Smith is going to have to give a little -- maybe a lot -- to make an extension work in KC
MAY 28, 2014 6:16p ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Of course Alex Smith isn't worth Jay Cutler money. Jay Cutler isn't worth Jay Cutler money.
None of that is No. 11's fault, per se. His agent, Tom Condon, has a job, and that job involves grabbing the Hunts by their wingtips, flipping them over, and shaking them soundly until the last nickel hits the pavement.
Smith will be 30 only once. The Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback is hardly in the winter of his career, but he is at the point in the calendar where the leaves start to turn in a year or two.
Still, $18 million can buy an awful lot of burnt ends.
Wednesday was Sticker-Shock Day for a lot of Chiefs fans, especially on social media. The root cause was a tweet by longtime NFL reporter Jason Cole:
So, hey, that sort of riled up the blood, especially when combined with this:
Only 26% of Alex Smith's passes travelled past the first down marker, lowest percentage in the league— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) May 27, 2014
And, that, basically, is the rub.
Welcome to a very, very conflicted week on the Smith-contract front, and it's not even Thursday yet. Andy Reid went on NFL Network and put on his best Chip Diller face, saying that all was well in terms of extension talks for No. 11, whose deal expires after this fall and whose $7.5 million base salary is in line for a sizable bump. Smith kind-of-sort-of vaguely echoed those sentiments Tuesday during a short, post-OTA interview.
"Absolutely. I do," the quarterback said. "But like I said, other than that, it's (about me) playing quarterback, and that stuff gets figured out."
Cut to Wednesday, when NFL Network's Ian Rapoport corroborated Smith's desire for Cutler-like money, and reported that the team might even pull out the franchise tag as a stopgap if talks remain stagnant. That report was then countered by someone else who has some fairly strong inside sources ...
Elizabeth Smith (@lizbsmith11)? Alex's wife.
Could be a long summer, kids.
Ultimately, though, the ball is in Smith's court. He knows the Chiefs overpaid Dwayne Bowe. He also knows the roster around him on Arrowhead Drive is good enough, at present, to contend for a postseason berth, more often than not -- if it can afford to keep the defense intact.
He knows he needs to give a little, if he wants to stay.
Because outside linebacker Justin Houston's deal is up, too. Slapping an exclusive franchise tag on Smith would reportedly mean a $16 million cap hit in 2015; doing the same with Houston would mean a cost of at least $11.4 million.
In a perfect world, you'd have room to pay Houston, Smith and safety Eric Berry, lock them up and keep them happy. But this is far from a perfect world, and a far from perfect system. Chances are, for general manager John Dorsey, it will be a question how to retain two of the three, for 2015 and beyond.
This is a coach-plus-quarterback league, a passing league, now more than ever. And your heart tells you Andy Reid can turn Aaron Murray or Chase Daniel into a playoff-caliber guy.
Then your head flashes back to visions of Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle. And you reach for the liquor cabinet.
No. 11 is, by any metric, a good quarterback. If you can't see that Smith runs circles around predecessor Matt Cassel, then you didn't watch much of the latter in 2011 and '12.
The Chiefs, of present, are in a comfortable place at quarterback, which beats the living hell out of the floor below it.
That said, they aren't running with one of the absolute, bound-for-Canton elites, either. As strong as is Smith's average approximate value rating of 12.5, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, over his last two healthy seasons (2011 and '13), that number still pales when compared to peers such as Peyton Manning (17.0), Tom Brady (15.5), Drew Brees (16.0), Tony Romo (13.5) and even Philip Rivers (13.0).
But it's also better than both Joe Flacco (10.0, but 9-4 as a starter, all-time, in the postseason) and Eli Manning (11.0, but 8-3, all-time, in the playoffs). And superior to Cutler (11.5, and just one playoff victory all-time).
With Smith and the Chiefs, the bottom line comes back to what it usually comes back to when things are right: the postseason. Is this the captain who can steer this ship to the promised land? Even that seems painfully inconclusive.
On one hand, Smith led an offense that lost Jamaal Charles on its first series to 44 points, on the road, in a playoff game. On the other, Smith had the ball in his hands on fourth-and-11 from the Colts' 43-yard line, a chance to make his own postseason magic, and failed to convert.
On one hand, Smith throws for 378 yards and four scores, single-game Chiefs playoff records. On the other, a loss is a loss is a loss; January for quarterbacks is less about statistics and more about victories and comebacks, not necessarily in that order.
Ah, yes. Another rub:
Since 2010, the Chiefs have been safe, and the Chiefs have been sorry. A Cutler-level extension could wind up making them feel like both.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.