Buying or Selling Alex Smith's Fit with NFL's Most QB-Starved Teams
The San Francisco 49ers second-string quarterback isn't as dynamic as Colin Kaepernick, doesn't possess as strong an arm as Joe Flacco and isn't as bold as Jay Cutler. That said, he's a viable starting quarterback who has the chops to lead an efficient offense and will be a great leader for one lucky team in 2013.
If the 49ers trade or release him, that is.
On January 28, 2013, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio wrote, "a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that Smith is expected to seek his release before the start of free agency."
Then, less than a week later, ESPN's Adam Schefter wrote:
The San Francisco 49ers will attempt to trade quarterback Alex Smith this offseason, according to league sources, and some believe they will be able to do it because there is not a great supply of available quarterbacks and there is a demand for Smith.
After these two reports, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Smith wouldn't be wearing a 49ers uniform in 2013, but head coach Jim Harbaugh came out after Super Bowl XLVII with a statement that muddied the waters.
According to the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows, Harbaugh said:
I don't think any player has those wishes granted when they're under contract. And everything's different and every scenario is unique. Certainly something that we're not going to delve into and get into specifics at this point.
Harbaugh's statement matched the tone of 49ers CEO Jed York, who made the observation before Super Bowl XLVII that the 49ers had plenty of salary-cap room to keep Smith on the roster in 2013 (per Barrows' report).
Interpretation: The 49ers won't likely let Smith walk without getting something in return.
Personally, I would be shocked if Smith is on San Francisco's roster next season. There are plenty of quarterback-needy teams that will be willing to part with valuable draft picks, and Trent Baalke seems to follow the Bill Belichick model of hoarding picks.
So which quarterback-needy teams would be the best fit for Smith, and vice versa?
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Will the Philadelphia Eagles keep Michael Vick?
That's the question.
According to CBS Sports' Mike Freeman, "A person familiar with the Eagles' thinking says new coach Chip Kelly likes the idea of keeping Vick (at a cheaper price)..."
Key words: cheaper price.
This could be a major sticking point between the two parties, because Vick has previously made his position clear that he's not willing to take a pay cut (h/t Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane).
If the Eagles and Vick can't come to an agreement, then Philadelphia will find itself in an unenviable position without a proven starting quarterback.
But would Alex Smith fit in with Kelly's offense?
Yes, he would.
Smith ran a spread offense at Utah under Urban Meyer, and it wasn't much different than what Kelly ran at Oregon. Furthermore, Smith is deceptively athletic and is durable, which is a big deal as far as Kelly's concerned.
The Eagles have two dynamic running backs, LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, and Kelly's offense will undoubtedly be run-heavy, as it was at Oregon. With two excellent receivers on the outside, Smith would have ample weapons to work with.
A final point: If Vick is gone and Smith is brought on, he'd have a huge leg up on second-year quarterback Nick Foles, who still needs to be groomed before he's ready to be the full-time starter.
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The Tennessee Titans have an over-the-hill Matt Hasselbeck and a oft-misfiring Jake Locker currently on the roster.
Hasselbeck is entering his 15th NFL season, and at the age of 37 he doesn't have the arm strength to push the ball downfield, as his 6.2 yards-per-attempt average clearly illustrates.
Locker has always struggled with accuracy. He completed less than 54 percent of his passes at the University of Washington, and so far in his NFL career, he's completing just 55.5 percent of his passes.
The Titans need a quarterback in the worst way, but would Alex Smith be a good fit?
Right now, Tennessee is without an offensive coordinator.
Dowell Loggains was the team's interim coordinator for the final five games of the 2012 season after Chris Palmer was fired in late-November. He's being considered as a permanent fix (h/t The Tennesseean's John Glennon), as is Mike Tice (h/t ten.247.sports.com).
Neither of those men inspire confidence that Tennessee's offense will thrive.
Furthermore, given the team's struggles to run the ball effectively week in and week out last year, Smith might want to avoid Tennessee like the plague.
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The jury's still out on Brandon Weeden. Personally, I'm inclined to believe he's close to hitting his ceiling, which isn't a pretty picture for the future of the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns made a foolish move in last year's draft in taking Weeden—a move they will regret, if they don't already.
Colt McCoy isn't starting quarterback material. His arm isn't nearly strong enough to challenge defenses, and he'll always be a backup who won't be used unless the circumstances are dire.
Alex Smith has a relationship with new Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The two of them worked together in 2006 with the San Francisco 49ers—a season that saw Smith make vast improvements from his rookie campaign.
The Browns have one of the NFL's burgeoning young stars at the running back position in Trent Richardson. Furthermore, the team features a solid offensive line with all-world offensive tackle Joe Thomas as its cornerstone.
Cleveland has brought in some impressive young receivers, too.
If Greg Little ever cracks down on his butterfingers addiction, he and Josh Gordon could become one of the best duos in the NFL. Tight end Jordan Cameron is an athletic pass-catcher who would thrive with Smith, just like Vernon Davis has done for the 49ers.
