Reports have recently surfaced that confirm cont..."/> Reports have recently surfaced that confirm cont..."/>

In Defense Of Paying Alex Smith

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Reports have recently surfaced that confirm contract negotiations for an extension have been ongoing between Tom Condon (Alex Smith’s agent) and the Kansas City Chiefs. This news comes as no real surprise. Chiefs brass publicly expressed an interest in getting him extended just days after exiting the NFL playoffs. Clark Hunt, John Dorsey, and Andy Reid have all gushed over Smith’s 2013 performance. There’s a groundswell of support for the nine-year veteran at One Arrowhead Drive, but does that constitute a need to extend his right now? Chiefs Kingdom is divided over the issue.

Some think Alex Smith is approaching his ceiling in the NFL. Others wonder if he’s the man capable of leading the organization to the promised land after more than 40 years in the league’s wilderness. There are those who believe he’ll never be anything more than a game manager. For them, it’s entirely obvious that Smith should play out his contract. We have Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel to thank for that trepidation.

Here’s the thing — the situation with Matt Cassel was different. He was extended before he ever played a down for the team. Smith just turned in the best single-season performance of his career as a member of the Chiefs. In 2013, I happen to think he made a case for hanging onto the job for the foreseeable future. The smart play is to offer him an early extension. That should prove to be more cost-effective than taking these negotiations into the new season. If Smith were to lead the team back to the postseason or log another productive season, he’ll hold all of the cards when free agency rolls around. Do the Chiefs really want to have to compete with the rest of the league to retain him?

Smith’s detractors will argue that his limitations on the field trump any potential benefit that could come from an early extension. If you frequent our comment section here at AA, I’m sure you’ve heard all of the objections to Kansas City hitching its red-and-yellow wagon to Alex Smith. Let’s explore the most common reasons why members of the Kingdom oppose the idea of AS11 (as he’s affectionately called in some circles) being a long-term solution for the team.

1. He can’t throw the deep ball.

This is likely the criticism most often leveled upon Smith. I’m not entirely sure it’s baseless. Alex Smith doesn’t have what most would consider a strong NFL arm, but that’s a bit misleading. The ability to throw long effectively isn’t solely dependent upon arm strength. There are a number of inaccurate, rifle-armed quarterbacks who can effortlessly push a ball 50 yards up the field. Many of them do so only to have those passes land in the hands of the opposite team. So just how good is Smith when it comes to the vertical passing game? I’m glad you asked.

According to Pro Football Focus metrics, Alex Smith was 5th in the league in deep ball accuracy. He wasn’t called upon to throw the deep ball very often (a scant 7.7% of the time last season), but that can be attributed to a budding offensive system that needed time to come together. Where he did throw a pass that traveled 20 or more yards down the field, he was efficient. Smith completed 52.9% of those passes in 2013. In this particular category, he finished the year ahead of Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles, and Geno Smith. The best deep ball passer in the league was Russell Wilson (who completed 60% of his deep throws).

Based on statistical information compiled and analyzed by Sporting Charts, his percentage of air yards was among the lowest in the league. Air yards are defined as the “the total distance that a football is thrown beyond the line of scrimmage to the point of reception.” Of Smith’s 3,313 passing yards, only 44.6% of them were through the air. That means that over half of all of his passing yards were actually yards after the catch. He was 3rd in the league in this category.

Before you grab your pitchfork, consider the company Smith was in last year. Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Nick Foles, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, and Andy Dalton all had YAC totals that exceeded 50%. In fact, there are only about 5 percentage points that separate the best and worst quarterbacks of this group.