Trade for Chiefs: I was stunned when I saw what the 49ers got for Alex Smith. When news that the 49ers and Chiefs likely had a deal in place for Alex Smith broke, it was rumored that they got anything from a 3rd to 5th rounder. Reports leading up to the trade said that the 49ers wouldn’t get anything more than a mid-round pick, including a Sacramento Bee report on Wednesday Morning, hours before the compensation was announced, that said the 49ers wouldn’t get anything more than a 4th rounder.
That made sense. Smith was a free agent last off-season and teams weren’t exactly lining up to pay him. Owed 16 million over the final 2 years of his contract, it made sense that teams didn’t want to pony up a high pick for a quarterback that, without San Francisco’s great coaching staff and great supporting cast, would probably not be a whole lot better than he was in 2009 and 2010.
Sure, last off-season was a better quarterback draft, but there were also more quarterback needy teams. Teams like Miami and Seattle have since found guys to satisfy their need at the quarterback position, while very few new teams became quarterback needy. The Cardinals are one of those as they seem interested in giving up on Kevin Kolb, but they were never a realistic destination for Smith because they play in the 49ers’ division. The other team is the Bills, but they seem to be much more interested in going the young quarterback route after finally acknowledging that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the long term solution.
The Jets and Jaguars remain either uninterested (Jaguars) or financially unable (Jets) to find an upgrade for their current quarterback. With the Cardinals not being a realistic suitor, the only realistic destinations for Smith were Kansas City and Cleveland. Other teams might have expressed interest, but I don’t see why a team ended up giving up significantly more than a mid-round pick to pay a guy that teams weren’t lining up to pay last off-season. The 49ers’ haul in this deal is the 34th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and a conditional mid round pick in 2014.
I like the fit of Smith in Kansas City, a lot. First, Andy Reid’s west coast offense plays much more to the strengths of the weak armed Smith than the downfield throw based offenses of Norv Turner in Cleveland and Bruce Arians in Arizona. Second, the Chiefs needed a quarterback upgrade probably more than any other team in the NFL and this was an awful off-season for that to be the case.
This is a talented team. People laughed when it was announced that they had 5 Pro-Bowlers, but they do have a lot of Pro-Bowl caliber players. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are among the two best bookend pass rushers in the NFL. Brandon Flowers is at least a top-10 cornerback in the NFL, maybe top-5. Derrick Johnson is one of the best middle linebackers and Jamaal Charles one of the best running backs. Jon Asamoah is one of the league’s best young interior linemen and don’t forget about left tackle Branden Albert and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Both are among the top free agents at their respective positions this off-season even though both are loaded positions in this free agency class. At least one of those two should be back in 2013.
If the NFL were a “who has the most good players” contest, the Chiefs would be up there among the best in the NFL, but it’s not. It’s a team game and a quarterback based league and when you’re as poorly coached and poorly quarterbacked as the Chiefs were in 2013 and lose the turnover battle at a near record rate (-24), you’re not going to win a lot of games.
Andy Reid fixes the Head Coach thing and will be good for Alex Smith. He’s not Jim Harbaugh, but for all of his flaws, he’s always been great with quarterbacks. He was able to trade Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and AJ Feeley for a 2nd rounder each and none of the three did anything even remotely positive for their next team after being traded. Meanwhile, he turned Michael Vick from aging jail bum to a legitimate starting quarterback until last year when age just caught up too much.
Alex Smith stabilizes the quarterback situation and should stabilize their turnover situation (something that generally stabilizes in the long run anyway). The key word is stabilizes. I don’t think Alex Smith is a long term solution. He’s a two year stopgap for a quarterback that the Chiefs hopefully draft in stronger quarterback classes in 2014 or 2015. The Chiefs can make the playoffs this year. The AFC sucks and they have enough talent with the quarterback position stabilized to win 9 or 10 games against a last place schedule in the inferior AFC.
However, if they ever get to the playoffs, Alex Smith will be the limiting factor like he was in San Francisco. Alex Smith is not a franchise quarterback. He’s a stopgap that can win you a Super Bowl if absolutely everything is right and I mean everything like it was in San Francisco, from their league’s #1 scoring defense, to the league’s best top to bottom coaching staff, to all the offensive supporting talent on the offensive line, in the running game, and even in the receiving game.
The Chiefs can make the playoffs with him just like they made the playoffs in 2010 with Matt Cassel. They can follow that model, conservative offensive, good running game, good defense, win the turnover battle, easy schedule. But like with Matt Cassel in 2010, he wouldn’t deserve most of the credit because all that will prove is that Alex Smith is a tremendous upgrade over Brady Quinn and the 2012 version of Matt Cassel and considering those two combined to turn it over 23 times to 8 touchdowns last year, that’s not saying much.
Expect Smith’s numbers to be improved over his 60% completion percentage, 6.6 YPA, and 32 touchdowns to 22 interceptions from 2009 to 2010, but not drastically. The real danger is if the Chiefs do what they did after the 2010 season with Cassel, give him too much credit, and put all of their faith in him going forward. Cassel was not the reason they had success in 2010 and if the Chiefs realized that they could have had either Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick with their late first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The Chiefs can have success in 2013 with Alex Smith, but it’s important they don’t repeat the same mistake. The 2014 quarterback class is deep enough that the Chiefs can draft a franchise quarterback in the 15 to 22 range and Smith will allow them to ease that quarterback along like the 49ers did with Kaepernick. But he’s not a franchise quarterback and for that reason, as good as the fit is, they overpaid.
