Alex Smith: Will 2015 be a referendum on the Chiefs quarterback?

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Dec 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (left) looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Smith has the biggest cap hit on the Kansas City Chiefs roster (per Over The Cap), and is under contract through the 2018 season.

That is not surprising at first blush since Smith is the quarterback. That position commands a lot of attention, and is often paid accordingly. However, nobody attracts more controversy in the Chiefs Kingdom than Smith. And for the significant portion of the fan base that believes he was the main reason Kansas City’s offense was less than effective last season, those salary numbers are indefensibly high. And when I say less than effective, that may be an understatement.

According to ESPN, the Chiefs were ranked 25th or worse in total yards, passing yards, and passing yards per game. This was not entirely Smith’s fault. But he was the man under center, and there are any number of people who feel those statistics would have been better simply by having had someone else throwing passes.

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Of course, there are also plenty of fans who defend Smith and note that his lack of offensive production is likely the result of having spent so much of the season running away from opposing pass rushers who had little trouble breaking through a rather porous offensive line. Not to mention a lackluster set of wide receivers.

The whole debate has been something of a chicken or the egg sort of argument. Did the Smith fail the offense? Or did the rest of the offense fail Smith?

For an optimistic view of the quarterback, check out this article by fellow Arrowhead Addict writer Brandon Fry.

For the view that No. 11 still has to prove himself, look no further than Farzin Vousoughian of Bleacher Report. In a recent article, he had the following to say about the Chiefs’ quarterback:

"“[In 2014] Alex Smith received plenty of excuses from fans. Smith was sacked 45 times, tying for the fourth most in the league, while not being able to connect with a wide receiver in the end zone. With better offensive linemen and receivers, Smith has no excuses in 2015. He arguably has one of the best set of offensive players to work with and must take advantage of the talent around him.”"

I might take a certain amount of exception with the statement that Smith now has “one of the best set of offensive players to work with.” While I believe that the offensive has improved on the whole, I wrote just last week that much of that improvement is based on speculation about how a number of different players will produce in the coming year. This team could end up with an outstanding offensive set, but that is no certainty at this point in time.

However, that is not the point of this article. The thing that interests me from Vousoughian’s statement is the implication that if Smith “has no excuses in 2015” then this season will serve a referendum year for him.

That is a heck of a thing to suggest for a guy who played what is generally considered the most important position on the field for the first back-to-back winning seasons in years. A turnaround that came on the heels of an abysmal 2-14 season in 2012.

But supposing that Vousoughian is right that Smith has all the pieces around him needed to win, could this year be make or break for No. 11?

Next: Is 2015 the turning point for Smith?