Andrew Brandt has written an interesting piece for MMQB about the interesting contract situations for both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. The story is interesting in and of itself because Kaepernick supplanted Smith as the starter for San Francisco, so the timing plays well, and trying to identify what Kaepernick and Smith’s value is on the market is difficult to judge.
Using Kaepernick’s new deal as a guideline or expectation for Smith is probably a false equivalency, however. Reading Brandt’s piece, while Kapernick and Smith do share a lot of similarities, the basis for approaching their new contracts are completely different.
There were two interesting things in here from Brandt about Smith and his contract negotiations with the Chiefs. First, Brandt seems to imply that Smith holds most the cards in the negotiations. Part of his reasoning is based on this quote:
Smith can be patient as he (1) is scheduled to make a respectable $8 million this season and (2) has accumulated significant career earnings, $57.65 million since entering the NFL as the top pick in the 2005 draft. That luxury gives Smith and Condon the ability to resist jumping at a front-loaded deal.
Basically, Smith is already wealthy and will make a lot of money this season, so there is no sense of urgency on his part to get a deal done immediately. Kaepernick was a different story as he was drafted in the second round and was apart of the new collective bargaining agreement. Smith was a first overall pick in the old collective bargaining agreement and has made, as Brandt said, millions in earnings already.
Tom Condon can use this to his advantage in negotiations as there is no urgency for him to get a deal done now. The simple play here for him is to tell the Chiefs “pay him or he walks.” Kansas City can respond with the franchise tag but that’s still a win for Smith as he’d make $17-plus million under the tag and would still be eligible for free agency the following season. Condon can simply sell Smith on the idea that not signing a deal this offseason is essentially the equivalent of signing a one-year, $17 million deal for 2015 should the Chiefs want to keep him. If the Chiefs don’t want to keep him then Smith is the on the free agent market and will be open to an expensive bidding war.
It is a win-win for Smith.
The second thing Brandt discusses is what a contract could look like from the Chiefs should they decide to offer one.
Pressed to predict what will happen here, I would forecast a deal that may give the impression of being “long-term” but in actuality it would be an extended engagement rather than a marriage. In this scenario, Condon would implement the structure used with the Colts for Manning in 2011: substantial amount in 2014, perhaps $15-20 million, followed by a considerable March 2015 option to extend the contract another four or five years. This would allow both sides future flexibility if they decide to only be together one more year.
Brandt notes that if the Chiefs were set with Smith as their franchise quarterback then they probably would have signed him to an extension by now. For every day that passes without a Smith contract extension the more it can be assumed John Dorsey and Andy Reid are not sold on Smith as the Chiefs quarterback of the future.
The one problem with Brandt’s proposal in that the Chiefs only have $2.8 million in cap space available for the 2014 season. Signing Smith to a deal that increases his 2014 pay with the idea of having him at a cheaper number for 2015 and beyond should the Chiefs decide to keep him only works if the Chiefs can open up enough cap space.
Maybe this is where Brandon Flowers comes into play, a player could save the Chiefs $7 million in cap room for 2014 if cut. Add the $7 million in savings to Smith’s 2014 salary and … you’ve got a $15 million salary for Smith, which is right in Brandt’s range.
Here’s the reality of the situation: Alex Smith is going to get paid. The timing and team are still yet to be determined.