November 25, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) paces the sidelines during first quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) started the game instead of Smith. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Alex Smith Trade: Dreams Crushed, Hope Found

Last week I told everyone that despite speculation that the KC Chiefs might be interested in Alex Smith I was going to ride the “Geno Smith to KC” bandwagon until the wheels fell off. With it now all but certain that Alex Smith will be the next KC QB it appears that my bandwagon ride was short lived. This trade not only caused the wheels to fall off the bandwagon, it likely burnt the whole thing to the ground.

As regular readers may know, my outlook is usually a positive one. I like to take enjoyment out of following the Chiefs (despite their recent efforts to make that impossible) so I don’t usually like to dwell on the bad or the frustrating. There are usually enough voices out there spelling out every misstep the team makes anyway. That having been said, I want to take a second to explain why this trade initially upset me so much.

It’s NOT that I don’t think Alex Smith can be a good NFL starting QB.

It’s NOT that they gave up their #34 draft pick for him (although that does sting).

It’s that the dream of seeing the Chiefs draft a QB that turns into a star and leads them to a Super Bowl has been crushed. I’m 35 years old and have no memory of Todd Blackledge as a Kansas City Chief. The first QB that I remember is Steve DeBerg. That means that in my entire lifetime as a Chiefs fan I have never seen them commit a high draft pick to a QB. I have watched year after year as other teams drafted QBs that eventually led them to championships. I wasn’t thinking that KC would land the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in this draft or even the next Andrew Luck or RG3, but the next Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, or Joe Flacco seemed at least possible.

That’s what drafting Geno Smith #1 overall would have been for me. It would have opened the door to the possibility of that dream coming true for the team I loved. Was I confident that Geno would turn into that guy? No, but I was willing to chance that for a shot at greatness. In my opinion the best way to win a Super Bowl is to hit on a big time QB and you can only hit on one if you’re willing to try. This trade meant that for the foreseeable future KC is not willing to risk it. They’re going to play it safe. The realization that this dream is now dead took the wind out my sails. To be honest, it was probably two full days before I even started reading any Chiefs related material again because it was just too depressing for me.

I’d love to sit here and say that I’m over it now. That I no longer feel that way and that I’m now 100% convinced that trading for Alex Smith was the right thing to do, but that would be a lie. I still feel bummed about the loss of possibility that I saw in Geno Smith but now that my “I don’t want Alex Smith! I want our OWN QB!” hissy fit is about over the rational part of my brain is starting to see the possible upside in Alex Smith.

First, Andy Reid and John Dorsey went to the combine and took a really close and hard look at the QBs that are available in this draft. They reportedly met with 8 different QBs while at the combine (Barkley, Bray, Dysert, Glennon, Manuel, Nassib, Smith, and Wilson). After watching these guys on tape, seeing them throw up close at the combine, and meeting with them face to face they went straight back to KC and traded for Alex Smith. That says something to me. Despite all the potential that “I” see in Geno Smith, the Chiefs weren’t interested. The Chiefs would rather have Alex Smith.

The “hissy fit” throwing emotional part of me says that the reason they want Alex over Geno is that they are playing it “safe” and are scared of what might happen if Geno didn’t pan out. However, as days go by the rational part of my brain has started to jump in with a Lee Corso-esque “Not so fast my friend”.

Is picking Alex Smith over Geno Smith really the safe and easy choice? These guys are taking over a team whose fan base flew banners over the stadium in protest over the old regime. This old regime’s #1 crime against the fans was sticking with a QB that they traded a 2nd round pick to get. The fans wore black to the games and left the stadium half empty for most of the season. These fans, the people whose money pays for their multi-million dollar operation are SCREAMING at the top of their lungs for these guys to end the 30 year drought of not drafting our own franchise QB and they still went straight home from the combine and traded for Alex Smith.

These guys aren’t stupid. They had to know that the average fan that was screaming for Scott Pioli to get fired would see the parallels between the Cassel and Smith trades and freak out. They had to know that trading for Alex Smith and having it fail would infuriate the fan base 100 times more than drafting a QB that failed would. Playing a rookie QB would actually be “safer” for their job security because people wouldn’t expect the rookie to be good right away and if he never panned out they’d still get credit with a lot of fans for at least trying.

That tells me that this isn’t about playing it safe. It says to me that these guys honestly believe that Alex Smith has a better chance of leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl than Geno Smith or any other QB in this draft does.

I may not like that answer, I may not want to agree with that answer, but that’s the only logical explanation that makes sense, and this is coming from a guy that was in a full blown “I WANT MY GENO!!!” hissy fit just a few days ago.

The other thing that the logical part of my brain has started to pick up on is how it’s not just about them not liking the rookie QBs, they actually must see something in Alex Smith that they like. Why you ask? Because John Dorsey and Andy Reid have direct ties to other QBs that I’m sure could have been had for the same deal that they gave San Francisco, those QBs being Matt Flynn and Nick Foles. I know the Eagles have said that they want to keep Foles, but let’s be honest, he doesn’t fit Chip Kelly’s system and had KC offered them the #34 pick they could have taken a QB like EJ Manuel for Kelly to develop behind Mike Vick. Dorsey helped draft Flynn in Green Bay and saw him up close when he was there. Reid drafted Foles just last season and knows what he’s capable of. Despite these personal connections the Chiefs went after Smith. That tells me they see something in him that they think gives them the best chance to win.

So what could that be?

The emotional and ticked off part of me says that it’s to come be a play it safe, game manager, who will just hand the ball off to Jamaal Charles and whose personal contribution to the team will simply be not turning the ball over.

But then that pesky logical side of my brain starts sounding like Lee Corso again.

