When John Dorsey swung the trade to bring Alex Smith to Kansas City last offseason, he knew the price, which ended up being two second-round picks, was fairly steep.
However, for a man who prefers to build through the draft, it was an indicator of how important it is to have a quarterback in the NFL. And 10 months later, Dorsey couldn’t be happier with the deal, especially after watching Smith post a career season while leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance.
“He helped this organization move forward,” Dorsey said. “It’s everything we talked about. His leadership, his communication, his physical skills, guys believing in him ... he’s everything we expected.”
Now, Dorsey has another crucial decision to make this offseason regarding his quarterback, this time regarding his contract. Smith, 29, is coming off a regular season in which he completed 60.6 percent of his passes for a career-high 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, but only has one year remaining on a deal that will pay him approximately $7.5 million in 2014.
On Friday, Smith told WHB (810 AM) that neither he nor his agent, Tom Condon, have heard from the Chiefs about an extension. While Dorsey made it clear that while he doesn’t conduct business through the media, in a recent interview with The Star he reiterated his belief that having the right quarterback is a key component to any football team, and continues to like everything Smith brings to the table.
“We all know this is a quarterback-driven league,” Dorsey said. “Right now, what we’re doing, we’re actually doing hypotheticals to do the ‘what if’ game.
“We’ll have communications with his representatives and see what the process does.”
Provided the Chiefs do plan on extending Smith this offseason — and all signs seem to be pointing that way — it’s a strategy that ESPN football analyst and former Philadelphia director of pro personnel Louis Riddick understands.
While Riddick says Smith always has been considered a level or two below the likes of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and yes, Philip Rivers, his Smith’s performance over the last half of the season (particularly the Chiefs’ 45-44 playoff loss to the Colts, in which he completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, four touchdown and zero interceptions) should have opened some eyes.
“Is he good enough to still be able to play the position at a level where you could compete to go to the big game?” Riddick asked. “Absolutely. He did more than enough just this past week against Indianapolis to give you a chance to win. To score 40-plus points should win you a large, large, large majority of your football games.
“And it wasn’t just opportunistic short drives or drives off of just turnovers, even though some of them were of that nature. He was pushing the ball down the field accurately and making plays with his legs.”
That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have limitations. He often played too cautiously the first half of the season, as he routinely took few chances downfield and sometimes missed open receivers. His overall Pro Football Focus grade of negative-0.6 for the season, which ranks 24th among all quarterbacks who played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps, probably reflects that.
“You have to make sure you’re much more balanced as a team because he’s not of the skill level where he can consistently make everyone else better and raise their game,” Riddick said. “That’s not being hypercritical of him, that’s just an assessment of the situation for what it is, at least from my perspective. He had one real legit, consistent receiver this year in Dwayne Bowe. Give him some more weapons. Give him some more. And then, let’s see what happens.”
Riddick, however, added that it would be a real mistake to overlook the improvements Smith made during the course of the year, something his PFF grade of 6.7 over the last seven games also reflects.
“You saw as the year went on, he loosened up more and more as far as being willing to take chances and throw the ball down the field, which was a good concern of everybody’s in Kansas City at the beginning of the year,” Riddick said. “Well, I was one of the people who thought that as time goes on and he gets more comfortable, they’ll get it out of him. And they did.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid seems to think they will get even more out of Smith next season, largely due to his work ethic. In a recent radio interview with 810, Reid said Smith “is a kid you’ve got to kick out the building” and that the Chiefs are “very fortunate to have him in Kansas City.”
None of this surprises Riddick, who worked with Reid in Philadelphia from 2010 to 2013 and knows what Reid demands from his quarterbacks in his West Coast Offense. Riddick describes Smith’s intangibles as “A-plus, plus,” and says Reid has always liked him.
“I mean, he is like a computer,” Riddick said of Smith. “He can absorb as much information as you can pump into him and spit it back out just like you put it into him. Alex is brilliant when it comes to that, and it’s not a simple offense — it’s a full-blown West Coast offense that requires a lot of functional football intelligence from a quarterback. If you look at the West Coast playbook and you just read West Coast terminology as far as how they call plays, it is very, very, very, very wordy. A whole lot of verbiage. And it’s tough to remember, it’s tough.
“So to just get a play in your headset and regurgitate it to the players, remember all the different reads that come with every play — particularly a passing play — and be able to execute it to a level where you’re winning football games and scoring 40-plus points, you can’t be a dummy, you just can’t. I know, because I’ve seen the playbook, I’ve been on the headset with Andy Reid. You have to be football-smart, you have to be smart, period. Otherwise, it will blow you away.”
Riddick’s comments seem to jibe with Reid’s feelings about Smith’s intangibles.
“Alex is one of those guys, I was telling the coaches yesterday, that you could pay $500 million to and he’d be the same guy,” Reid said in the radio interview. “He’d never put you or him in that position to throw it in your face.
“That’s a big-boy position, financially. (Quarterbacks) cost a lot and also pay high-dividends back to your organization. But that will be stuff that goes on down the road, here. I haven’t even looked at that or thought about that.”
But you can bet Dorsey has, because there are several potential roads they can take. Do they let next season play out and put the franchise tag on Smith afterward? And if they do extend him, what will the price tag be?
Chances are, it will be expensive. Chicago’s Jay Cutler just signed a seven-year contract reportedly worth $126 million with $54 million guaranteed, and Smith is not only a year younger than Cutler, but has also posted comparable or better numbers than Cutler has the last three seasons.
Riddick didn’t want to speculate on what a fair price tag for a player like Smith would be. But he does believe the Chiefs have a quarterback they like, one he — and the organization — thinks they can win with. So in today’s NFL, it would make sense if the Chiefs choose to lock up Smith this offseason.
“Obviously you have to value him properly from a dollars and sense perspective, and they will have to come up with the comparable (quarterbacks) to set a floor for what they’re gonna pay him and set a ceiling for what they’re gonna pay him,” Riddick said. “But as long as the rest of your team is sound, he’s more than good enough, and he’s the kind of guy that Andy likes — a guy who is gonna take care of the football and do what you ask him to do, as far as playing his position.”