New York Jets
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It's no secret that the New York Jets are in need of quarterback help.
Mark Sanchez regressed so much the past couple of seasons that he may need real psychological help to get back to where he started when he came out of college four years ago, and there's nobody else on the roster capable of leading an NFL offense to victory.
The Jets quickly fired Tony Sparano after a disastrous 2012 campaign and brought in former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as his replacement.
Per an AP report, "Mornhinweg is expected to bring a more wide-open passing approach to the Jets, who have relied more often on a run-first 'Ground-and-Pound' philosophy under Rex Ryan."
Considering the lack of talent at the wide receiver position and the fact that tight end Dustin Keller won't likely be back (thanks to the team's horrid salary-cap situation, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora), Alex Smith might not be interested in playing for Rex Ryan's squad.
Furthermore, by virtue of the general dysfunction that plagues the Jets, I'll be shocked to see Smith suiting up for Gang Green in 2013.
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New Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians knows how to get the most out of his quarterbacks.
He helped Peyton Manning develop into a phenomenal pro for his first three years in the league (1998-2000) as the quarterbacks coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
Then he attempted to mold Tim Couch into a competent signal-caller with the Cleveland Browns (to no avail) before moving on to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he helped Ben Roethlisberger become an elite quarterback.
Then, Arians and Andrew Luck took the NFL by storm in 2012.
Unfortunately for Arians, his best quarterback at this moment is Kevin Kolb. Let that sink in for a few minutes...
He inherits a team that featured the worst offensive line in the NFL last season, but there's room for hope. If the Cardinals can land one of the top offensive tackles in the draft and bring in a veteran guard or two, things might be looking up in 2013.
Additionally, Larry Fitzgerald is still one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and he's joined by Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts, both of whom have shown promise.
If Arians can somehow conjure a competent running game, Arizona's offense has a chance to shine in 2013 with Alex Smith behind center.
Oh, and don't rule out the revenge factor, here. No doubt Smith would love a chance to face the 49ers twice a year just to prove they made a huge mistake, and according to ESPN's John Clayton (via ArizonaSports.com), he'd make a beeline for Arizona if the 49ers released him.
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On the surface, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Alex Smith seem to fit like a glove.
Chad Henne isn't a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, and Blaine Gabbert is still a work in progress. Last week, I postulated that the Jaguars could potentially trade Henne and a fifth-round pick for Smith, but the truth of the matter is that I'd feel really bad for Smith if this trade went down.
Jacksonville hired Jedd Fisch to be the new offensive coordinator in 2013.
Fisch is an unproven commodity as a coordinator in the NFL. He has plenty of NFL experience, from stints with the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, but he's venturing into new territory.
Further adding to the level of intrigue is the news that Jacksonville will be moving to a zone-blocking scheme in 2013 (h/t Florida Times-Union's Vito Stellino)—a move that could be great, but one that could also backfire (just ask Darren McFadden and the Oakland Raiders).
Smith won't likely be thrilled to be shipped to Jacksonville, but the chances of him landing with the Jaguars are slim. According to Stellino's report, new general manager Dave Caldwell intends to build his team through the draft, meaning it won't likely be looking to make waves in free agency or with trades.
Kansas City Chiefs
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There isn't a team in the league more quarterback needy than the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013.
You do the math.
Andy Reid is a West Coast offense guru, and Smith is well versed in the system.
The Chiefs have major talent at the skill positions, with Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe (should he re-sign with Kansas City), Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster and Tony Moeaki.
Kansas City also has a solid offensive line, and if Alex Smith were to join Reid's crew, the Chiefs could use the No. 1 overall pick to take offensive tackle Luke Joeckel to anchor the left side for the next decade.
In addition to having the pieces in place for a capable offense, Kansas City has a defense that could become dominant in the years to come—a defense that could favorably compare to the one Smith has played with in San Francisco for the past seven years.
Of all the teams that might be interested in Smith, the Chiefs look to be the best fit.
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Ryan Fitzpatrick wouldn't start for most NFL teams, yet the Buffalo Bills paid him like a franchise quarterback in 2011.
His two backups, Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson, are both incapable of engineering a winning offense, so it's clear the Bills will be looking for an upgrade at the quarterback position going forward.
New head coach Doug Marrone will likely look to the draft, and many have speculated that he could select Ryan Nassib, his quarterback at Syracuse, in this year's draft.
The Bills have one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL in C.J. Spiller. If Marrone and his staff can keep him involved and feature him more than Buffalo did last year, it'll really help out the passing game.
The problem with Alex Smith as it concerns the Bills is that he doesn't possess a rocket for an arm, which is imperative for excelling at Ralph Wilson Stadium—an outdoor venue that often features wind, snow and really cold temperatures.
His physical limitations as a passer, combined with what I perceive will be an effort to build through the draft on offense by Marrone and his staff leads me to believe that Smith would be a terrible fit in Buffalo.
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