Chicago gets Jay Cutler from Denver for two first round picks and a 3rd round pick
2009: Kansas City gets Matt Cassel from New England for a second round pick
Yes, it hurts to give up two picks, especially this year’s second rounder since there are some really good college players we could draft with that pick, but look at what we are getting in return. You can’t draft Alex Smith. Smith is better than any quarterback in this year’s draft, so we should pretend they drafted him with their second round pick.
Overall, I think this trade is the start of some exciting days ahead for the Chiefs. Like Indianapolis did last year with Andrew Luck under center, I think the Chiefs will become a playoff team this year. Laugh if you must, but when the Chiefs are gearing up for a playoff game a year from now, remember this column. And remember that the trade for Alex Smith was necessary to get the Chiefs back on the winning track.
Next year they can draft their quarterback of the future.
You can reach Matt Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org