After his best season to date in 2013, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said he believed his worth had escalated to that of the NFL's elite at his position. It took a while, but Smith, who was set to make $7.5 million in base salary in 2014, the last year of his former contract, agreed to a four-year, $68 million extension with $45 million in alleged guarantees. We say "alleged" because the exact terms of the deal haven't yet been revealed, and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton recently agreed to long-term extensions that are basically year-to-year deals with a lot of incentives, but this certainly puts Smith in a favorable stratosphere. The extension money begins in 2015, so the actual total of Smith's five-year agreement with Kansas City pushes him north of $70M in total money.
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“It was a priority of ours to get this deal done and keep Alex in a Chiefs uniform long-term,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said. “Alex is a proven leader on and off the field. He is a special individual with a lot of ability, and we are fortunate to have him here.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who presided over one of the NFL's most impressive single-season comebacks -- the Chiefs went 2-14 in 2012 and improved to 11-5 in 2013 -- stated positively that Smith is the quarterback for him in the future.
“John and his staff along with Tom [Condon, Smith's agent] and his group have worked hard to get this deal done," Reid said in a statement. "They’ve done a nice job. Alex is a smart, talented football player that has adapted well to our offensive scheme. He also, obviously, has had a tremendous amount of success as a quarterback in this league. We as a team are very happy to have Alex as our quarterback moving forward.”
Smith, the first overall selection of the 2005 draft by the 49ers, didn't really find success in the league until Jim Harbaugh became San Francisco's head coach in 2011. Under Harbaugh, Smith reduced his interception total and became an efficient (if unspectacular) player that led his team to an NFC championship game appearance in Harbaugh's first year. But Kaepernick was also drafted that season, and when Smith suffered a concussion halfway through the 2012 season, Kaepernick won the starting job. The Chiefs traded for Smith in March, 2013, and in Reid's offense, he completed 308 of 508 passes for 3,313 yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Smith made his first Pro Bowl and threw for four touchdowns in Kansas City's wild card playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
After the season, Smith was said to want a contract extension similar to the one Jay Cutler signed with the Chicago Bears in January (seven years, $126.7 million with $54 million guaranteed). Given Smith's general limitations, it was understandable that the team balked at this idea.
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"Well, there's open communication between both parties," Reid told the NFL Network in May. "Now, I'm not in that business anymore — that's John Dorsey's side of it — but there's been open communication. I can't put a time frame on that, but I'm sure something will get done."
Like Dalton, Smith is a good caretaker in an offense that plays to his strengths. But he's not been a do-it-all guy throughout his career.
In 2013, per Pro Football Focus, Smith threw the ball over 20 yards in the air on 8.1 percent of his attempts. Only Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Jacksonville's Chad Henne had lower percentages. He completed 13 of 41 attempts for 420 yards on those deep attempts, and recorded four touchdowns and no interceptions. Pretty good numbers, but a very low sample size. In 2011, his last season as a full-year starter in San Francisco, Smith threw deep on 9.7 percent of his attempts, fourth-fewest in the league. He completed 17 of 43 attempts for 556 yards, four touchdowns and two picks.
In 2013, Smith was pressured on 34.7 percent of his dropbacks, and he completed 46.1 percent of those passes under pressure. Both numbers are middle of the pack, which is not surprising, since Smith has been good throwing on the run since he played in Urban Meyer's option offense at Utah. But his four touchdowns under pressure pale in comparison to Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, each of whom threw 10 touchdowns last season under pressure.
Reid has a long history of maximizing the abilities of limited quarterbacks, so if he believes that Smith is the guy who can help the Chiefs find long-term consistent success, it's worth believing. It will, however, be very interesting to see how the real contract dollars shake out.