(ed. note: This is cross-posted at Ditka in a Box.)
With 2012, the chapter was closed on a Kansas City Chiefs lesson the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos already learned: Hiring someone from Bill Belichick’s crew to run your personnel department results in terrible talent evaluation and decision more often than not made for ego gratification as for putting the best team on the field. Kansas City fired GM Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel at the end of 2012, a 2-14 team season where the team’s six Pro Bowl players only served to underscore just how bad the rest of the roster had gotten under Pioli (and how completely disengaged Crennel had become from his job).
Owner Clark Hunt moved quickly: He hired Andy Reid as soon as reasonably possible and plucked John Dorsey from Green Bay’s scouting department to be his GM. The two men, both possessed of solid credentials, went straight to work building the team in their image.
Now, any team with new management is going to make moves to bring in players they like, particularly when the team’s previous season was as disastrous as Kansas City’s. But Kansas City made what I feel is a major mistake. They clearly needed an upgrade at quarterback, where Matt Cassel was hideous in a “shouldn’t be on an NFL roster” kind of way last season (although still better than Joe Webb, apparently), and Brady Quinn showed nothing when given a chance to start. Needing to replace the most important position on the field, the team traded their second-round pick this year, #34 overall, and a third-round pick in 2014 (that could become a second-round pick if certain incentives are met) to the San Francisco 49ers for the now-benched Alex Smith.
This price is similar to the price Houston paid for Matt Schaub and Arizona paid for Kevin Kolb in trade. One of those trades worked out, one didn’t; I bring them up because they differed from the Smith trade in one very significant manner: Schaub and Kolb still had growth potential. Schaub was 26, had been with Atlanta for three years, and thrown a total of 161 passes. Kolb was 26 (he would turn 27 shortly before the season) and a fourth-year veteran who had thrown 319 passes. Given the two players’ age, experience level, and stretches of promising play, it was reasonable to expect they still had room to develop into good quarterbacks.
Alex Smith had been with San Francisco seven years, is about to turn 29, and has thrown 2,177 passes. He is not going to grow. He is what he is: A quarterback who can be moderately effective in a system that doesn’t depend on him and hides his weaknesses. His most recent season was his best, but it was also buoyed by San Francisco’s offensive line, running game, and receiving talent (and, to be sure, Jim Harbaugh’s coaching). If you’re going to use a second- and a third-round pick on a QB, you’d better hope you have confidence he can be a long-term starter.
Smith is a stopgap starter, and this price is far too much to pay for him. Consider that there are maybe as many as nine QB prospects who could be drafted in the first three rounds. Geno Smith is guaranteed to go in the first round; several others have a shot, but it’s hard to say if they will at this point. The next four, and the group of QBs most likely to produce a pick in the first round, are Matt Barkley, Matt Glennon, Ryan Nassib, and E.J. Manuel. And beyond these five, there’s Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray, Matt Scott, and Landry Jones (and maybe even Zac Dysert if you want to stretch it, to say nothing of potential late-round picks or UDFAs like Sean Renfree and Ryan Griffin). Why not use that second-round pick on one of these guys and then sign a stopgap, like Matt Moore or (when he gets cut by the Raiders) Carson Palmer? And if you don’t like any of these guys in the draft, the #34 pick should still be able to land a player, on balance, who is an above-average starter. Surely the Chiefs could use one of those.
Wait, they did go out and sign a QB in free agency: Saints backup Chase Daniel received a 3-year, $10 million deal from the Chiefs. That’s an awfully expensive contract for a guy you want to be a backup. Why would you sign him and then trade for Smith? Now if you take a QB in the draft, he’ll be the #3 guy at best.
This trade is all the more baffling when you consider that John Dorsey, in spite of his thoughts that no QBs in this draft are worth a first-round pick, has been scouting Geno Smith and saying good things about him. If they take him #1 overall, this trade is a disaster.
I feel like Kansas City panicked and gave up too many resources for a very limited player, and while Smith could perform reasonably if the team builds around Jamaal Charles and the running game, that’s the best-case scenario. (And Andy Reid has repeatedly demonstrated in the past that the strength or effectiveness of his running game is no reason not to call pass plays 75% of the time.)
Beyond that, the Chiefs haven’t done too much exciting. They cut Eric Winston, a move I don’t particularly understand, although it should clear the way for them to draft Luke Joeckel #1 overall. Winston is still an above-average right tackle who is particularly good in a zone running scheme; more bizarrely, no one has taken a look at him. (The Texans had a huge hole there after they cut him– perhaps they could bring him back?) They franchised Branden Albert and re-signed Dwayne Bowe, thus retaining two of their most talented players, although neither one is without flaws. They also added Dunta Robinson and Seam Smith to the secondary, which should give them three reasonably talented cornerbacks behind #1 guy Brandon Flowers, depending on how they feel about Javier Arenas. This is a significant improvement over last season, when Scott Pioli let Brandon Carr walk because he thought Flowers’ ego might be hurt if Carr got a big contract (which suggest, more than anything, that Pioli’s ego would be hurt if he were in that situation), and then signed Stanford Routt, who was so bad the team straight-up cut him after seven games. They signed Donnie Avery, but I don’t think he’s any good. Geoff Schwartz should provide nice depth on the offensive line.
Of course, if Smith leads the team to ten wins and a playoff berth, Reid and will look like geniuses. Then again, Cassel did that in 2010, and the franchise thought so much of Todd Haley’s work that they fired him midway through the next season.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ offseason has been defined by one major acquisition, the Alex Smith trade. While the team could still produce results, I think the trade and the thought process behind it were mistaken, and I’ll continue to think so short of a dominant regular season. This team was bound to perform better than it did in 2012 with virtually no major changes; as it stands now, Smith may get a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve for “revitalizing” a floundering franchise if they catch some breaks and have a winning season. And that might set back the franchise’s long-term development even further.
Bad teams overpay for mediocre talent based on aberrant short-term results. Good teams build through the draft and aren’t fooled by variance. San Francisco now has the #31 and #34 picks in the draft, and I am sure they will find two good starters with them. After all, they found Colin Kaepernick, the guy who put Smith on the bench permanently, with the #36 pick overall in 2011. If only Kansas City had a pick in that range this year, they might be able to find their QB of the future as well.