Feb 27, 2013
With the news coming down today that the Chiefs have agreed to a deal to acquire QB Alex Smith from the 49ers, and confirmed by two reporters who seemingly never get a story wrong (Adam Schefter and Jay Glazer), I thought this would make for a good first blog post of the 2013 season, even though the deal won’t be official for about two weeks, when the league year officially begins on March 12th.
New head coach Andy Reid is high on Smith, and I get it – to a point. Reid certainly knows a lot more about football than I do, but a Smith-Reid marriage does seem a little odd.
Let me first focus on the positives with Smith. Clearly, he’s a “professional” QB, and a guy a team can win with if the pieces around him are in place. He’s shown he can play well in big games. He’s mobile and fairly athletic, very efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over, and he has experience in the west coast offense. He’s a veteran, a good leader, he’s tough, he’s a gamer, etc.
The Chiefs reportedly gave up the 34th overall pick in the 2013 draft for Smith, plus a later pick (possibly a conditional pick). That seems high to me, since I do see a potential identity crisis with this pairing. We all know that Reid loves the forward pass, yet Smith is a guy who’s at his best when he’s being limited in an offense. Back in 2011, by far his best season, Smith for example averaged only 27.8 pass attempts per game, which was the second-lowest number for QBs who played every week that year. Smith isn’t a game-manager per se (whatever that is), but he’s at his best when he’s in an offense that focusses on the running game. San Fran was perfect for him in ’11 because of their extremely active running game but also their great defense. The Chiefs do have some promising players on defense, but unless Reid’s offense is going to undergo a seismic shift, asking Smith to drop back 35+ times per game seems like a shaky proposition. In 2012, Reid’s offense averaged 38.6 pass attempts per game, and that seems high for Smith. Smith’s arm isn’t very strong, and while he’s made some nice throws for the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh, a lot of them came on designed big plays against defenses that were more so gearing up to stop the run. He’s also in the past been considered a bit of a slow-blinker, and if you’re going to throw the ball 35+ times a game, a QB must have a great clock in his head and be able to process information quickly. Smith has improved in this area, but I’m not sure he’s a great fit for a pass-happy system.
The other element that seems odd here is how we know Reid loves the deep ball, and Smith clearly has a mediocre arm. Now, I’ve always felt that Reid adapted his offense to the strengths (and weaknesses) of his QBs, namely Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick, by implementing more of a deep ball passing game. Smith should be a good fit in a traditional WCO, but I do still think Reid loves the deep ball, and I don’t see Smith have a lot of success throwing the ball 30-40+ yards down the field. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of Smith completions in 2011 that traveled more than 35 yards in the air.
The conservative nature of the 2011 49er offense is shown by Smith’s ultra-low INT rate (1.1%, best in the league) and high sack rate (9.0%, worst among the QBs who played every game). Clearly, he was coached to minimize turnovers and eat the ball if necessary – the sack rate was his worst since his rookie year and his INT rate was a career best. That really doesn’t seem like a Reid QB. He also in 2011 registered a career best in completion percentage, 61.4%, and YPA 7.1, which were nothing special. Typically, Reid QBs are at about 8.0 yards per attempt, and I really don’t see Smith in that territory.
So again, I understand the move to upgrade the QB position, and Smith definitely represents one over the sluggish Matt Cassel, who will likely get cut. But you’ll have to excuse me for not getting too excited. Also, other than 2011, let’s be honest: Smith’s body of work in the NFL has been shaky.
However, I am excited for Jamaal Charles. I actually had a chance to ask Reid about Charles and how he fits into his offense at the combine last week. Reid gave a fairly generic answer and basically said Charles can fit into any system. But the look on his face clearly told me that he feels very fortunate to have the electrifying Charles on his side and that he’s going to give him the ball and let him loose. The acquisition of Smith clearly helps that cause and improves Charles’ value. With the efficient Smith at the helm, the coaches should not only be more consistently committed to the running game, but they should be able to run off more plays, since Smith rarely turns the ball over.
We’ll see about the UFA Dwayne Bowe, but this could also help in terms of his return. Reid was high on him when he came out of LSU six years ago, and Bowe could feel more inclined to stick with Reid in town and a QB upgrade in place in Smith. Also, with KC acquiring Smith it definitely means that QB Geno Smith is off the board for KC with the 1st overall pick. I would be shocked if Smith made it past Oak, Cle, Ari, and Buf, so Smith should still be a top-8 pick, so it’s not a tragedy for him. And finally, this move doesn’t help Nick Foles’ future fortunes. Another team could step in and trade for Foles, but Foles doesn’t appear to be a major player in Chip Kelly’s future plans, and the thought was that Reid could look to acquire him.
So to summarize the implications of Alex Smith the Chiefs, here’s a quick fantasy stock watch for their key players, including Smith:
Alex Smith – Upgrade, but still a lower-end backup
Matt Cassel – Downgrade; you can cut him now in your keeper league
Jamaal Charles – Definite upgrade
Dwayne Bowe – TBD, but slight upgrade if he sticks in KC
Tony Moeaki – Holding steady at worst
Jonathan Baldwin – Holding steady at worst