In a golden age for quarterbacks, Chiefs’ Alex Smith is well-positioned to get paid

01/11/2014 5:43 PM

01/11/2014 5:43 PM

The Chiefs are expected to make a run at re-signing Alex Smith

this offseason, and considering the season he just had and the compensation they gave up (two second-round picks), they really don’t have much of a choice.

Smith has just one year remaining on his contract for $7.5 million, and while the team could always let him play out the string and slap a franchise tag on him after the 2014 season, it’s a distraction the Chiefs probably don’t need. They have quarterback they like and believe they can win with, so why not try to get a deal done?

But before they proceed with a deal, the organization must first decide how much Smith is worth in a quarterback-friendly era. Due to recent the rule changes, there have never been more competent quarterbacks, at least statistically, in the league.

For instance, most rational people agree that Troy Aikman deserved to make the Hall of Fame. He was a great quarterback who led some great teams. But the man never threw more than 23 touchdown passes in a season. And twenty years ago, during the peak of Aikman’s era, Steve Young led the NFL with 29 touchdown passes, one of only four quarterbacks to throw more than 20 during the 1993 season.

But this year? There were 17 quarterbacks who threw 20 or more touchdowns, and 16 of them ― including Alex Smith ― threw 23 or more touchdowns, each matching or surpassing Aikman’s career-high, which he posted in 1992.

So while teams like Jacksonville, Minnesota, Houston, Cleveland, Oakland and the New York Jets can attest to the fact that finding a good quarterback isn’t necessarily a given these days, the passing stats that today’s quarterbacks are putting up are why ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer believes this is a golden age, of sorts, for quarterbacks.

“I’ve been saying this for years and I get laughed at by my buddies at ESPN sometimes, because then you go and you see Andy Dalton’s performance last week, or you see a bad performance (and say) how is this the golden age of quarterbacking when there’s all these bad performances?” Dilfer said.

But while the league has always had four or five elite quarterbacks ― and he puts Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees in that class ― Dilfer defends his stance by pointing out that there are more effective second-tier guys than ever. He mentioned Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson by name, but admitted the list stretches deeper than that.

“That group is 10, 12, 14 deep (with) guys that can really, really play,” Dilfer said. “I think the game is physically much easier to play than it’s ever been, and I think they (quarterbacks) would say that (is true) because you can’t reroute receivers, you can’t hit receivers and you can’t hit quarterbacks ... that’s a big deal.”

But Dilfer also made it clear that modern quarterbacks do have it tougher in other ways. Not only is there more exposure and scrutiny than ever, but the demands of the position are borderline ridiculous.

“Mentally, it’s 10 (times) harder to play the quarterback position than it’s ever been,” Dilfer said. “And this is talking off the record to some of these old ’80s, early ’90s quarterbacks that had a lot of success. They can’t believe what these quarterbacks are doing at the line of scrimmage, what they’re responsible for, how much information they’re processing.

“I mean, take Colin Kaepernick. He goes to the line of scrimmage with basically a three-play option every play and he’s in his third year. That’s an enormous amount of information that he has to digest ― the different fronts, coverage patterns, techniques, situations, getting the play and then communicating the play. These guys are being asked to do a ton and they’re thriving with it.”

With so many quarterbacks putting up big numbers, Dilfer separates them by their performance in critical moments, like third down and in the red zone and at the end of halves and games.

“(It’s) the game-management stuff people make fun of,” Dilfer said, “but as Steve Young ― not Trent Dilfer, but Hall of Famer Steve Young ― will tell you, game management is 85 percent of the game. (That’s coming from) one of the ultimate playmakers of all-time.”

The Chiefs’ Smith isn’t a fan of the term “game manager,” something he’s been labeled due to his risk-averse nature. But ESPN analyst Louis Riddick says his ability to take care of the football, in addition to the improvements he made as a playmaker, may just get him paid this offseason, even in an era that boasts more competent passers than ever.

“Is he considered to be someone like Drew and Peyton and Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers? No,” said Riddick, Philadelphia’s former director of pro personnel. “He’s always been considered someone who is a level or two below (those guys) because of the type of offenses he played in, which have not been as quarterback-centric.

“But I would try hard to re-sign him if everything else is to their liking, which I have not heard a single negative about him as far as him being anything other than what they thought he would be.

“Yeah, I think he’s more than good enough to get them to the big game. I do.”

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