An interesting new column up over at ESPN has Alex Smith playing with another AFC West team in the near future, but not as near as you might think
I have to admit one thing up front: I have no idea of Dan Graziano’s track record of predictions, and it takes a bit of guts and effort to put something comprehensive like his latest ESPN column together. That said, his future plans for the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs is not only “just a bit outside” as you might say in baseball but it’s downright laughable.
Before we dissect his words, let’s take a closer look at his goal. Graziano’s column is predicting every team’s 2020 starting quarterback. That’s a fun exercise and I actually wish I’d thought of it. The Chiefs will certainly be in the midst of the Patrick Mahomes era, but… well, actually I’m getting ahead of myself because Graziano has words for that, too, and we need to take this one step at a time. To begin, let’s read what he says about the Broncos:
"When the Chiefs let Smith walk after 2019, the Broncos (still vainly attempting to replace Peyton Manning with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and 2018 draft pick Luke Falk) snatch him up to see what he has left at age 36."
Within the first eight words, there’s already some head-shaking on my part and I’m assuming for many of you reading this at the same time, so let’s dissect it into all of its incorrect (or ridiculous) parts.
Walk or trade?
Alex Smith will not walk. If the Chiefs let Alex Smith leave of his own accord, when his contract is up, they will not receive anything in return for a starting quarterback currently having one of the best overall seasons by ANY quarterback in the NFL (and who is being considered among the MVP candidates after 9 games).
When you have a rarest of assets (an expendable, proven NFL starting quarterback), you make sure to receive the maximum return on that jewel that you can. Teams pay through the nose for the chance to find a winner, and despite his age, Smith is a proven winner with a lot left in the tank, which means the Chiefs will find a haul they like and pull the trigger in a trade.
If the Chiefs waited until after 2018 when Smith could walk, the most they would get in return is a compensatory pick after the third round. Surely they can get more than that if they proceed with thing one year in advance. Speaking of…
The timing is wrong
Graziano has Smith with the Chiefs in 2018. For a team that’s already against the salary cap threshold for next year, Smith’s exit is an important strategy not only for restocking lost draft assets but also creating cap space. Smith is going to count over $20 million next year, and if the Chiefs believe Patrick Mahomes can be ready after a full year sitting behind Smith, then they need to make the move for the financial picture as well.
It’s possible that plenty of other space can be created with the assumed exits/restructuring of Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and other veterans, but Smith is the biggest financial relief available to the team. It’d be silly to let him play another year if Mahomes is ready. Then again if he’s not, Graziano could be right. But those are long odds.
If you’re a Denver Broncos fan, can you really live with this for one more year? Can you really be talked into Paxton Lynch’s potential for another season? This whole scenario makes zero sense.
John Elway has already messed up this entire process by not allowing Paxton Lynch to learn on the fly. He, or his coaches, stuck him behind the incredibly low ceiling of Trevor Siemian, a known commodity that will never lead any team anywhere at this point. If he’s healthy, every game that Lynch is not starting from here on out for the Broncos is one more game in which the Broncos are showing incompetent leadership. They simply have to find out what you have with Lynch.
So Graziano predicts the Broncos will draft Luke Falk, giving another high round pick to the quarterback position. That’s good. Very good. Not good for the rest of the AFC West, but it’s what Elway and company needs to do. Per Graziano, the Broncos will have Lynch, Chad Kelly and Luke Falk—three young talented players who all bring their strengths and potential to the table. If you’ve gotta roll the dice, that’s not a bad lot to try for a year.
But then why would the Broncos then bring in Alex Smith one year later? Does that not seem ridiculous to allow a rookie to find his footing and turn in a rookie year only to pull him one season into his starting career for the sake of going with a 36-year-old Alex Smith?
Even if Smith is good by then, what are the Broncos thinking? Are those Broncos still trying to milk what they can get from a Super Bowl winning defense from several seasons prior?
If the Broncos go with this approach described by Graziano, the fan base has every right to revolt and tear down any/all statues or plaques around Mile High that celebrate John Elway.
The bottom line
I should have written this column, but it’s my fault for not bringing it up. The reality is that the Broncos making a play for Alex Smith in 2018 makes all kinds of sense, at least from Denver’s side, if they do want to make a final run with the championship pieces left in place (and another draft class to add some youth). Whether or not the Chiefs would want to trade Smith to a team that would meet them twice/year is another issue, but if the Broncos want Smith, they could likely pay the right price and enjoy the benefits of an instant answer at the position.
However, the Broncos would again be sinking draft assets (to the Chiefs, for that matter) for a short-term fix at the position. Instead, Graziano might be right to suggest drafting a Falk (or other such prospect) and letting the young players duke it out. The Broncos have slipped to the bottom of the division and need to face the future.
Then again, if they want to do what Graziano suggested, more power to them. It feels good, as Chiefs fans, to see our favorite team at the top.