Kansas City Chiefs: Why Alex Smith Is More Than the Next Matt Cassel

Tom SmeatonContributor IIIFebruary 28, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 7:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 consults with head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers during a game against the Buffalo Bills on October 7, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won 45-3.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Tell me when the scenario sounds familiar: the Kansas City Chiefs have traded an early second round selection to land the league's hottest back-up quarterback commodity, hoping he can be the leader to turn the franchise around.

In 2009, it was former Patriot Matt Cassel that landed on Kansas City's radar. In 2013, they have reportedly agreed to trade for former 49ers starter Alex Smith, leaving Cassel on the way to being released. 

However, this is where the parallels should end for these two signal callers. First and foremost, Cassel's first promotion to starter came out of a season-ending injury to Tom Brady. Alex Smith's demotion to a back-up was only brought about by an injury he sustained himself, even in the midst of the best stretch of his career.

Cassel never managed to find his place with the Chiefs, despite a promising 2010 season that brought the team into the playoffs. In the two years since, Cassel has started only 17 of 32 games, managing a meager ratio of 16 touchdowns to 21 interceptions.

Smith's story in Kansas City should ultimately read quite differently from that of Cassel's. Cassel entered the fold coming off one solid season with one of the most talented offenses in NFL history, this after riding the bench for the previous seven seasons, including all four in college at USC.

By comparison, Smith is a former No. 1 draft pick, with a career that can't be justly described by the stat sheet. Drafted to one of the worst teams in the league at the time, Smith has dealt with seven offensive system changes in eight seasons. Two stubborn, defensive-centered head coaches led Smith through his early career, which was plagued by multiple shoulder surgeries in 2007 and 2008.

Since sitting out the entire 2008 season on injured reserve, Smith's numbers have improved each season. Under Mike Singletary, Smith was still not the quarterback we've seen the past two seasons, although some of that blame should go to the archaic offense that was run in those seasons.

Any fair 49ers analyst will point out that Smith was still missing something before Jim Harbaugh's arrival. The offensive system was terrible, and the supporting cast could have been better. But Smith never got the job done, and that's what quarterbacks have to do in this league.

Under Harbaugh, that changed. In 25 starts since that hire, Smith has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 4881 yards passing. More impressive for the former widely-considered bust, Smith only threw 10 interceptions in that span and earned a 19-5-1 record. 

Most telling was Smith's performance as a runner and thrower against the Saints in the 2012 divisional playoffs. With four total touchdowns, including two potential game-winning drives in the final four minutes, Smith finally displayed the one element he'd always lacked: clutch.

Andy Reid was brought to Kansas City to turn the ship around, and there's reason to believe that Smith could be the quarterback to help him do that. The offensive-minded former quarterbacks coach is reportedly a big fan of Smith's, and Reid has to be trusted to find the players he needs.

What the Chiefs get in Alex Smith is a smart, efficient quarterback with undervalued athleticism. For all the criticism thrown Smith's way, this is a player that didn't lose games for San Francisco the past two seasons. More than once, he did his fair share to win them too.

After a long and winding career, the so-called "game-manager" was finally finding his game under a new, quarterback-friendly coach trying to revive a once-proud franchise.

Now, doesn't that sound familiar?

All statistics referenced in this article were taken from NFL.com.