Trade for 49ers: This one is much more straight forward. The 49ers weren’t using Alex Smith. While he’s probably top-20 NFL quarterback, he was clearly the 2nd best quarterback on the 49ers’ roster and while it’s nice to have an insurance policy like Smith, at 8.5 million, Smith just wasn’t worth it to the 49ers. And that’s before you even get into the possibility of a quarterback controversy arising the moment Kaepernick has a bad game. It’s just not worth it. If the 49ers had been unable to trade Smith, they probably just would have cut him. That’s not completely realistic. There was a market for him, but getting back a high 2nd rounder and a future mid round pick is a great haul. It’s not quite the Bengals getting a 1st and a 2nd for Carson Palmer, but it’s up there.
In addition to the picks they get in this deal, this trade gives the 49ers tremendous financial freedom. They are expected, once compensatory picks are in, to have 15 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft and I don’t think they have space on their roster for much more than half of those guys. They’ll make some moves. Ordinarily, trading up would be an option, but this is an awful draft class in terms of elite talent. Top-10 picks aren’t going to be worth what they usually are.
So the obvious other option is trading for a big time veteran like Percy Harvin or Darrelle Revis. Adding one of those two could hurt their ability to extend all of their young talent in the future, but when you’re in the position the 49ers are right now, I say you make it work under the cap for the next 2 years and figure out the rest later. Because of this trade, they have the draft picks and financial freedom to get that done and that’s worth so much more than Alex Smith would have been to them.
What this means for the NFL Draft: The most obvious thing it means is that Geno Smith is no longer a candidate for the first overall pick. The likelihood of him being that pick was dwindling in the days leading up to this trade, but that was just in expectation of this move being made. I still argue that if the Chiefs had been sitting there on draft day without a quarterback, they would have had to take Smith. While this is a poor quarterback class and Smith is not worth the #1 pick, their other option would have been taking a quarterback in the 2nd round. Despite recent successes of Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, and Russell Wilson, 2nd day quarterbacks becoming starters is incredibly rare and I think given the nature of this quarterback class, it’s going to be close to impossible this year.
Given what the Chiefs gave up for Smith, it’s also unlikely they use a high pick on a quarterback at all. For one, they don’t have a 2nd rounder so using their 3rd rounder on a quarterback when they have other pressing needs just wouldn’t make sense. Two, Smith is their starter this year. They believe in him. Any quarterback they draft will be a pure backup and I can’t see them taking one until the 4th, probably the 5th round. That will need to bring in another quarterback considering the only other one on their roster aside from the soon to be released Matt Cassel is Ricky Stanzi, who has never taken an NFL snap and couldn’t even get on the field behind the quarterback’s terrible quarterbacks last year. However, they won’t use a premium pick on one until 2014 at the earliest.
Luke Joeckel becomes the obvious choice at #1. He’s the consensus top talent in this draft class, but remember, the Chiefs can still re-sign Branden Albert. If they do that, they could still take Joeckel, but an offensive lineman is not worth the first pick unless it’s a left tackle and since Joeckel would either be playing another position or displacing someone who is already a strong left tackle, I don’t think he’d be worth that pick.
The Chiefs will try like crazy to move down and they could entice a team like Philadelphia to move up for Joeckel, but as I just said, this is a bad year for elite talent so I don’t expect much wheeling and dealing in the top-10, certainly not like last year. If Albert is re-signed, a defensive lineman like Sharrif Floyd or (if healthy) Star Lotulelei makes a lot of sense, as could a cornerback like DeMarcus Milliner. A cornerback hasn’t gone in the top-4 since 1997, but if it’s going to happen, at makes sense that it would happen in a draft like this.
As for the 49ers, they have a lot of picks and not a lot of needs and even if they trade for Harvin or Revis, that will remain the case. As everything currently stands, Tavon Austin makes a ton of sense for them at 31 if he’s still available. With Randy Moss being a free agent and Mario Manningham tearing his ACL, all they are left with at wide receiver behind Michael Crabtree is AJ Jenkins. While they still believe in the future of the 2012 1st round pick, he’s inexperienced and they need depth. Austin would be a perfect fit in their offense based on speed, deception, and misdirection.
Other draft needs include a young defensive lineman. Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith are both over 30 and the former is a free agent this off-season, with the latter being a free agent next off-season. They may need a tight end if Delanie Walker leaves as a free agent and a safety if Dashon Goldson leaves as a free agent. Cornerback depth is needed as Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown could both not be back with the team in 2014, Rogers as a cap casualty and Brown as a free agent.
As good as their offensive line is, Jonathan Goodwin at center will be in a contract year in 2013, his age 35 season and they don’t have an obvious successor. He might not even be back next season, owed 3.7 million, though his level of play last season should be enough to save his roster spot. Also expect them to use a mid-round pick on a younger, cheaper backup quarterback who fits their scheme better, someone like EJ Manuel, Matt Scott, or Zac Dysert. The only other quarterback on their roster right now is Scott Tolzien, who completely lacks experience and mobility. Harbaugh’s former quarterback in San Diego, Josh Johnson, could be another option as a mobile backup quarterback.