The Al-EX Factor

alex thumbs up

There is an endless and tiresome debate to be had regarding today’s NFL Quarterbacks and here in Kansas City we have one of the more polarizing faces of that discussion:

Alexander Douglas Smith

Alex Smith is a bit of an enigma; a former first overall pick that suffered through perhaps the most tumultuous tenure of coaching for a proud and historic franchise. His first seven NFL seasons saw three head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and 17 different starting receivers come and go before his first trip to the playoffs.

During that first playoff run in 2011, Smith finished 29th in passing yardage despite having career highs in every relevant statistical category. Perhaps it’s a statement about how poorly he began his NFL career that in arguably his best statistical season (at that point) he still finished near the bottom of the league in passing yards.

Game Manager is the common tongue for Quarterbacks that don’t throw for 4,000 yards. Was that a generalization on my part? Sure… but so is the term Game Manager itself.

In today’s NFL, where gaudy passing numbers have become routine, teams are being categorized by their Quarterbacks.

It’s always been the marquee position in professional sports – the face of a franchise more so than any point guard, pitching ace or primary goal scorer. However, the labels applied to teams and/or signal-callers seem to be more prevalent axiomatic than ever before.

There are the perennial contenders – teams led by “franchise” or “elite” Quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Despite whatever flaws those teams have, they will consistently be darlings of the betting public as long as they are led by a premier Quarterback.

Peyton Manning is the paradigm of this belief system – he found a new home during free agency and immediately made that franchise a Super Bowl favorite.

There’s a new generation of Quarterbacks primed to take the reins from their aging peers; an exciting class led by Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton. Each of their respective franchises believes they have a chance to win the Super Bowl so long as their man is in uniform.

While I’ve only named eight of the 40(ish) Quarterbacks that figure into their teams’ plans for the present and/or future, we may very well have reached the end of the list of teams that are supremely confident they can win a Super Bowl with their current starter.

Belief is an interesting way to approach this subject. Often times franchises are broken into “haves” and “have nots” in regards to their signal-caller, but the under-lying theme is rooted in whether or not a Quarterback inspires the team (or the fans) to believe they are contenders.

Players like Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan inspire confidence but each of them has just one playoff win in their careers… the same number as Alex Smith. In terms of age, Alex is almost exactly one year older than Matt Ryan, a year younger than Cutler and four years junior to Romo. Also in that age-bracket: Joe Flacco, who is just 8 months younger than Alex Smith.

I’m not gonna lie – I was stunned to find out that Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Alex Smith are all essentially the same age… it adds some context to why the Chiefs organization doesn’t seem* to have a problem giving him an EXtension.

*Reports suggest the two sides are “far-apart” in negotiations, but the Chiefs have made no secrets about their desire to keep Smith in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

At some point during a drunken stupor this past weekend, I had an epiphany. I think I may have finally figured out why (some) Chiefs fans dislike Alex Smith… its a little something I’ve decided to call the EX-factor.

Not only is he an EX-49er QB (now the fourth of his kind to start for this franchise), he seems to lack an invaluable attribute that most of the top-tier Quarterbacks possess – EXcitement.

Whether it’s the lack of eye-popping statistics – which, as mentioned, relegates him to Game Manager status by many pundits – interviews that rival baseball games and golf commentary for nap-time supremacy, or the fact that he hadn’t really “hit his stride” until his late twenties, Alex Smith isn’t the type of player that EXcites a franchise… even if it’s a franchise that has trotted-out the likes of Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle and Matt Cassel in recent history.

Frankly speaking, Chiefs fans want to draft their savior.

It’s been 31 years since Kansas City selected a Quarterback in the first round. Although players like EJ Manuel, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder (and countless others) were early draft picks that haven’t proven to be the caliber of Alex Smith, it’s almost as if there’s a faction of Chiefs fans that would be more EXcited to have one of them leading this franchise so long as they had actually been drafted by this franchise. Maybe it has something to do with a sense of pride or ownership – the “that’s my Quarterback” sort of logic. Oddly enough, we’ve reached a point where results are playing a minor role in the forming of opinions.

Alex Smith has started three playoff games in his career. His stat line: 66-114 for 873 yards, 9 TDs and 0 INTs to go along with 15 carries for 127 yards and a TD with two fumbles. Those numbers are impressive, but are likely out-weighed by his 1-2 record. Somehow, QB wins are a statistic by which many think Quarterbacks should not be judged… unless of course it supports their argument at the time.

Ultimately, the vast majority of NFL Quarterbacks are stuck in a myriad of paradoxical analyses and Alex Smith is the poster-boy for such nonsense. He’s in a lose-lose situation with a growing number of fans simply because of how he was acquired and what the Chiefs had to surrender in exchange for his services.

Certainly the goal for every franchise should be to win a Super Bowl. The question of whether or not Alex Smith can deliver a championship to Kansas City is, in my mind, largely unanswered.

I see Alex Smith a lot like Ben Roethlisberger – neither player is a remarkably gifted passer but each of them have the uncanny ability to extend drives with their legs. Sure, Big Ben has a more powerful arm and two rings on his resume – but have you actually taken a look at his playoff statistics during their two runs to the promised land? They’re embarrassingly mediocre. In three games culminating in a Super Bowl victory in 2009, Roethlisberger threw just three touchdowns.

The pattern: when either player has produced their best statistical performances, their teams have somehow fallen flat. This dares to suggest that something as frowned-upon as Game Management could, in fact, be more important than flashy stat lines.

This is not an argument for or against Alex Smith, rather an EXplanation as to why I believe a growing number of Chiefs fans shudder at the idea of giving him an EXtension. If you EXamine the full spectrum of variables, you may or may not find the Alex Smith EXperiment more EXciting than once thought.


2 thoughts on “The Al-EX Factor

  1. EXcellent. You mentioned that we don’t really see Alex Smith as “our” quarterback, at what point would (or could) hat change? It’s definitely possible, look at Jay Cutler in Chicago. Granted, Cutler more exciting and easier to embrace. The biggest problem is that Alex was the “49ers” QB. I’m not sure that Cutler was ever that for Denver. I do think that if Smith can manage to win a few playoff games and have something similar to that playoff win he had against the Saints, there is a good chance KC would adopt him. Right now he just feels like a teenage step-child that we’re waiting to leave the house so we can raise our own kid. The Chiefs sure have had a lot of step-children…

  2. well done and agreed … Smith does have the talent and ability … truly a shame he hasn’t been embraced by more fans as he has by Big Red Reid

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