Throughout their history, few teams have shown more disregard to developing quarterbacks through the draft than the Kansas City Chiefs. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only three quarterbacks drafted by the Chiefs – Mike Livingston (1969-79), Steve Fuller (1979-82) and Todd Blackledge (1983-87) – won a game for the franchise. Put another way, Blackledge – in 1987 – was the last quarterback selected by Kansas City to win a game for the Chiefs.
Over that time, one trend has developed: Kansas City typically has a need for a quarterback and the San Francisco 49ers typically have a signal-caller to spare. Even though the transaction cannot be made official until March 12, the teams essentially wrapped up a deal on Wednesday to send Alex Smith to the Chiefs in exchange for a second-round pick in the upcoming draft (the 34th pick) plus a conditional third-rounder in 2014 that can escalate to an additional second-rounder. Smith is the latest Niner-turned-Chief quarterback on a list that includes Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac. Shockingly, former San Francisco quarterbacks have accounted for 95 of the franchise’s 404 wins – 34 more than the aforementioned trio of KC-drafted field generals.
But that is enough of the historical significance. New HC Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey had little choice but to pursue the most established veteran quarterback on the market in a year where the incoming rookie class doesn’t appear to possess a single must-have talent at the position. Combined with Reid’s history of developing quarterbacks and the fact he holds Smith in high regard, the Chiefs can make the case their new employee is a battle-tested quarterback that is a proven winner. Furthermore, the overall compensation for Smith wasn’t quite what it was for Matt Schaub or Kevin Kolb – other veteran quarterbacks less accomplished than Smith when they were traded.
Reid stated in his opening press conference the Chiefs needed to find the next Len Dawson, who incidentally was another quarterback the franchise did not draft (selected and traded by the Steelers to the Browns, who later released him). Few Kansas City fans will argue that Matt Cassel needed to go and Smith is an upgrade – even if he has earned a reputation as a “game manager”. (Anyone who watched the Chiefs’ offense last season should be able to appreciate a quarterback who can manage a game.) Whether the “game manager” tag is an appropriate one is a discussion for another day, but what Smith does have for the first time in years is a front office that is invested in him and a coach that has publicly stated that he has long been a Smith fan.
So the question becomes: will fantasy owners join Reid aboard the Smith bandwagon? Just as importantly, how does his arrival affect the fantasy fortunes of players such as Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe (if he returns to the team)?
Smith was in the midst of a career year in 2012 before a Week 9 concussion effectively ended his 49er career and gave birth to the rise of second-year stud Colin Kaepernick. How much of his “late development” stemmed from the fact he worked under seven different offensive coordinators and how much of it was the coaching and confidence he received from HC Jim Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman? It’s a fair question. In fact, I think most people would agree that after seven seasons and 75 NFL starts, we still really don’t know who Alex Smith is or what he could become. If only for that reason, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Smith is about as much of a wild-card as there is entering the 2013 season.
Fortunately, we do know that Reid has admitted on several occasions he can’t help himself when it comes to the passing game. As a result, there is a very good chance Smith will set career highs across the board. Another factor in Smith’s favor is that Reid has consistently received a lot of production from his quarterbacks, even taking a strong-armed option quarterback out of Syracuse in Donovan McNabb and molding him into an efficient West Coast passer. Therefore, I think that while learning yet another system isn’t likely to yield immediate results, most of us can agree Smith is transitioning from one quarterback-friendly offense to another.
In regards to his new supporting cast, it’s hard to believe the biggest beneficiary from the Reid-Smith marriage will not be Charles. While the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher this season is a bit more reliant on speed and a bit less reliant on elusiveness than Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy, all of them are accomplished receivers. Given the fact that the 2013 Chiefs would look a lot like Reid’s early teams (without DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin) if Bowe leaves via free agency – and more like the Eagles prior to Maclin’s arrival if Bowe stays – there’s every reason to believe Charles will be a 50-60 catch player either way. Charles’ fantasy outlook was going to be better than in 2012 because of the way Reid utilizes his backs, but a solid Smith can only help his week-to-week consistency.
Bowe makes the most interesting fantasy case. In this whole San Francisco-Philadelphia dynamic, he compares most favorably to Michael Crabtree. When focused and properly motivated, however, Bowe could be the most dominant wide receiver that Smith has thrown to in his career and the second-most dominant one Reid has coached. I can only assume Reid received some kind of assurance from management that Bowe would remain a Chief – be it via a new contract or the franchise tag – before he took the job or else the new coach is open to the idea of seeing his new quarterback start out the same way McNabb did (with the likes of Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, James Thrash and Todd Pinkston serving as the main receivers). Since I doubt the latter is the case, Bowe has a chance to be the first high-volume receiver Reid has coached since Terrell Owens. While that level of production is unlikely, it could happen – Bowe has already flashed that kind of ability.
In closing, the Chiefs either made a savvy move in trading for a “proven” veteran in a year where the rookie quarterback talent pool appears to lack a clear-cut “franchise quarterback” or severely overpaid because need trumped common sense. If Smith’s last two seasons were a sign that he was just a late bloomer that needed someone to believe in him, then Kansas City took a significant step forward with this move. While the price was to acquire was a bit steep in my opinion, I have little doubt that Smith will be at least serviceable in reality and fantasy, pending any improvements the Chiefs make at receiver this offseason. Assuming Bowe returns, Smith should be a viable QB2 in 12-team leagues in 2013 while a happy Bowe could easily return to top 10 WR status.