Another quarterback somewhere between average and Aaron Rodgers has another new contract, and the initial takeaway from some is that Alex Smith must be next.
Don’t fall for it.
The Bengals have Andy Dalton for up to six years, and even if there are differences to be worked out — Smith is better, Dalton younger — the immediate reaction by a lot of Chiefs fans is that a new contract for Smith just got a lot easier.
Don’t believe it.
As it happened, the news of Dalton’s deal broke shortly before Smith’s previously scheduled talk with reporters here Monday afternoon.
“To be honest I had no idea they were even talking or that was happening,” he said. “I just found out walking off the field, just to give me a heads up because I’d probably be asked about it. But I don’t know anything about it. I’m focused on camp.”
That’s more than the easy thing to say for Smith. It’s also symbolic for how much Dalton’s deal means for his:
Tom Condon, Smith’s agent, has a mutual respect with Chiefs general manager John Dorsey but didn’t earn his reputation as one of the NFL’s top agents by letting his clients go for cheap. Dorsey already invested two second-round picks to trade for Smith, but the Chiefs are short on cap room and Dorsey has a reputation for not budging off what he believes is fair value.
If anything, Dalton’s deal will end up being an obstacle in Smith’s negotiations if the Chiefs try to use it as framework.
As with all NFL contracts, the important stuff is in the details, particularly the guarantees and out clauses. Dalton’s deal was initially reported as six years and $115 million, but realistically is two years and $25 million guaranteed with a series of one-year deals and bonuses after that.
Colin Kaepernick’s deal with the 49ers is another you might expect to be used in Smith’s negotiations. Kaepernick’s contract is particularly complicated, initially reported as up to $126 million and $61 million guaranteed. In real terms, he’s getting $28 million over the next two years and then it’s year-to-year.
You can debate the merits of each deal, but neither is likely to be used as a framework in Smith’s actual negotiations.
Dalton and Kaepernick were both playing on rookie contracts, for starters, with scheduled salaries less than $1 million this season. Smith comes into negotiations having already made more than $50 million, and guaranteed $7.5 million more this year. That’s a very different starting point.
This works on a few levels. Dalton and Kaepernick are getting life-changing money after making — relative to NFL quarterbacks — peanuts. Smith already has life-changing money, and by all indications has been responsible with it. So he doesn’t need the quick payday. Also, he values stability more than a guy coming off his rookie deal and isn’t likely to go for what is realistically only a two-year guarantee.
Those are both critical points, from Smith’s side.
You can expect Smith to want a deal more in line with Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford.
Cutler signed for $54 million guaranteed. Romo got $55 million guaranteed. Those are the last two veteran quarterbacks to sign extensions. We include Stafford in here for two reasons. Like Romo, his contract was done by CAA, which is Condon’s agency. And while Stafford was coming off his rookie contract, he was in the old system, which gave top picks far more money. Stafford signed for $41.5 million guaranteed in his contract extension.
The player is always the one who controls the negotiations, and Smith has indicated he’ll pick a date (almost certainly before the regular season starts) to stop talking contract and focus entirely on football.
And if you look at Condon’s history, his clients haven’t always signed in this situation. Two years ago, Drew Brees signed a $60 million guarantee after playing the previous season under the franchise tag. Condon’s negotiations with the Saints went heavy enough that Brees missed OTAs and threatened to hold out.
Smith isn’t as good as Brees, obviously, but the precedent means this isn’t a negotiation where the Chiefs know the other side will sign.
And as former agent and salary cap specialist Joel Corry points out, if you’re into precedents, the only big-money contract extension the Chiefs have done since Dorsey took over is a $26 million guarantee for Dwayne Bowe that was generally seen around the league as player-friendly even before the receiver underperformed last year.
On top of everything else, this is just one more reason that a negotiation initially viewed by many as friendly and mutually beneficial does not appear to have progressed further.
For the Chiefs, they have to weigh the benefit of signing a good (but not great) quarterback long-term against the risk of perhaps overpaying and missing the chance to develop their own.
For Smith, he must decide the draw of the stability he’s always sought and the value of playing for this team and coach against his perception of his value and the realization that this might be his last major contract.
There’s a lot to sift through, on both sides, which is why this eight-figure game of chicken continues into the week of the first preseason game.
No matter anything else, though, know this: the negotiation probably isn’t going anywhere if Dalton’s contract is seen as the framework for Smith.