The Twittersphere erupted today when Jay Glazer reported that the Chiefs have a deal in principal to acquire Alex Smith from the 49ers. The Chiefs will give up their 2nd round pick this year in order to do that. I have a few thoughts on this trade, so let’s go through them in order of how much I agree with what I think conventional wisdom (not actually wisdom… more like rush to judgment) might be.
1. The 49ers did get a good deal here. I totally agree with the broad perception that the 49ers actually got a good deal to get rid of a problem that they have, which is that they’re paying their back-up QB, starting QB money… even if it’s at the low end of starting QB money. So to get a 2nd round pick to get rid of a problem is a good thing.
2. We should beware of the “pump and dump”. Do I think NFL teams should regularly make a practice of paying for a scrap heap QB that another team rehabs, and then ships off as soon as they’ve properly polished the turd? No. Teams should look to perform the pump and dump more than they look to get taken by it. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that this is Andy Reid, who has himself performed the same maneuver with Kevin Kolb. So he should know what it looks like.
3. Giving up a 2nd round pick for a guy that you know can be a starter in the NFL is not the end of the world. This is the point where I’m going to disagree with broad perception. Alex Smith probably has a higher Expected Value than any of this year’s QBs, because we’ve seen him be top 10 in the NFL in Adjusted Yards/Attempt. Critics of the trade will say that Smith did that with Harbaugh hiding his weaknesses, but guess what, that at least allows us to isolate the problem. We know that Smith can be effective, now we just need to see whether the coaches in KC are smart enough to structure their scheme so that he can continue to be effective. If they’re not, then it says as much about the coaches as it does about Smith.
4. Smith’s EV is probably higher than any of the incoming rookies. If this draft contained a Luck, or an RGIII, then that wouldn’t be the case. But all of the incoming rookies have question marks, which lowers their EV and makes Smith a relative value. However, I know that one of the arguments on the other side would go something like “Well we know Alex Smith isn’t the guy, so why even do that.” This is a false dichotomy and one that if Jim Harbaugh subscribed to it, would have seen the 49ers take Blaine Gabbert instead of Aldon Smith in Harbaugh’s first draft in SF. (By the way, CBS’ Pete Prisco actually argued for the 49ers to do just that). Harbaugh would have said “Well we know Alex Smith isn’t going to carry us to a Super Bowl, so let’s try this totally unknown commodity.” But Harbaugh didn’t do that. He knew that football is a game played by 22 and while some guys can make franchises, there are other guys who you can win with, depending on what you do around them.
5. The Chiefs aren’t giving up that much. I’m sure that some will cry about the value of that 2nd round pick, but teams regularly burn those picks on guys that don’t end up contributing. This is not a high leverage trade where the team has a lot riding on the outcome. Smith will earn a reasonable salary and the Chiefs gave up an asset that a lot of teams just burn on a regular basis anyway. I would argue that the Redskins’ acquisition of RGIII was a much more high leverage trade, where there is only one outcome that doesn’t sink the team and that’s RGIII being otherworldly (which he was last year and remains to be seen for the future). If Smith turns out to be the worst QB ever, then they have a guy sitting on their bench this year making about what Smith made to sit on the SF bench last year, and they lose a 2nd round pick. Here are some picks in that range that some successful teams have picked, got very little out of, and also didn’t kill the franchise:
|2011||1||32||Derek Sherrod||OL||GNB||2011||2012||0||Mississippi St.|
|2006||2||44||Sinorice Moss||WR||NYG||2006||2009||2||Miami (FL)|
|2011||2||33||Ras-I Dowling||DB||NWE||2011||2012||2||Northern Virginia CC|
|2009||2||40||Ron Brace||DT||NWE||2009||2012||7||Boston Col.|
|2006||2||37||Jimmy F. Williams||DB||ATL||2006||2007||7||Virginia Tech|
|2009||2||37||Alphonso Smith||DB||DEN||2009||2012||11||Wake Forest|
|2007||1||32||Anthony Gonzalez||WR||IND||2007||2011||12||Ohio St.|
Remember about 10 seconds ago when we thought that the 49ers were making roster moves like Bobby Fischer plays chess, and then we saw AJ Jenkins’ name at the top of that list? None of this means that I think teams should look at their draft picks as if they’re worthless, but the reality is that the draft is a high risk marketplace. There are no sure things, no matter how smart teams are. The same braintrust that picked Colin Kaepernick out of the 2nd round also probably whiffed on AJ Jenkins in the first (I’m actually not ready to get on that bus, but I’m using broad perception here to make my point).
6. I don’t believe that Smith is (right now) the kind of QB who will kill a team. Smith completes a high percentage of his passes, which is good. Maybe that’s because they ran the ball so effectively in SF? Well, KC has an ok running back as well. I think it’s also likely that Dwayne Bowe is probably the best WR that Smith has ever played with and there’s still some chance that Jon Baldwin gets his act together, which would actually be scary given his crazy physical measurables.
7. The downside here is limited. What’s the worst thing that can happen really? I think the worst case is that Alex Smith is a game manager, which is probably what the Chiefs would have looked to from any rookie that they draft. So they get to use their #1 overall pick on another player and they probably get as much out of their QB as if they had taken a QB there. Then they can revisit the position in the future. I know that there is a school of thought that says that you don’t want to go 8-8 and end up in the middle of the draft, but that seems fairly ridiculous given that we just watched a Super Bowl played by two QBs who were drafted outside the top 10. In fact you can go back a number of years and the only Super Bowls started by QBs that were the first QB in their draft class were the Super Bowls started by the Manning brothers. So the idea that you have to have that first QB off the board in order to win in the NFL is misplaced I think.