Earlier today, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs reportedly came to terms on a trade that would send Alex Smith to the Chiefs for multiple "premium" draft picks. The trade itself is not surprising, as rumor of a Smith-to-KC deal has been making the rounds for days now.
The haul of draft picks? Yeah. Color me surprised.
Still, even considering the heavy price paid by Kansas City, this is a tough deal to figure out. Most trades produce immediate "winners" and "losers," even if those distinctions don't always end up holding true. San Francisco is clearly a "winner" in this trade, having flipped an unhappy, expensive backup QB for double the expected return, but are they alone in that distinction. Certainly, Kansas City's end of the deal is a bit more complicated. Are they a "loser" for having given up so much for a limited, game manager type QB? Or, are they also "winners" for successfully, and dramatically, upgrading the QB position? It's difficult to say, at this juncture.
Even as someone who isn't necessarily the world's biggest Alex Smith fan, I'll buy the latter as a compelling reason for KC to go through with this deal. In four seasons, Cassel never completed 60% of his passes, never had a Y/A average of 7.0, and ended with a QB Rating of just 77.5. Worse yet, Cassel missed 14 starts the last two years, leaving poor Chiefs fans with Tyler Palko and Brady Quinn as fill-ins. (We all remember Palko, right?)
The truth is that it's been a revolving door of 'suck' for KC ever since Trent Green had his head caved in. Cassel was supposed to be the savior, but that ship has long since sailed. To that end, Alex Smith was a logical choice. No, he's not the Andrew Luck-type franchise player several teams landed last season, but his play the last two seasons suggests he's a solid bet to bring the type of stability and consistency to the position the team thought they were getting in Cassel. This is a guy the veterans can rally behind. This is a guy Andy Reid can run his offense with. Perhaps most importantly, this is a guy the team can sell to its beleaguered fan base as proof of a commitment to winning.
But man was he expensive! If reports are correct, the Chiefs could be on the hook for two second round picks. Two! For Alex Smith! Is that worth it for a 29 year old player who, at his very best, still probably wasn't good enough to ever make a Pro Bowl or be considered a top ten type of guy? In a vacuum, the answer is probably no. Second round picks are valuable commodities, especially when at least one of them is practically a late first round pick. Even though there is plenty of risk involved in taking an unproven player, those types of picks generally produce quality NFL talent. Here's a list of players taken in that range (#33-#37) in the last five years:
#33 - Donnie Avery
#34 - Devin Thomas
#35 - Brandon Flowers
#36 - Jordy Nelson
#37 - Curtis Lofton
#33 - Louis Delmas
#34 - Patrick Chung
#35 - James Laurinaitis
#36 - Brian Robiskie
#37 - Alphonso Smith
#33 - Rodger Saffold
#34 - Chris Cook
#35 - Brian Price
#36 - Dexter McCluster
#37 - Nate Allen
#33 - Ras-I Dowling
#34 - Aaron Williams
#35 - Andy Dalton
#36 - Colin Kaepernick (bit of irony here)
#37 - Jabaal Sheard
#33 - Brian Quick
#34 - Coby Fleener
#35 - Courtney Upshaw
#36 - Derek Wolfe
#37 - Mitchell Schwartz
While not everyone on the list has turned out, there are more than enough good football players there to illustrate how much Kansas City is giving up. I guess what I'm saying is, in an ideal world, you'd hope to do a bit better than Alex Smith with the type of ransom they paid.
As we all know, though, the NFL is rarely an 'ideal world,' and factors beyond Smith's value in a vacuum clearly came into play. In this case, the meager QB market quickly became the Chiefs biggest enemy, and gave the 49ers every last ounce of bargaining power they could ever ask for. Think about it; could there have been a better time to be selling an experienced, proven, rock solid QB like Alex Smith? There are upwards of seven teams actively looking for an upgrade at QB, and there simply isn't enough supply to satisfy them. Joe Flacco isn't leaving Baltimore, the rest of the free agent class reads like a Matt Millen wish list, and the draft is devoid of anyone worth a top ten pick. That left San Francisco holding the most valuable piece of property in the entire league; a starter quality QB who is actually available. If the reports are true, the competition to acquire him was fierce, leading to the eventual price of two premium draft picks.
Toss in the obvious desperation to finally fix the QB spot, the need to do something - anything! - to get the fan base back on board, and the recent hire of pass-happy Andy Reid, and you can understand what would drive the Chiefs to overpay. There is also real talent on this roster, and a real opportunity to take advantage of a weakened AFC, so perhaps they honestly believe the upgrade from Cassel to Smith can push them into contention. We'll see if that comes to fruition, but regardless, this seems like a good fit for them. Smith will have weapons and should have no trouble finding success in Reid's West Coast system.
Personally, I would not have given up that much, but I don't blame Kansas City one bit. If there's one thing we've come to find out in the recent past, it's that QB's are expensive. Sometimes, you have to overpay to get the deal done. Oakland did it with Carson Palmer, Arizona did it with Kevin Kolb, and Kansas City did it with Matt Cassel. Obviously, the Chiefs should feel much more secure with whom they chose to pay for this time. There are far worse ways to use assets than landing Alex Smith.
A great deal? No. A reasonable deal? Probably. Smith should be a quality player for them for at least three or four seasons. Unless one of those picks ends up being the next Joe Montana or something, I doubt there will be any regret.
- Again, San Francisco is a huge winner here. Smith is no longer in their plans, and it's pretty rare to turn someone like that into much of value. The Niners now have four picks in the top 74, giving them the ability to add quality depth for the short term and land future replacements for aging stars like Justin Smith and others. Not only that, but they also save a significant chunk of cap space that could allow them to retain DaShon Goldson and other key free agents. Basically, the rich get richer.
- I may write a post on this later, but it's worth mentioning now. After the trade was announced, it struck me that this is the end of arguably the weirdest tenure of any #1 overall pick in history. Going back through some drafts, I couldn't find a single guy who had a more unconventional career arc than Alex Smith. Some guys, like Ki-Jana Carter, didn't pan out because of injuries, and were quickly let go. Other guys, like Courtney Brown and JaMarcus Russell, were just bad, and were also quickly let go. Then there were others, like Tim Couch, who suffered through both ineffectiveness and injury, and they to were quickly let go.
Then there's Alex Smith. He was dreadful his first three years before suffering a serious shoulder injury that cost him all of 2008. By that point, it would have been normal - and entirely reasonable - to cut ties with Smith. Nope. Smith started 20 more games in 2009 and 2010, showing actual progress as a passer, before having his breakout season in 2011...HIS SEVENTH SEASON WITH THE TEAM!
Oh, and then, in the midst of an even more impressive 2012 season, he was finally benched. That's right, Alex Smith, once known as one of the biggest draft busts in history, wasn't benched until he was playing the best football of his life. Weird, weird career.