NFL Nation: Steve Bono
When he was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, Smith heard the Montana comparisons and expectations. Smith never got close to filling the legendary Montana’s shoes in San Francisco.
With his San Francisco career behind him, Smith, once again, is connected to Montana.
After being a superstar for the 49ers, Montana played his final two seasons, 1993-94, in Kansas City after being traded. Montana led the Chiefs to the AFC title game in 1993. His trade started a San Francisco-to-Kansas City quarterback pipeline.
In 1994, the 49ers traded backup quarterback Steve Bono to the Chiefs. He led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record in 1995.
In 1997, Elvis Grbac left the 49ers and signed with the Chiefs as a free agent. He was the Chiefs’ starter for four years.
Now, it’s Smith’s turn in Kansas City.
Quick thoughts after the San Francisco 49ers reached agreement on a trade sending quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs:
- Credit Smith: Teams covet quarterbacks, but they haven't been shelling out huge money for unproven ones since the Kevin Kolb deal in Arizona. Matt Flynngot far less last offseason, for example. The success Smith has enjoyed the past two seasons, particularly in 2012, made him more appealing than the typical quarterback to hit the trade market. The 49ers went 19-5-1 with Smith starting over the past two seasons. Go ahead and credit the 49ers' coaching staff, but also realize the Chiefs' staff, led by Andy Reid, knows a little about quarterbacks, as well.
- Weak draft: Draft analysts have been lamenting the absence of top quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft. The Chiefs, with the first overall choice, might agree. They could still draft a quarterback early, but moving to acquire Smith right after the combine affirms perceptions about the quarterbacks in the next rookie class and their readiness.
- Compensation: Initial reports suggest the 49ers are getting the 34th overall choice and a 2014 conditional pick from Kansas City. That would be an outstanding deal from the 49ers' perspective. Is that the full deal? We do not know whether the Chiefs were able to get any draft compensation back from San Francisco. The fact that Kansas City picks so high in the second round enhances the value for San Francisco, which also picks 31st. Stay tuned.
- Cap savings: This trade means the 49ers will not have to pay a $1 million bonus or $7.5 million salary to Smith for 2013. His projected $8.5 million cap number for 2013 vanishes from the books. That should give the 49ers greater flexibility to sign other players. Of course, San Francisco is now in the market for a backup quarterback, but even a veteran will cost much less than Smith was going to cost. Starter Colin Kaepernick's contract counts $1.4 million against the cap, far below average even for backups.
- Not on schedule: The 49ers do not play the Chiefs this season. The Chiefs do not play any NFC West teams. Kansas City's opponents comprise the other AFC West teams, plus Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, the New York Giants, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and Buffalo.
- Chiefs on speed dial: It's been a while since the 49ers and Chiefs collaborated on quarterback trades involving Joe Montana and Steve Bono. Still, we can add Smith's name to the list of quarterbacks San Francisco has traded to Kansas City.
- The right thing: The 49ers, of course, had to look out for their own interests in dealing Smith. Still, it's good to see them trading him to a team with a solid offensive-minded coach, an established running back, potential on the offensive line and (if re-signed) a top receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Smith is falling into a relatively favorable situation. That should feel right for the 49ers, who clearly appreciated what Smith had given to the organization.
- No Arizona: News broke this week that Arizona was also interested in Smith. The 49ers weren't going to make a deal in the division, most likely. The Cardinals knew that. They weren't counting on Smith. Their search for quarterback answers continues.
That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.
The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?
For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.
A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
- There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
- Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
- Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
- Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
- Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
- Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.
The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.
The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.
As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:
Best alumni assimilation: This one isn't close. Keena Turner is the 49ers' vice president of football affairs. Guy McIntyre serves as director of alumni. Jesse Sapolu, Steve Bono and Eric Wright are alumni coordinators. Dwight Clark is a business consultant. Team president Jed York grew up around the team during its 1980s glory days. He was a fan first and it shows in how eagerly the 49ers embrace their past. The other NFC West teams also employ former players, but not to the same degree. Retired Rams great Jack Youngblood has even accused that organization of failing to adequately embrace its alumni.
Best team facility: Few team headquarters in any sport can compete with the $75 million facility Seahawks owner Paul Allen constructed on Lake Washington south of Seattle. The practice fields overlook the water, with swank homes staring back from the opposite shore. Giant doors slide up for an open-air experience in the players' weight room, offering views of the practice field and, nearby, the water. The team has flown in free agents via seaplane, docking right at the facility. Square footage is right around 200,000 -- second-highest in the NFL, according to the team -- and includes an indoor practice facility adjacent to the locker room. No other facility in the division comes close.
Best billionaire owner: Allen has the clear edge for now based on the Seahawks' success over the past decade, but Stan Kroenke's prospects deserve our attention. Kroenke has proven himself as a capable owner in other sports. He has also engaged his fellow NFL owners in ways Allen simply refuses to do. That gives Kroenke the ability to make the Rams more relevant at the league level. Seattle's profile has suffered with Mike Holmgren and Tod Leiweke leaving the organization in recent years.
