Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reid Gives Alex Smith An Opportunity

If Alex Smith waited to see where his next destination would be for a starting QB job, he won’t have to wait much longer and was finally given a chance. After waiting patiently, he finally checked out of San Francisco, boarded a flight and landed in Kansas City. The pressure is right on Smith after the San Francisco 49ers agreed to send the quarterback to the Kansas City Chiefs, with newly hired coach Andy Reid surrounding himself with someone who has mobility and intelligence.

He did the right thing for the Chiefs by grabbing an unwanted quarterback from another franchise, realizing Smith has the intangibles and potential to turn around a dismal 2-14 season in a weak AFC West, as the Denver Broncos are legitimately the real test.

And as results of the trade, Kansas City traded its second-round pick in the 2013 draft and a conditional mid-round pick in 2014 to acquire Smith. The best option available for the Chiefs to rebuild, obviously, was Smith who had been an attractive name for hordes of teams to add, and sure enough, Reid took a risk he felt was worth taking. It’s fairly obvious, considering the fact that it’s a fragile free-agent market — for veterans especially — as to why Reid made the trade and finalized the deal fast. Not that he was desperate to get someone. The perception of this deal is that Reid believes in Smith enough to make him the Chiefs franchise quarterback.

What is Smith good for? Absolutely something — considering the way he played last season until suffering the concussion. Reid, who had success with Donovan McNabb in his long tenure in Philadelphia, was determined to mend, first and foremost, the QB woes and end controversy between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.

There has, quite honestly, never been a quarterback unappreciated as much as Cassel in Kansas City. Four years ago when the team turned to Scott Pioli to refurbish things, the Chiefs acquired Cassel for the 34th draft pick. Before he was traded to Kansas City, Cassel had played one season for the New England Patriots, replacing an injured Tom Brady. By the end of that season, he had a 63.4 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 7.16 yards per attempt.

He and the Patriots fell short, missing the playoffs that year. But with Smith, the idea is to build something that lasts. If he’s lucky, Cassel will wind up as a backup elsewhere, but considering that the Chiefs have Quinn, he won’t be back in KC and will be a free agent. At the beginning, Cassel finished 9-7 with 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his second year as starter.

Most of the population, it seems, wants Cassel out, who is unproven — the Chiefs are expected to release him soon. Suffice it to say, thousands of Chiefs fans cheered loudly when Cassel was drilled and left a 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a concussion. For purely insensitive reasons, some celebrated Cassel’s injury after the quarterback committed three turnovers against the Ravens. Before he rose to his feet, before he walked off the field under his own power, heartless fans roared with glee.

The stupidity reached a boiling point when Chiefs tackle Eric Winston, who was angry and disgusted with the hometown crowd for such ruthless, childish behavior, scolded and ripped fans by publicly sending a message through the media when a reporter interviewed him afterwards in the locker room.

“It’s 100 percent sickening,” Chiefs Winston said. “I’ve never, ever — and I’ve been in some rough times on some rough teams — I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than at that moment right there. I get emotional about it because these guys, they work their butts off. Matt Cassel hasn’t done anything to you people.

“Hey, if he’s not the best quarterback, he’s not the best quarterback, and that’s OK, but he’s a person,” Winston continued, the big offensive lineman’s voice slowly rising. “And he got knocked out in a game and we’ve got 70,000 people cheering that he got knocked out.”

There have been a lot of unhappy fans in Kansas City with a long history of failures in recent memory. But maybe Smith, who, and it should be stated, led the NFL in completion percentage (70.0) and ranked fifth in passer rating (104.1), can change that. It would be the moment of a lifetime, a moment of gaiety if he can reproduce something identical to his 20-5-1 record as a starter, including the playoffs over the past two seasons in San Francisco.

He’s a good but not great quarterback who goes into another environment, giving the Chiefs a chance and could be the cure to a hapless football franchise. He’s a suave quarterback who is walking into unfamiliar territory, absolutely offering the Chiefs hopefulness, even though he’s good or bad, consistent or inconsistent.

The likelihood of having a good quarterback is not necessary, and from what was discovered in San Francisco, he completed just enough passes and managed to lead the 49ers to the NFC championship game two years ago, but lost to the New York Giants. He surely had no intentions of being the backup in San Francisco and finally has a chance to start elsewhere.

But, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed the keys to the driver’s seat, a concussed Smith was benched for the rest of the season, even when he was cleared to return to the game and, in essence, it was time for Smith and coach Jim Harbaugh to part ways. And someday, the Chiefs may just become good, under the presence of Smith and Reid. Having self-control, staying calm and sane, Smith stared from the sideline disappointed, but as mature as he is — mind you — he never complained or confronted Harbaugh when he was benched.

It is the oldest cliché in the sport, older than the Golden Gate Bridge or the Liberty Memorial. The NFL, like the rest, is a business, and a cruel one — to be exact. Nothing is guaranteed, except Bill Belichick’s coaching gig in New England and the cut-off hoodie he sports. But now, Smith got his starting job back, and he loves Reid by now. With a tinge of success, Reid knows what he has in Smith, who is a reliable quarterback, even on his worst days.

The 49ers, for the most part, also moved him clearing $8.5 million in salary, and Harbaugh and the team knew he wasn’t going to stay and remain No. 2 behind Kaepernick, who locked up the starting spot and led San Francisco to the Super Bowl. He was trade bait, and Reid went fishing for him. It will take a while for the Chiefs, who had the worst offense in the NFL, to rise to the top — but with Smith coming to town — it’s a start.

He was, in his own eyes, useless and unwanted, left on the sideline as another quarterback who was his backup earned the nod. And simply, whether it was the right choice or not, he won’t hold a clipboard and watch Kaepernick run for 40 yards. Nothing personal to Harbaugh and the Niners organization, but Smith couldn’t stay much longer. There’s no doubt that he’s a winner, maybe not a superhero, but he’s not a loser either.

The 29-year-old leader at one time just wasn’t good enough to convince Harbaugh that he was certainly a starter. The team that takes the field in September after upgrading and finding a quarterback to fill in the holes will be a different team, much different. For years, Reid has worked with an average quarterback and turned him into a top-tier passer, such as McNabb.

And most of all, he knew McNabb better than anyone else. Reid, who replaces coach Romeo Crennel, drafted McNabb in the first round in 1999, selected quarterback Kevin Kolb second in 2007, took a risk signing Vick when he was released from prison and developed sixth-round pick Matt Hasselbeck while an assistant in Green Bay.

When it comes to quarterbacks, Reid is a genius and teacher, which means Smith will be a student. And his philosophy could work.

The trade, which won’t become official to early March, has given Smith an opportunity and a shot at leading a team to a significant amount of wins. So he will be playing for a coach who can strengthen his quarterbacks’ capacity and reduce their weaknesses.