Alex Smith trade: What we learned about the Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Quarterback Alex Smith
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6: Quarterback Alex Smith /

The Alex Smith trade leaked late on Tuesday night taught us a lot about the Kansas City Chiefs at this point. Here’s a rundown of the lessons learned.

The tea leaves said that Alex Smith was leaving Kansas City. From the Chiefs investment in Patrick Mahomes to the rookie’s readiness at season’s end to the need for cap space, it simply made too much sense for the Chiefs to try to recoup some assets for their starting quarterback despite the need for teams to have as much security as possible at the position.

Still questions lingered. Could the Chiefs potentially keep both Mahomes and Smith around for another year? Was Mahomes really ready? Could the Chiefs really let Smith leave after a career year? It made sense, yes, but it wasn’t a slam dunk.

Or maybe it was.

On Tuesday night, word leaked that a deal had been made. In fact, Smith had not only been traded away by the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins, but Smith had even reached agreement on a shiny new four-year extension. With several days to go before the Super Bowl, the Chiefs have already taken care of the biggest question mark of the offseason.

It’s not only a shocker of a deal in its substance but its also a surprise in its timing. But taking a step back from it all—the timing, the haul, the decisions—says a lot about the Chiefs new front office. Let’s take a closer look.

No More Drama

Mary J. Blige sang it best: “No more drama!” Perhaps general manager Brett Veach has been blasting the song on repeat because his decision to jump the gun on everyone else’s preseason plans and take an early deal says quite a bit even in terms of where it falls in the news cycle.

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This deal could have waited until after the Super Bowl. The Chiefs could have peddled this particular offer around the NFL to see if others were interested (we’ll discuss this in a moment). They could have played chicken with the market. They had every reason to let this decision linger and instead they did the opposite.

A team only acts this quickly for two reasons: 1.) they love the offer (again, we will get there) and/or, 2.) they are tired of the drama.

At the very least, this is a signal that Veach controls the weather at Arrowhead, and his required forecast for the offseason was “no clouds.” Last year, both Mahomes and Smith knew it was cloudy and for good reason. Smith was given a final season to showcase his wares (and earn some big money in the process) and Mahomes was going to learn. Despite the dual presence, the Chiefs did their best to minimize any quarterback controversy.

One year later, they could do no such thing. If it even looked like Smith could linger, questions would be asked. Yes Smith had a career year but the Chiefs were simultaneously bounced early in the postseason. Imagine the constant barrage of questions asking about the starting quarterback position—at the Combine, at the draft, at OTAs.

Instead, Veach shouted into a megaphone loud and clear: “Let there be no doubts that Patrick Mahomes is our man. The quarterback succession plan is over. Smith is out. Mahomes is in. Let’s move on into a drama free offseason together.”

Fuller House

The Chiefs front office had all offseason to survey what they might be able to get for Alex Smith in a trade. My assumption is that they had a given range of what they were looking for, some sort of understanding that if a trade haul included a certain quality/quantity of draft assets or active players, they would make their move.

The fact that Veach didn’t hold Washington hostage by pausing the trade long enough to pass it around like an offering plate to see if anyone else wanted to trump it tells me that the Redskins offered something very, very pleasing to Veach’s eyes.

Given that Smith just enjoyed a career year and the need for several teams to have a proven product at quarterback, it would have been completely understandable for Veach to shop that offer around. It’s expected that Veach would have called up 10-12 other teams long enough to say, “Hey look, I can get a third and a nice young corner. Whatcha got?”

Except he didn’t. Or maybe he did and we just don’t know, but this whole thing has happened so fast that, at the very least, Veach made a quick survey in the world’s fastest conference call. These things normally take time. The NFL is still a month away from the NFL Combine, let alone free agency and then the NFL Draft. Veach could have held onto his asset as long as he wanted to wait until the perfect time to strike—picture a key preseason injury, for example.

Veach didn’t wait at all here. Veach said yes faster than anyone expected. Our heads are still spinning from the news itself.

Perhaps that’s because Washington offered a deal that triggered an auto-response, one so good that you don’t even give it the chance to change or, worse yet, slip away.

It certainly sounds that way. Kendall Fuller is a bright young cornerback, an affordable 22-year-old who just enjoyed a breakout season at the Chiefs biggest area of need. It’s a marriage made in heaven just looking at the player alone. If you add in a third round choice to the mix, the Chiefs now have another Top 100 player in the upcoming draft after having lost their first round pick already. That’s now another affordable impact player and a young starter for an asset that was out the door anyway.

Veach is no rookie

By all accounts, Brett Veach is off to a very, very nice start as the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. He bought low on Reggie Ragland who now looks like the future in the middle of the team’s defense. He found a hidden gem in Kevin Pierre-Louis lingering on Seattle’s bench. He signed Harrison Butker off of the Panthers practice squad.

Veach has proven that he’s not afraid to make a move when he likes it and that he follows his own set of rules, a code of conduct that doesn’t necessarily abide by typical NFL norms (such as overpricing draft assets). The return and timing here show Veach is decisive, well-informed and not afraid to trust his instincts (and the people around him).

That’s very good news. No one would have faulted Veach for taking his time with Smith as he felt things out. Instead, Veach looks like the decisive old pro at work.

Not every move is going to work out, but if this style and substance is going to be the mark of every trade and draft choice, the Chiefs are likely going to be in very good hands for some time. This was the biggest test for Veach this offseason, and at least on paper, he aced it.