Best training camp venue: The Seahawks have it nice on Lake Washington, but there's something special about going away to camp if the venue is right. Northern Arizona University fits the profile for the Cardinals. It's far enough from Phoenix to escape the blistering heat, but close enough for fans to turn out in large numbers. The high-desert scenery and nearly 7,000-foot elevation combine to set apart NAU from other camp venues in the division and the league overall.
|Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire|
|The Denver Broncos are reportedly still considering trading Jay Cutler.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Jeff Hostetler. Steve Bono. Tommy Maddox. From a historical perspective, at least, those three names serve as the ceiling for Minnesota's quarterback position if newcomer Sage Rosenfels wins the starting job.
NFL history offers a short list of success stories for quarterbacks who followed the same path as Rosenfels during the early part of their careers. ESPN Research's Keith Hawkins worked with the Elias Sports Bureau to develop the chart to your right, which tracks the development of quarterbacks who started fewer than 10 games before turning 30. (Rosenfels, who turns 31 on Friday, has started 12 NFL games, including five last season for Houston.)
Only Hostetler became a long-term starter after turning 30. Bono and Maddox each started the equivalent of two full seasons.
Does that mean Rosenfels would fail as a full-time starter for the Vikings? Of course not. But here's what we can say: As currently configured, the Vikings must hope for either a historical aberration (Rosenfels) or significant improvement from a previously shaky youngster (Tarvaris Jackson) to upgrade their long-standing deficiency at the game's most important position.
Which is why the Vikings would be foolish -- even after trading a fourth-round pick last week for Rosenfels -- to ignore the potential availability of Denver's 26-year-old starter, Jay Cutler.
I wrote Monday that Cutler makes sense for three NFC North teams -- Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit -- and I still believe that. But of those three, the Vikings might be the most serious suitor.
Already, there are some preliminary signs that the Vikings are investigating the situation. The Denver Post reported that Minnesota was included in talks on a three-way trade that fell through last weekend, and the Star Tribune reported Tuesday that the Vikings were having "ongoing" discussions Monday about Cutler.
In NFL terms, there is a vast gap between due diligence and serious trade discussions. And there is no indication that Denver is willing to part with Cutler after losing out to Kansas City on acquiring Matt Cassel. But it's time for the Vikings to end their middling approach to the quarterback position and start applying the aggressive, big-thinking philosophy that has netted them proven -- and, in some cases, dominant -- players at almost every other position.
Take a look at the chart to your right, which breaks down the financial outlay Minnesota has made since coach Brad Childress and vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman came aboard in 2006. The list represents only players currently on the roster, but here is the upshot: The Vikings have signed 18 veterans at 16 different positions to contracts that total nearly $456 million. But less than two percent of that sum is devoted to the quarterback position.
That is an irreconcilable dichotomy for a team with annual designs on a division title and beyond. Why devote so many resources to proven players at other positions while taking a chance at the most important one?
At the scouting combine last month, Spielman noted there are only a "handful" of NFL quarterbacks who truly scare defenses. That dearth of talent and skill causes some teams to reach for quarterbacks beyond their true value.
Cutler, however, has a chance to be one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks after earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2008. At the very least, he has proved far more competent than Jackson during their first three seasons.
Childress seemed adamant last month that Jackson and a veteran, who turned out to be Rosenfels, would compete for the starting job in training camp. He left open the faint possibility of a future big-name acquisition but said, "Right now I would be honest with you and tell you I wouldn't know who that person would be."
At the time, few people knew that Broncos coach Josh McDaniels would pursue Cassel to replace Cutler. Childress seemed to be covering for that possibility when he said, "I wouldn't open or close the door on anything."
|Highlights of the best moments from Jay Cutler in 2008.|
Circumstances, as they say, have changed. "Faint" has elevated to "bright." The si
tuation is similar to the one the Vikings encountered last year, when they pursued several free-agent defensive ends to improve their pass rush before Kansas City made 2008 sack leader Jared Allen available. The Vikings surrendered three draft choices and signed Allen to a $74 million contract, a move that helped improve their pass rush from the bottom of the NFL's rankings to No. 18 overall.
Cutler could be this season's Jared Allen, only more impactful because of the position he plays. Not only was he the NFL's third-most productive passer last season, but he has spent three years in a West Coast scheme that has the same roots as the Vikings' offense. He could be the missing piece of a puzzle that includes the league's top running back (Adrian Peterson), a proven deep threat (Bernard Berrian) and a rapidly improving tight end (Visanthe Shiancoe).
The Rosenfels trade was consummated before the Cutler imbroglio began. The Vikings would be wise to overlook the timing and think big once again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SAN FRANCISCO -- Niners quarterback Alex Smith wore a sweatsuit, not a uniform, during pregame warm-ups at Candlestick Park today.
Smith stood on the sideline and chatted with the occasional passerby, at one point stepping behind the bench to speak with former 49ers quarterback Steve Bono.
The Smith-Bono pairing seemed fitting given Bono's role as player alumni coordinator. The 49ers are already on the record saying Smith's salary would prevent him from returning to the team in 2009 as a backup. The shoulder injury Smith suffered Friday might accelerate the process.
Smith told reporters a decision on his shoulder has not been made. Placing Smith on injured reserve would end his season and, most likely, his 49ers career.