The Kansas City Chiefs have no intention of letting starting quarterback Alex Smith hit the free agent market in 2015, as they know just how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback in this league. They traded two second-round picks to the San Francisco 49ers to Smith, and he did a solid job of leading a passing attack bereft of adequate pass-catching talent last season. He was a big reason for the Chiefs massive turn-around, even if it would be categorically untrue to state that he was the only factor. Smith averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt, but he had 23 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions and played a controlled game. The “game manager” tag is an appropriate label for Smith, but that reflects his style of play. He doesn’t possess a good downfield arm, but he’s smart, accurate, and quality starter overall.
Teams don’t like putting themselves in a vulnerable position at quarterback, which is why the Chiefs are even willing to use the franchise tag on Smith if talks continue to go nowhere. Neither side has made much progress on an extension, and both sides would ideally like to get something done before the regular season starts (at the latest).
What complicates things is the gap between the Chiefs value of Smith and his own price tag, and it’s a classic leverage vs. actual value issue. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Smith wants to be paid like a “top-tier” signal-caller, because he know that he holds the leverage. This league is all about the quarterback position, because it is ridiculously difficult to win without a sufficient QB. Smith knows he fits that bill, and he knows that the franchise-QB-or-bust mentality inflates his value. Per Rapoport, “there is no 2nd-tier QB market”, and that gives Smith all the leverage.
The National Football Post’s Jason Cole tweeted that Smith wanted to make more money than Jay Cutler once he signed a seven-year, $126 million extension with the Chicago Bears back in January. Rapoport replied with confirmation that this is the case, and he added that Smith is looking for around $18 million per year (Cutler is making $18.1 million), and that number seems to be the magic number at QB, as it’s the very baseline for a deal with Colin Kaepernick (he’ll likely make at least $20 million per year since he’s better and younger than both Smith and Cutler).
Should Smith make more money than Cutler? The whole leverage argument above from Rapoport states that he can find a way to obtain that kind of money, but $18 million is an awful lot to spend on a quarterback who is pretty much an average starter in this league. He’s a quality player, but he’s average when comparing him to all of the other starting QBs in this league. To be fair, though, he didn’t have many weapons last season, which puts him at a disadvantage, especially when comparing his supporting cast to Cutler’s. Even so, Cutler has better physical tools, which can make all the difference in these discussions due to the greater upside that tools provide.