Commentary

Alex Smith lands on his feet

Getting dealt to Andy Reid's Chiefs is ideal scenario for displaced 49ers QB

Originally Published: February 27, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

This is the perfect scenario for Alex Smith. After the excruciating disappointment of last season, after getting benched and watching his dynamic replacement improbably lead his team to the Super Bowl, this is as good as it gets.

Smith will love Andy Reid.

OK, so maybe staying with the team he helped get into position to make a Super Bowl run -- a team that is poised to repeat as NFC champion in 2013 with a stable offensive line, a reliable running game and weapons at receiver -- would be preferable. But Smith wasn't going to stay in San Francisco as anything other than Colin Kaepernick's backup. In the National Football League, players want to play. Starters want to start. Holding a clipboard and watching Kaepernick run like a gazelle for 50 yards couldn't be that rewarding for Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick and a competitor.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesAlex Smith didn't make a fuss when he was benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick.

So he was going to have to resume his career as a starter elsewhere. Kansas City appears to be that elsewhere.

All you can ask for as a quarterback is an opportunity, and Smith will have a terrific one with the Chiefs once the trade with the 49ers becomes official in early March. Smith will be playing for a coach who has a history of maximizing his quarterbacks' strengths and minimizing their deficiencies.

Reid did it for years with Donovan McNabb, which became obvious once McNabb floundered in Washington and then Minnesota. Reid knew McNabb better than Mike Shanahan and Leslie Frazier did. He knew McNabb could throw the long ball better than almost anybody else in the NFL but struggled with the intermediate throws. He knew McNabb wouldn't lead his receivers on the shorter routes, that he felt comfortable throwing to his tight end, that the screen game was important to McNabb and that a fade into the back of the end zone wasn't a good call.

Reid is not a micromanager but is a teacher. He involves himself with the quarterbacks while letting his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach do their jobs. He solicits opinions from his quarterbacks about plays they like and incorporates those into the game plans. And he allows his quarterbacks, particularly the veteran ones, to breathe.

It's funny, but Reid will be able to completely relate to what Smith went through in San Francisco last season. He did the same thing to Kevin Kolb in 2010. That year, Kolb suffered a concussion in the season opener. While he recovered, Michael Vick unexpectedly lit up Detroit and Jacksonville the way Kaepernick dazzled against Chicago and New Orleans. Once Kolb was healthy, Reid made the difficult but correct decision to stick with Vick, even though it meant Kolb had lost his job due to injury.

I'll never forget the scene in the Eagles' locker room the day after Reid's decision. Both quarterbacks, Vick and Kolb, spoke to the media simultaneously, Vick in front of his locker and Kolb a few feet away. Kolb was crushed. He was mad even. He had patiently waited behind McNabb for three seasons before getting his shot, only to have it ripped away after two quarters.

But Kolb said all the right things about supporting Vick and accepting Reid's decision. He was the consummate professional, that day and for the rest of the season.

That's how Smith handled it when Jim Harbaugh benched him in favor of Kaepernick. After everything he had been through in San Francisco, after all the coaches and all the coordinators -- seven in eight seasons -- Smith could have moped. He could have opted not to help Kaepernick. He easily could have been a jerk.

Smith wasn't.

Kolb always felt that Reid ultimately would do right by him, and after it became apparent that Vick was going to be the Eagles' starter for the foreseeable future, Reid did. He traded Kolb to Arizona, where he had the opportunity to start.

Reid will appreciate that Smith acted like a professional at one of the lowest points of his career. He will appreciate that Smith didn't quit. He will appreciate that Smith disagreed with Harbaugh's decision and certainly wanted more than anything to be the one to lead the Niners to their first Super Bowl in 18 years.

That will have value. That will have meaning. Reid will get it.

And Smith will get in Kansas City what he would not have gotten in San Francisco next season: a chance.

Yes, just as he did when San Francisco made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, Smith is walking into a team that finished with the worst overall record last season. But the Chiefs have more than 2-14 talent. They have five returning first-round draft picks on defense -- maybe six, depending on whether they re-sign defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who will be a free agent. They have a money running back in Jamaal Charles and a serviceable tight end in Tony Moeaki.

Kansas City needs more help on offense. It must rebuild its passing game. The Chiefs need a couple of playmaking wide receivers. They must decide what to do with right tackle Branden Albert, who will be a free agent. And they must decide how best to use the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

After parting with the 34th overall pick to land Smith, Kansas City will have one fewer draft pick to work with in April. But that move, whether a short-term stopgap or a long-term solution, will be a move that should work out well for the team, the coach and the player.

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