Derrick Johnson done? Alex Smith playing great

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) sits on field after an injury during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs might have seen the last snap out of Derrick Johnson, while Alex Smith is providing hope with his recent play.

Amongst the joy and celebration of the victory of the Chiefs victory over the Raiders on Thursday night was the season-ending injury to Derrick Johnson. As we viewed Johnson laying on the cold grass of Arrowhead on Thursday, we need to understand and explore the possibility that Johnson’s time with the Chiefs has come to an end.

This offseason, the Chiefs will have to make some difficult decisions on who to bring back and who will have to be let go. Combined with the above and the 2018 offseason, the Chiefs have real issues with the salary cap. Johnson is due a salary of $7.75 million next season, which, if healthy, would be no issue. But facing the prospect that Johnson could be facing close to a year of recovery and rehab, which would put him out for, likely, at least half of the 2017 season.

Carrying $7.75 million against the cap for a player whose contributions will be limited to possibly nothing next season is a tough situation. The Chiefs may be forced to make a move with Johnson in order to get under the cap. While a simple releasing of D.J. saves the Chiefs very little to nothing, if they were to designate him as a June 1 cut, that would save the Chiefs $4 million against the cap.

While you certainly can’t simply snap your fingers and replace a player like D.J. (he’s a Chiefs Hall of Famer for a reason) the team does have serviceable to good depth at the position. Ramik Wilson is playing inspired football right now, and D.J. Alexander appeared to do decently well while getting snaps against the Raiders. Combined with the return of Justin March next season, and you have bodies at the position. With the return of Daniel Sorensen and the (likely) return of Eric Berry next season, you at a minimum have safeties who have experience playing close to the line of scrimmage.

Questions of just how effective D.J. would be when he does return. Achilles injuries can hinder a players effectiveness quickly, especially players over the age of 30. While D.J. obviously came back strong from the first injury, the concern of what D.J.’s play looks like is something that will need to be viewed and pondered.

There’s also a question, that while it needs to be asked certainly don’t believe it’s likely, if Johnson doesn’t want to go through the rehab and recovery required to get back on the field. Just turning 34, Johnson is ‘old’ in football terms, and the prospect of a grueling rehab to get on the field, he may simply choose to ride off into the sunset.

Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) passes against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Alex Smith has played possibly the best football of his career, and yes he’s showing to be effective. All that being said, yes, the Chiefs top draft need is quarterback.

I believe it’s a moot point about whether the Chiefs should keep Smith or backup Nick Foles. Smith is the guy. That will leave Smith and never-used third-stringer Tyler Bray as the only quarterbacks set on the roster for next season. Considering the team thought so much of Bray they went and signed Foles to be the backup, one must truly wonder what the front office thinks of Bray’s future.

As I’ve mentioned before, Smith’s contract only has $7.2 million in guarantees after this season, and you can be sure that Smith’s agents are already working the Chiefs to get a new contract, one that ensures Smith gets paid.

Drafting a quarterback, and high (none of this late-round flyer BS anymore) allows the Chiefs to have a ‘competition’ for the backup spot to Smith in 2017 while giving the team options to replace Smith in 2018. When multiple impact players have increasing salaries in 2017 and 2018, the Chiefs will be forced into either replacing Smith or replacing impact players such as Justin Houston.

This is a deep and talented roster that returns numerous impact players, so the organization can afford to get aggressive and get a quarterback. Combined with the fact they don’t ‘need’ the quarterback to play early, being able to bring along the quarterback slowly is a valuable option.

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