During Alex Smith’s two-year tenure as the steward, of sorts, for Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s West Coast Offense, general manager John Dorsey has long maintained that the quarterback has been well worth the two second-round picks they had to surrender to acquire him.
That opinion, for the record, has not changed.
“I think he’s everything we thought he’d be, I do,” Dorsey said. “We have to put some more pieces around him. I think he’s lived up to what he thought he would be.”
Smith’s stats were solid enough in his second season at the helm. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 3,265 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions, and it’s worth noting his completion percentage rose nearly 5 percent over last year, too.
But Smith’s habit for playing super-conservative football continued — he occasionally missed guys downfield in favor of making the safe play — and for this (like most quarterbacks), he was the target of criticism from some fans on social media who think he didn’t push the ball downfield enough.
The Chiefs’ general manager does not agree with line of thinking.
“I think he grew in year two,” Dorsey said. “I think he’s starting to get his eyes a little more downfield. I think when it came time to lower his eyes and look through windows he had to run in, he did that. He can buy time with his feet. I think his leadership and poise carried over into that locker room. I think guys do believe in him.”
Smith, 30, has long had a reputation as a game manager, but at least some of the reason for his uptick in that area this year might be attributed to a leaky offensive line that often struggled in pass protection.
Smith was pressured roughly at the same pace he was last season (36 percent in 2014 compared with 34 percent in 2013), but that doesn’t take into account the fact the Chiefs’ offense, as a whole, went from negative-7.4 in the pass blocking department to negative-37.4, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked 23rd in the league.
Reid, however, was pleased with the way Smith dealt with it.
“I think for the most part, his eyes are pretty good keeping them downfield,” Reid said. “There’s a time and place when somebody’s probably right on top of you. You’re going to try and find a hole. … there’s a point where you have to point your eyes down and go and he’s had a lot of positive yards for us there.”
But Smith, who missed the last game of the season because of a lacerated spleen, said he knows there will be times he looks at film of the 2014 season and regrets some of the plays he left on the field.
“Yeah, it’s impossible to go through a year of film and not see plenty of missed opportunities,” Smith said. “You’re just not going to get them all, you’re not going to see them all. I don’t care who you are. I think that’s just the way it is.
“So it’ll be good here, with the offseason, to really kind of pool all of that film together and really be able to categorize it and break it down all of the different ways and see and really kind of analyze it from that perspective, like big picture.”
Smith, almost assuredly, will get a chance improve on that in Kansas City next season. According to salary-cap analyst and former agent Joel Corry, getting out of Smith’s four-year, $68 million extension — signed in August — simply isn’t very palatable for the Chiefs.
Trading or releasing Smith, he said, would call for a $25.4 million cap hit in 2015. Smith’s 2015 salary of $10.9 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
“I can’t envision a scenario where he’s not on the roster in 2015 because he was gonna make $7.5 million (in 2014), and you wouldn’t pay him $11.5 million more than you had to cut him before he gets his new contract,” Corry said. “That makes no sense. You would get fired for doing that.”
Cutting Smith, Corry added, would also result in a ridiculous $14.4 million in dead money in 2015. On the third day of the 2015 league year, the remaining $1 million of the 2015 base salary becomes guaranteed and the entire 2016 base salary of $14.1 base salary becomes guaranteed, as well.
“That’s a sunk cost,” said Corry, who added that 2017 is the first year the Chiefs could realistic get out of the contract. “Good luck with that.”
And while the cap hit could be lessened by making Smith a post-June 1 cap cut, each team can use the designation on only two players per year, and the Chiefs, who need to create cap room, have no shortage of candidates there (i.e. receiver Dwayne Bowe).
There’s also the not-so-small matter of finding a better quarterback to replace Smith, which is more than a notion. The quarterbacks who hit free-agency are often retreads, and with the 18th overall pick, the Chiefs aren’t positioned to take an elite prospect like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
And while Smith’s backup, Chase Daniel, played fairly well in his lone start of the season against the Chargers last Sunday, Smith clearly outperformed all the other quarterbacks on the roster in organized team activities and training camp last summer.
But, just for good measure, Dorsey was asked recently whether, given the nature of the extension and the circumstances, it’s safe to assume that Smith will be a Chief for a while.
“I would think you’re right there, in your thinking,” Dorsey said.
Whether or not most fans agree with that line of thinking is of no consequence, in this case. Under Smith, the Chiefs are 19-11 the last two seasons, a record Smith is eager to improve upon in 2015, with the support of his coaching staff and front office.
“The older you get, the more this becomes a year-round deal,” Smith said. “For me, it will be a reflection on this year — what do I need to get better at, what do you need to improve on and what are some things that I can take with me this offseason and really work on to do that.”