Chiefs' Secondary Makeover Nearly Complete After Signing Sean Smith

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystMarch 14, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 13:  Sean Smith #24 of the Miami Dolphins reacts to a tackle during a game against the Washington Redskins at Sun Life Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

A shocking number of people believe the Kansas City Chiefs were 2-14 in 2012 simply because they had a bad quarterback. Others will say it was a bad quarterback and bad coaching, but don’t want to acknowledge that the Chiefs had a lot of other issues. The Chiefs have a lot of talent, but they need quality pieces to put around that talent.  

The Chiefs’ early spending in free agency highlights what the new brain trust of John Dorsey and Andy Reid felt the weaknesses were last season. Quarterback was certainly one of the problems, but the defensive secondary also lacked depth and versatility.

The signing of cornerback Sean Smith to a three-year contract caps a total makeover of the defensive secondary in just the past week. The Chiefs also signed defensive back Dunta Robinson, who could play safety and cornerback for the Chiefs.

Smith was considered one of the top cornerbacks available and will play across from Brandon Flowers, with Robinson and Javier Arenas splitting duties as the slot cornerback. Things are obviously still changing, but it appears that the Chiefs have a clear plan for addressing their weaknesses. The work is not done, but it has come a long way in just a few days.

After the signing of Smith, the Chiefs have a defensive secondary capable of adjusting to teams that try to spread them out and throw the ball. After releasing Stanford Routt last season, the Chiefs really didn’t have the players to adequately cover three- and four-receiver sets.

When the Chiefs were forced into their nickel package, Jalil Brown played outside with Arenas covering the slot in 2012. When the Chiefs were forced to use the dime, they were bringing in Travis Daniels or Tysyn Hartman.  Kendrick Lewis also didn’t have a great year and was actually outplayed by his injury replacement Abram Elam, which also impacted the performance of the secondary.

The Chiefs should have probably never have let Brandon Carr leave in free agency, but in hindsight they avoided giving him a huge contract and were able to land Smith for less than half of the cost just a year later. Smith only received an $18 million contract with $12 million guaranteed over three years according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.

Just about every cornerback is signing for $5 or $6 million per year, but Smith was arguably the best one available. The Chiefs have been very active in free agency, but the signing of Smith is yet another example of their responsible spending.

Like Carr, Smith isn’t a shutdown cornerback, but he is a very good No. 2 cornerback. The Chiefs are now the only team in the AFC West with the personnel to slow down the Denver Broncos’ trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.

Like many cornerbacks though, Smith struggled against big physical receivers and good quarterbacks. That could be a concern moving forward if Smith doesn’t continue to improve. One thing to note—Smith was significantly worse in the second half of the season, which is sometimes an indicator that he was slowed by an undisclosed injury.

ProFootballFocus graded Smith negatively in pass coverage against the Texans, Colts, Seahawks and 49ers. Smith’s best games were against the Raiders, Cardinals and Jets. Smith allowed just one catch to Welker in Week 13, but it was a touchdown, according to ProFootballFocus. Since Welker lines up as the slot receiver, he didn’t often draw the coverage of Smith.  Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and A.J. Green all got the best of Smith with touchdowns as well.

Despite some struggles against the best receivers against the league, Smith allowed only a 54.9 completion percentage, an 85.1 passer rating and 11.8 yards per reception in 2012, per ProFootballFocus. Each of these stats put Smith in the top half of the league at his position. He may not be Richard Sherman, but Smith is a very capable young cornerback.

Perhaps Smith’s age is one reason why this deal is another smart move by the Chiefs. While many teams are overpaying for players who are over 30 years old or nearing it, the Chiefs have stayed young. Smith will be 26 years old for all of the 2013 season and will be just 28 years old when his contract expires. In essence, the Chiefs are paying for Smith’s best years and not the years immediately following his best years.

Fans have reason to be excited about the moves the Chiefs have made in the last few days. The Chiefs stayed young, added talent, got more versatile and didn’t do anything crazy. Paired with the talent returning to the team in 2013, the Chiefs are the only team in the division who appear to be able to challenge the Broncos in the AFC West.