Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What Will Make Smith Worth It?

Last week, I wrote that I was not opposed to acquiring Alex Smith per se, just against looking to him the “answer” to our quarterback woes. It appears that the team has done exactly that.

This post is scheduled to come out at 4 p.m. Central, but as I write this, we do not yet know whether the franchise tag has been used on any of the Chiefs’ three most important free agents – WR Dwayne Bowe, LT Brandon Albert or P Dustin Colquitt.

The early signs and reports are that the Chiefs will likely franchise Bowe, let Albert walk, and draft LT Luke Joeckel 1st overall. I’ve read countless articles and analyses for and against the trade (most of them for), and my thoughts on this scenario have not changed. Last week I wrote, “if what we end up with is San Fran’s average-to-above-average castaway and a replacement for Brandon Albert who’s unproven in the NFL for the 1st overall pick and, say, a 3rd of 4th this year, it will be hard to deem this offseason a success.”

Even I didn’t think Smith would cost a 2nd and a 2014 3rd, as has been reported.

Since 1987, the year I was born, the Chiefs have only started two quarterbacks they drafted themselves – Doug Hudson (7th round, 1987) and Brodie Croyle (3rd round, 2006). In fact, since I have been alive, the Chiefs have only twice drafted a quarterback higher than the 3rd round – Mike Elkins in the 2nd in 1989 and Matt Blundin in the 2nd in 1992. The last time the Chiefs used a 1st-round pick on a quarterback was exactly 30 years ago in 1983.

None of this has anything to do with Smith, GM John Dorsey or HC Andy Reid, except that it meant that this trade was automatically going to be met with disappointment by a large swath of Chiefs nation.

I hope this move works out, I really do. But, history and precedent have not been kind to the Chiefs when acquiring quarterbacks in this fashion.

I think Trent Green was worth the 1st-rounder we traded for him and I suppose Joe Montana, who got us our last playoff victory 20 years ago, was worth that 1st-rounder too by some measure. Green gave us five (mostly) competitive seasons and Montana gave us two before inevitably retiring.

I guess my question is what will Smith have to do to earn what we gave for him? Playoff wins, surely. A Super Bowl? How many years do we expect him to play for us? If we win a sufficient number of games next year, then that conditional 3rd-rounder becomes a 2nd which, given that we already gave the 49ers the #34 overall pick, means that we will have gotten Alex Smith for the equivalent of a 1st-round pick in terms of draft capital.

In Montana’s last year, the Chiefs traded a 4th-round pick to San Fran for his former backup there, Steve Bono. In his first season starting for Kansas City, Bono had a pro-bowl season and went 13-3. Would that be an adequate return for the draft haul we gave up for Smith?

The Chiefs went 9-7 the next year and cut him in favor of another San Fran backup, this time Elvis Grbac. In college he twice won the Big Ten passing efficiency award, holding Michigan’s record for that mark until being passed up by John Navarre and later Chad Henne. He also went 13-3, but really hit his mark of efficiency in 2000 throwing for 4,169 yards with a 59.6 completion rate … in a year we won seven games.

Efficiency wasn’t enough, so we traded for Trent Green in 2001 who got us a 13-3 season in 2003 (are you starting to see the pattern here?) and a playoff loss. Then he got injured and we opted for his 33-years-young backup Damon Huard, who got us to another playoff loss. When Huard and Croyle washed out we traded for Matt Cassel, who got us one more good season, one more playoff loss.

These guys were all above average quarterbacks with some physical limitations but were seen as good decision-makers that took care of the football. They all got us to the playoffs at some point before we realized they wouldn’t take us any further than that.

Look, this isn’t a science and it’s not like the Chiefs have just been pressing the wrong button over and over again. But, this mentality that the Chiefs are just one safe, limited quarterback away from crawling to the promised land seems to have kept the franchise in neutral for practically my entire life.

If Alex Smith takes us to the playoffs next year, I will be overjoyed, but I’m not sure that alone will make this trade worthwhile. Because of the Smith trade, the Chiefs will almost certainly be once again forgoing the roll of the dice that is drafting a QB in the first two rounds – something we haven’t tried for 21 years.

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Think about that. By the time the Chiefs do (maybe) pick a QB next year, it is likely that this quarterback will not have been alive when the Chiefs last drafted a QB so high.

A lot of commentators have been dismissive of the large group of Chiefs fans that are nervous, disappointed or downright nauseous about the Smith trade, claiming that we’re all just blind Geno lovers. As a passenger on the Geno bandwagon, I would like to respectably disagree. We Alex-Smith pessimists are merely those fans who hoped desperately that the team would depart from its philosophy of the past.

So, I ask again, because I’m not sure I have the answer myself, what does Alex Smith have to do to be a good acquisition? How many starts, playoff victories and championship appearances are adequate compensation? Will you be satisfied if he is our next Trent Green?

Because he’s about to begin his 8th NFL season and won’t be with us forever. Right now, he is our “answer” at the position. He has to be. We have no one to develop beside him, and probably won’t until at least next year.

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