How much pain will Chiefs, QB Alex Smith endure for a contract extension?

06/03/2014 6:35 PM

06/04/2014 10:45 AM

Alex Smith is a devoted father and a model philanthropist, so there is no judgment here about the little white lie he told Tuesday.

There is no profit in being the rich quarterback publicly demanding a rich new contract, so the Chiefs quarterback did what he could to deflect attention regarding the team’s most important personnel issue and one that is only growing in importance every day going forward.

No, Alex Smith said. He isn’t thinking about a contract extension and doesn’t care if one gets done before training camp.

“I haven’t given that a thought,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

Well, baloney. It does matter. And he has thought about it. Again: he’s smart to take this stance. But the rest of us can see what’s happening here and be honest about what’s coming if the Chiefs start training camp next month with their quarterback going into the last year of his contract. The rest of us can see that neither team nor quarterback wants that to happen.

We can see that it’s in the best interests of both Smith and the Chiefs to get something done, for reasons both practical and intangible.

So we can see that each side — even with strong mutual respect between Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and Tom Condon, the power agent representing Smith — is playing a game of chicken.

Right now, we are at the stage of various mixed signals being sent through various means but here’s the truth: Dorsey and Condon talked this week about Smith. There is effectively no progress on an extension to keep Smith in Kansas City beyond the $7.5 million he’s owed this year on the contract he came with from San Francisco. But that’s also entirely normal for this time of year.

There is a sense of creative optimism around the negotiations, each side firmly holding its ground now but well aware that the winds haven’t begun to pick up. The optimism is there because of that mutual respect and recognition that an extension is good for everyone. But at this point the optimism has to be considered creative because the talks aren’t serious, which means each side is digging in on what it perceives as fair value.

Nobody will say much, especially not publicly, but Smith is a starting quarterback negotiating an extension in an environment created in large part by Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matt Stafford.

It’s worth noting that Condon’s office also negotiated Romo’s and Stafford’s deals, and we all know that NFL contracts are much more complicated than a simple figure, but all three of those quarterbacks signed extensions for around $18 million. Those other quarterbacks have better arms and fantasy football stats (and receivers) than Smith, but none have won more games or thrown fewer interceptions. Smith’s passer rating and completion percentage are better than Stafford’s and Cutler’s over that time.

Numbers are only part of it, of course. The Chiefs have never paid anything close to that for a quarterback and are already operating close to the salary cap, so a big expenditure on Smith will hurt.

They have other options, but none of them are good. They could use the franchise tag, for instance, but at the very least could use it in negotiations to keep Justin Houston beyond this season. They think Aaron Murray is perfect for Andy Reid’s offense, but he’s also a fifth-round pick. The best prospects in next year’s draft are likely out of the Chiefs’ drafting range, bad fits for what they want, or both.

The Chiefs are already operating with a marginal group of receivers and a transitioning offensive line. Jamaal Charles is a superstar, but losing the quarterback without a better alternative would set them back. As we saw last year, this is already a team operating without a safety net.

At some point, Smith will probably have to move off the $18 million framework as well. He asked the 49ers to trade him to the Chiefs, and has told friends he appreciates the opportunity for stability. For everything the Chiefs lack on offense around Smith, he is immersed with coaches and a system that he knows he can thrive in. Over his final six games last season (including the playoffs), Smith threw for 1,542 yards with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. No quarterback in football rushed for more yards over that time, either.

So, each side benefits from the relationship, and each side would be diminished apart. That means that as the negotiations pick up in the coming weeks (and, perhaps, months) the whole thing will turn on how much each side focuses on what it has to gain compared with what it has to lose.

There is enough to gain that Smith and the Chiefs would both be short-sighted to let this drag on beyond training camp, and foolish not to make sure it gets done at some point.

If there is a hang-up, it will be that Smith and the Chiefs can both blind themselves with what the other side has to lose.

In other words, the Chiefs will almost certainly give Smith an extension, but the timing will depend on how much pain each side is willing to put up with to get there.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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