The Chiefs did the only thing they could and Alex Smith did the only thing he should. The marriage of team and quarterback was always so obviously beneficial to both sides that a contract extension was viewed more as when and how much, than if.
The answer came Sunday evening, The Star’s Terez Paylor first reporting a four-year extension that will begin in 2015 and pay Smith at least $45 million.
Smith is already rich, having made more than $50 million in a wild career and had the leverage to make sure the Chiefs paid him more than they were initially intending. He’ll make $17 million a year, the going rate for the kind of quarterbacks teams build around when they don’t have a superstar like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees.
The Chiefs had already invested two second-round draft picks to trade for Smith and then watched him take to coach Andy Reid’s offense. If the defense would’ve been merely awful instead of atrocious, Smith’s 378 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions at Indianapolis would’ve made him the first quarterback in 20 years to win a playoff game for the Chiefs.
Smith wanted to get something done, too. He’s had eight offensive coordinators in 10 NFL seasons, and just when he felt he was establishing himself in San Francisco he suffered a concussion and lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick. He always had something of a long-distance, mutual admiration with Reid. The trade to Kansas City meant stability, finally. Signing this extension makes it official.
So this was going happen, always. For reasons both personal and practical. The real impact is in what this means for one of Smith’s teammates — a critical benefit for the Chiefs that makes them better for at least the next three seasons.
Because by signing Smith, the Chiefs now have the leverage in their other high-profile negotiation, this one with star linebacker Justin Houston. The NFL’s team-friendly CBA allows the Chiefs to pay Houston the $1.4 million guarantee from his rookie contract this year, then around $12 million or $13 million next year and around $14 million or $15 million in 2016 under the franchise tag.
And that’s if he stays healthy and stays on his current star-track.
By signing his own extension, Smith changed the entire context of Houston’s negotiations. Now, Houston could be deciding between $29 million or so tops with no guarantees over the next three years, or, if he signs an updated version of Tamba Hali’s contract, around $35 million or $40 million fully guaranteed.
The Chiefs will likely present that to Houston as a pretty easy decision.
In that way, by signing for his own riches and the stability he always wanted, Smith not only allowed the Chiefs to lock up their quarterback for the next five years — he made it more likely and easier for the Chiefs to lock up one of the game’s great young pass rushers.
There are other factors at work here, too, just looking at Smith. The Chiefs will catch some criticism from folks who don’t see Smith’s very-good-but-not-great profile worth the big investment. But this contract wouldn’t happen without Reid’s approval, and the Chiefs are paying Reid a lot of money to make the right decisions on both picking and developing quarterbacks. This is the coach’s guy, so the organization is supporting both coach and quarterback here.
Toward that end, the Chiefs need to back up this investment with help for Smith. The receivers and offensive line are mediocre at best, and the team has to know how it will play if their new big-money quarterback struggles because he’s surrounded by Jamaal Charles and a bunch of meh.
So the Chiefs have a stable quarterback for the first time since Trent Green, and Alex Smith has a stable situation for the first time in his football life. But the real impact of Smith’s contract, beyond what it does for his own mind and bank account, comes in the dominoes it sets off.
The team should be even more motivated now to give Smith help to succeed. And the front office is in an even better position to sign their most important defensive player long-term.