When assessing the Kansas City Chiefs’ acquisition of Alex Smith, let’s start with what he is not:
He’s not an aging and injured Joe Montana. Smith is not a stiff and mediocre Steve Bono. Smith shouldn’t be compared to an unproven Elvis Grbac or an unworthy Matt Cassel. Let’s don’t even analogize Smith to Trent Green, who was 31 years old when he arrived in KC and strung together five mostly successful seasons.
Alex Smith is quite different from the usual parade of retreads brought to my adopted hometown to make Chiefs fans forget Len Dawson.
Unlike Montana (3rd round), Bono (6th), Grbac (8th), Green (8th) and Cassel (7th), Smith is a former No. 1 overall pick, a blue-chipper, coming to Kansas City in the absolute prime of his career. In his last 28 games, including the playoffs, Smith has thrown 35 touchdown passes and just five interceptions, come within two Kyle Williams turnovers of a Super Bowl appearance and completed an astonishing 70.2 percent of his passes in the 2012 regular season.
Alex Smith, age 28, is worth a second-round pick this season and a conditional pick next year. This is an excellent trade for the 49ers and the Chiefs.
Many Chiefs fans are disappointed. They see the acquisition of Smith as a continuation of the same-old pattern, a reluctance by the Hunt family to draft and develop their own franchise quarterback, a preference to ineptly scavenger hunt for a quick fix at the NFL’s most important position.
I don’t blame Chiefs fans. The Chiefs haven’t selected a QB in the first round since the incredible John Elway-Jim Kelly-Dan Marino, six-QBs-in-the-first-round 1983 draft. KC, picking 7th overall, grabbed Todd Blackledge, the only member of the infamous six to never be his franchise’s primary starter. Kelly, Marino, Tony Eason and Ken O’Brien were all drafted after Blackledge, who washed out of the league after 46 games, 29 starts, 29 TDs, and 38 INTs.
Blackledge left a scar.
When the Chiefs unveil the No. 1 overall pick this year (or trade it), it will mark the 30-year anniversary of their first-round QB drought. Given the importance of the position, it’s one of the most stupefying runs in all of sports. It’s the equivalent of operating a whorehouse and forbidding the madam from hiring women with daddy issues.
You’re not putting the Bunny Ranch out of business with a stable of girls from strong two-parent families, and it’s nearly as difficult to consistently contend for the Super Bowl with another team’s leftover QB.
Chiefs fans are justifiably frustrated, and some would prefer that owner Clark Hunt and general manager John Dorsey take a flyer on Geno Smith or Matt Barkley somewhere in Rounds 1, 2 or 3. Chiefs fans want their RG3 or Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson. They desperately want a decade-long solution at QB, and their anger over not getting one this season is clouding their perspective.
The bitterness and angst are causing Chiefs fans and many in the local media to judge Smith much too harshly. The focus on Smith is also causing fans, local media and national media to miss what I believe is the real story.
Andy Reid is the man who should be under intense pressure in Kansas City.
If Alex Smith is a failure in KC, Reid should take the fall.
Jim Harbaugh turned Smith into an elite quarterback. The word “elite” is not an exaggeration. Smith’s performance in his last 28 appearances back up my claim. Thirty-five TDs and 10 INTs is elite. A 20-6-1 record in his last 27 starts back up my claim. A completion percentage of 70.2 in 2012 is elite.
Yes, San Fran’s defense had a lot to do with its success. Yes, San Fran’s running game had a lot to do with Smith’s success. Yes, Harbaugh decided he had a better quarterback than Smith and replaced him with Colin Kaepernick.
So what? It doesn’t change what Smith accomplished. Tom Brady’s ascension did not nullify Drew Bledsoe’s accomplishments. Bledsoe quarterbacked a New England team to the Super Bowl.
Being inferior to Kaepernick doesn’t mean Smith can’t win the biggest games. He can. As Harbaugh proved, Smith simply needs to be placed in the right formula. Give him a ground game and a complementary play-action-pass game and Smith can be as effective as any QB in the league.
Will Andy Reid give Smith a ground game? That’s the question that must be asked and answered. Reid hates to run the football. He wasted LeSean McCoy and exposed Michael Vick to unnecessary danger in Philadelphia. Will Reid do the same things to Jamaal Charles and Smith in Kansas City?
No matter how much the league slants the rules to favor the passing game, a patient and sound running game is always going to be a QB’s best friend. The difference and distance (and difficulty) between third-and-5 and third-and-10 is so much more than five yards.
Smith has to be pampered a bit, but it’s worth pampering a quarterback who can deliver a ball accurately more than 70 percent of the time. Smith is an ascending player. He’s playing the best football of his life.
If Chiefs fans want to compare Smith to a previous KC quarterback, choose Rich Gannon. He was 33 years old, a backup, a fan and locker-room favorite and a late-blooming, ascending player when the Hunts let him escape to Oakland. Jon Gruden placed Gannon in the right formula and created a league MVP.
Andy Reid is allegedly a “great” coach. Can he do what “great” coaches do — put ascending players in the right formula?