“Couldn’t they have trained a rookie to hand the ball off and not throw risky passes? Why give up valuable draft picks and enrage the fan base for that?”

I mean they couldn’t possibly think that Alex Smith could actually contribute to winning games, could they? Clearly Smith’s success in SF was all about Jim Harbaugh, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, and their defense.

That’s what I was thinking until yesterday. Then two things happened, I read THIS blog post from a 49ers fan stating that Alex Smith’s improvement actually started the year before Harbaugh got there when they fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye (who KC fans know all about), and then I got an email from my step brother/fellow Chiefs die hard, Cory Zellers (props on the excellent info). The email included some numbers that he had crunched. Here’s a direct quote from his email explaining what he did.

I dug into his (Alex Smith) stats and settled on the last 2 seasons (including post season) plus 2010 after he returned from injury in week 14. This gave me a nice round 32 games (2 seasons).

Ultimately I wanted to take his best play (last 32 games) and ratio the attempts (and remaining stats) up to the average # of attempts for an Andy Reid offense. I know Smith was a “game manager” in SF and Reid has had pass first offenses his whole career. I knew there was going to be a big difference in number of attempts, but I was a little surprised at the results. I pulled together all of Reid’s seasons in Philly and threw out his first year (Pederson and McNabb) to come up with an average season’s passing stats.

I then ratio-ed up Alex Smith’s avg season from the last 32 games from 416 attempts (per season) to 562 attempts (Reid’s avg season). The results were not earth shattering, but I would be pretty happy with a season like that out of Alex Smith.

Here are the results. If you take the completion percentage (63%), yards per attempt (7.5), and percentage of TD passes (4.8%) and interceptions (1.3%) that Alex Smith has had over his past 32 games and increased the attempts to the typical Andy Reid season you get a season that looks like this:

354-562 (63%), 4,189 yards (7.5 YPA), 27 TDs and 7 INTs.

That’s a pretty good season by any standard and that’s what I believe John Dorsey and Andy Reid think they are bringing to Kansas City. For a basis of comparison, the closest QB numbers to that from last season are probably Matt Schaub’s. Schaub went 350-544 (64.3%) for 4,008 yards (7.4 YPA), 22 TDs, and 12 INTs. Would you have been okay if the Chiefs traded their 2nd round pick for Schaub?

I know what some of you are thinking: “Lyle, the reason Smith was able to put up that kind of completion percentage and protect the football is because of the San Francisco run game and defense that their team was built around, if you take them away and put the ball in Smith’s hands 562 times, he’s going to fail!”

I thought so too before I got the email above. I started thinking about Reid’s offense. Reid is often criticized for not running the ball enough, so it’s safe to say that Smith isn’t going to be following the same “run the ball and play defense” mentality that they had in San Francisco. He’s going to have the ball in his hands more. It got me thinking about another QB that switched teams under similar circumstances at a similar point in his career. This QB was seen as a solid starter but was let go because the team had a young QB that was seen as having a greater upside. In his two seasons directly before leaving he averaged 450 attempts per season, about 3,368 yards/season, had about a 65% completion percentage, and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. Those numbers are pretty similar to what Smith has done over his past 32 games played. This QB went to a new team with a chip on his shoulder and a coach that built his offense around his abilities and his attempts jumped up to 554 in his first season with the new team and he threw for 4,418 yards which was over 800 yards more than his previous career high. Overnight he went from being “just an average NFL QB that lacks the elite talent to win Super Bowls” to one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, and eventually a Super Bowl champion. That QB is Drew Brees.

At this point I have probably lost all credibility with some of you who are now laughing at what an unbelievable Kool Aid drinking homer I am. Let me be clear, I am not saying I think Alex Smith is going to turn into Drew Brees. I’m not even saying I think Alex Smith will be successful in KC. I’m saying I think Dorsey and Reid think Smith will be successful in KC. I’m saying that I don’t think they are bringing Smith here to be Matt Cassel 2.0 or to just be some “play it safe” place holder who can help KC float around .500 while they wait to find the REAL franchise QB that they can win playoff games with. I think their plan is to make Alex Smith KC’s version of Drew Brees as apposed to KC’s version of Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer.

I don’t know if this will work and we’ll win a lot of games with Smith or if he’ll go down in flames like Matt Cassel did.

The idea of Alex Smith becoming the next Drew Brees is probably just a dream, crazy talk. But is it any more unrealistic than the idea of Brees becoming one of the most prolific QBs in NFL history when he left San Diego? Wouldn’t most experts have said that Brees wasn’t capable of doing it? Wouldn’t they have said that his success in San Diego had more to do with Norv Turner, LaDanian Tomlinson, and Antonio Gates than Brees’ ability to play QB? Is Dorsey and Reid’s plan of building a Super Bowl winning team around Alex Smith any more crazy than my dream of them turning Geno Smith into the next Aaron Rodgers?

Look, I’m still bummed that they won’t be drafting Geno Smith with the first overall pick. I’m still stinging from the loss of that dream (and the #34 pick). I still have my doubts about Alex Smith being a QB that can take KC to where they want to go, but once I came to the conclusion that Alex Smith was not brought here to be the next Matt Cassel (a QB that the team had to work around) and that John Dorsey and Andy Reid must see Alex Smith as a QB that they can build around it at least made the future a lot more interesting. Once again I’m back to waiting anxiously for the next breaking Chiefs news to hit so I can see what else the team has planned.

That’s a start. It’s certainly an improvement over the “hissy fit” I was throwing a few days ago.

So where are you at Addicts? Still in “hissy fit” mode like I was? Excited to see what Smith can do? Taking a wait and see approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!

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