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Is it time for an end to the Alex Smith debate?

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The argument against Smith made sense in 2013. But with what we know today, it was the right move.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Kansas City Chiefs’ 30-23 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday — yet another game in which Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes accumulated more superlatives on his 2018 season — there were more media questions that included comparisons with former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

Head coach Andy Reid was asked if Mahomes’ 26 touchdown passes over eight games — the same number Smith had in all of 2017 — was just about the difference in quarterbacks, or if there was something else at work.

“Listen, I mean some of these guys are doing a nice job after the catch,” Reid said. “Some of the same guys were here last year, and then we have a couple of additions. It’s fun to watch. Sammy Watkins had a couple today. I told you: when he gets the ball, it’s like giving it to a running back, he’s so physical. I wouldn’t just say it’s the quarterback. That’s not fair to Smith for the great job he did when he was here. He is a part of it, too. Patrick has done a nice job, I’m not slighting that at all, but Alex did too when he was here.”

Kansas City Chiefs v Atlanta Falcons
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Head Coach Andy Reid (L) of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Alex Smith #11 after sceuring the game clinching first down against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Reid was exactly right: the Chiefs do excel in yards after catch. They are, in fact, right at the top of league in 2018, and — like Reid implied — were among the best in 2017, too.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. No rational person has ever argued that Smith tended toward throwing long passes. To be sure, he did more of it in 2017 than he had done in previous seasons, but the mindset to chuck it deep on higher-risk throws simply isn’t part of his football DNA. It only follows that in order for Smith to throw for over 4,000 yards in 2017, he’d need a little help from his friends — and Smith got it.

Neither should we — as Reid said — take the ability of Chiefs receivers to make yards after catch to mean that Mahomes is any less of a quarterback. The Chiefs are actually better at YAC with Mahomes in 2018 — and this shouldn’t be a surprise, either.

Any quarterback who is an effective passer outside the pocket — something that’s true about Mahomes, but isn’t true about Smith — will tend to find more receivers in open spaces, because receivers are freelancing to help their quarterback make a play. That inexorably leads to an increase in yards after catch — and for Mahomes, it has.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Mahomes, of course, was also asked about the number of touchdowns he’s thrown so far compared to Smith last year. He wasn’t interested in taking all the credit.

“I think just diversifying the ball around, guys making plays, really running the scheme how we’re supposed to run it,” Mahomes said. “Coach Reid is calling great plays and we’re getting those chances and those plays when we can get in the end zone.

“For me, it’s all about just getting the ball out of my hand. That’s the biggest thing for me. As long as I’m getting the ball out of my hand, there’s a good chance good things are happening. The offensive line is protecting really, really well, so I’m just getting it out of my hands and getting it to the playmakers and they’re scoring touchdowns.”


Over the five years of the Alex Smith Debate, I often compared it to the trench warfare of World War I. The opposing sides would rise up out of their trenches and race across no-man’s-land with fixed bayonets, fighting hand-to-hand in the muck. And at the end of the day, thousands would lay dead and little ground would be gained by either side.

And for some Chiefs fans, the debate is still raging. Otherwise, reporters wouldn’t be asking these kinds of questions.

But I see no point in continuing it. It started because some fans thought the Chiefs gave up too much for the player Smith was. They weren’t wrong, either. Smith’s cost in draft capital and salary over his career in Kansas City was indeed high when it is compared to his on-field production.

But that wasn’t Smith’s only benefit to the Chiefs franchise. With Smith, the Chiefs bought stability at the quarterback position. For five seasons, the Chiefs didn’t have to worry about their quarterback, which allowed them to build the team that is on the field today — including Patrick Mahomes and the playmakers that surround him.

Quite simply, the Chiefs couldn’t have done that if they’d had to expend precious high draft picks on the quarterback position over those years — and without Smith, they would have. So in 2017, they were in a perfect position to make the move to get the quarterback they wanted and put him in an ideal situation — which included a year in the film room with Smith.

In 2013, it was a valid argument that Smith wasn’t worth two second-round picks the Chiefs gave to get him. But it isn’t 2013 anymore. In 2018, we should understand that Smith’s acquisition is one of the big reasons that Patrick Mahomes is a Chief. Today, the two second-round picks the Chiefs gave for Smith — and the salary they paid him — look like the deal of the century.

I have no illusions that anything I say about this will bring the debate to its conclusion. But I do think it’s time to at least consider a cease-fire — if not an outright armistice.