The Kansas City Chiefs' trade for Alex Smith gives the notion that they believe he can be the future franchise quarterback. Four years ago the Chiefs signed Matt Cassel because they thought the same thing.
It didn't happen.
While Smith may be an upgrade over Cassel, Brady Quinn and whoever else the lowly Chiefs used last year, the fact remains he is the same type of quarterback as those players. He's not going to go out there and put a team on his back nor can he be relied on to throw the ball upwards of 40 times a game.
Smith is a game manager, somebody you bring in to guide you team to the playoffs. Not lead them there.
Here's why Kansas City's trade for Smith will doom them both.
I touched on this in the opening slide and I'll elaborate here: Alex Smith and Matt Cassel are very similar players. Both are game managers, both have struggled when placed outside their comfort zone and both benefited from being in the right system.
Before Jim Harbaugh came to San Francisco, Alex Smith was a bust. Plain and simple. There's no arguing that Smith was a decent quarterback, as he was downright awful in his early years. His rookie year he threw one touchdown and 11 interceptions, good for a quarterback rating of 40.8. Woof.
Smith certainly improved over the years, even before Harbaugh became the head coach, but he didn't excel until Harbaugh took the reins. In the five years before Jim Harbaugh became coach of the 49ers, Alex Smith threw 51 touchdowns and 53 interceptions. In the two years under Harbaugh he had 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Was it a matter of simply putting everything together? Possibly, but the more likely explanation is Harbaugh's offensive strategy of pounding the ball and not relying on Smith to win games. With defenses stuffing the box to stop the 49ers' atypical run formations, Smith had open lanes that weren't there under Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary.
Cassel was in a similar situation before the Chiefs dipped into their pockets for him. When Tom Brady went down in the first week of the 2008 season, to these same Chiefs, the Patriots were written off as non-contenders. Insert Matt Cassel and the Patriots became an 11-win team, barely missing the playoffs. (How does 11 wins not get you into the playoffs, by the way?)
Cassel was sensational in 2008, throwing for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Much like how Smith benefited from Harbaugh, Cassel was the wonderboy of Bill Belichick. Yes, Cassel had an incredible year in 2010, with 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, but look at his other three years in Kansas City and that one is clearly the outlier.
Smith was a product of the system in San Francisco. The Chiefs made the same mistake with Cassel four years ago, yet they still haven't learned. Smith has shown he can guide his team deep into the playoffs, but without a strong foundation around him he is just another average quarterback.
Alex Smith would have been a perfect fit on a fringe playoff team, not a 2-14 team with the first pick in the draft.
The Chiefs do have some good pieces to their team, but it is nowhere near the supporting cast Alex Smith had in San Francisco. Jamaal Charles may be an upgrade over Frank Gore, but they are two different types of players. Charles amassed 1,509 yards last year, but over half that (764) came in just four games! He was the ultimate boom or bust player in 2012 as he had games of 3, 4, 10, 39, 40 and 53 yards.
Unacceptable for a player of his caliber.
The Chiefs' inability to have a consistent run game got them behind early in games and forced them into throwing. When they did throw, their offensive line let them down in pass protection and their receivers dropped too many passes.
San Francisco had, and still has, one of the best offensive lines in the league and one of the most consistent running games in the league. While Charles is capable of breaking an 80-yarder at any point, he struggles to wear teams down in the trenches. Peyton Hillis was brought in to complement Charles, but he was nowhere near effective as Kansas City hoped and failed to provide the Chiefs with much.
In San Francisco Smith had Vernon Davis as his safety valve and in Kansas City he will be working with Tony Moeaki. That's a significant downgrade of Smith's go-to guy.
At receiver the Chiefs will have nobody if they can't re-sign Dwayne Bowe. And even if they do re-sign him, will Alex Smith be able to get him the ball? Michael Crabtree took off after Colin Kaepernick took hold of the offense as Kaepernick's arm provided the offense with a spark.
If the Chiefs don't upgrade their weapons and become more consistent on offense, it could be another long year in Kansas City.
I could say it, but Grantland's Chris Brown highlights all my main talking points:
As is West Coast offense tradition, when Reid's offense was at its best, it was as much about throwing vertically — with deep passes to Terrell Owens or DeSean Jackson breaking open a game — as it was about short passes underneath. Smith has never been known for his ability to throw the ball down the field. And of course, one of the biggest knocks on Reid in Philadelphia was that he would never stick with the run; much of Smith's success in San Francisco came when supported by Harbaugh's deep commitment to a power running game.
Reid had one of the best offenses in the NFC for a decade, but at the helm were strong-armed quarterbacks such as Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. Smith's arm is on the opposite side of the spectrum, in Chad Pennington territory. Even if Kansas City brings back impending free agent Dwayne Bowe, Smith may not be able to get the ball to him or Jonathan Baldwin down the field.
And going back to the point of Reid not sticking to the run in Philly, how is that going to work with Smith? When Smith was chucking the ball around pre-Harbaugh, he was below average, at best. If Reid expects to throw 30-40 times a game on a week in and week out basis, it could spell doom in Kansas City.
Kansas City's defense, much like their offense, has some good pieces, but as a whole they just don't jell.
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali can both rush the passer, but neither provides much in run support. Similarly, Derrick Johnson blossomed into a Pro Bowl player last season, but he is nowhere near Patrick Willis' level.
Willis and the 49ers defense were one of the toughest defenses to go up against for the past two years. The Chiefs defense has been a cakewalk for opponents, as opposing teams have been able to run and throw on the downtrodden Kansas City defense.
For years the Chiefs have tried to solve their defensive line woes through the draft, yet the Chiefs have had one of the worst running defenses in the league. I'd start by suggesting to stay away from 3-4 defensive ends from LSU, but I believe that ship has sailed at this point.
Critics will argue that the Chiefs defense has playmakers such as Hali, Johnson and safety Eric Berry, but where are the results? They allowed over 26 points per game and 135 rushing yards per game last year. They did rank 12th in passing defense, but that was mainly a product of the other team being ahead and running the ball to kill the clock.
To be successful, Alex Smith needs help in all aspects of the game, and the Chiefs don't provide that. With a defense such as the one Kansas City plans on putting out on the field in 2013, Smith will continually be behind in games and forced out of his comfort zone. The result will be Matt Cassel-like performance.
Alex Smith has already used his mulligan and now had this year to prove whether he can actually play or if he is simply the product of a system.
Smith was given a second chance by Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco (then subsequently had the carpet pulled from underneath him), but he won't get a third one if he fails in Kansas City.
There will be a lot of pressure on Smith to perform this year, internally and externally. Kansas City has been dying for a consistent option at quarterback for year, and will not put up with another below average option at the signal-caller position.
The city has dealt with too much ineptitude in the passing game to cut Smith any slack. A few bad performances here and there and the weight of the city will be on Alex Smith's shoulders. It will be a question of if he can handle it better than he did in San Francisco in his early years.
Smith has shown he can handle being under pressure in the playoffs, but the pressure of potentially being a career backup is a different animal.