This past week has not gone as planned for the Kansas City Chiefs. It began with a catastrophic collapse at the hands of the Tennessee Titans in the Wild-Card Playoff Round, and it ended with key coaching departures such as assistant head coach Brad Childress retiring, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy accepting the head coach job for the Chicago Bears, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton rumored to be fired or to retire.
With all these changes in place, the team expects even more turnover as the offseason unfolds. Coming off of a career season, quarterback Alex Smith is expected to be traded as the team cedes the starting job to sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes. With only a year left on his contract, and the future of the team biding his time as a backup, the writing has been on the wall the entire season that this was Smith’s final season in Kansas City. The organization was encouraged by Mahomes’ performance in the team’s week 17 win over the Denver Broncos, as he displayed a scrambling ability that Smith has lacked throughout his career.
Given that Smith has displayed an improved vertical passing ability–to the point where he lead the NFL in accuracy on throws 20+ yards in the air–he is an enticing trade target for teams looking to bridge the gap between quarterbacks. A trade of Smith would net the Chiefs multiple compensatory draft picks that could be used to address holes on the defense and the offensive line.
Despite the obvious logic for trading Smith this offseason, the most sensible move for the Chiefs is to hold on to Smith for another season.
Next season, the Chiefs will have a new offensive coordinator in former running backs coach Eric Bieniemy, and the team can expect a slightly different offensive system in comparison to this past season. With head coach Andy Reid potentially returning to offensive playcalling duties, it is impossible to predict how the offense will look next season. For as well as Mahomes played against the Broncos, he still did not look comfortable running an offense from under center, and he could benefit from Smith showcasing the offensive playbook for another season. Mahomes would be placed in a tough spot if he was to be the team’s starting quarterback in the first season of a new offense.
If the Chiefs hope to contend next season, the best course of action is to retain Smith. The Chiefs are a year away from having to replace key pieces on defense such as linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson (who may both choose to retire), and they could see even more holes open up as next season progresses. If Mahomes were to take the reigns as a quarterback, he could find a roster in flux, and he would be forced to be the stabilizing element.
The argument for trading Smith, is that the team could shed over $20 million in salary, and they could recoup draft picks to be used to address other holes on the roster. As the Titans proved last week, the Chiefs have issues at all three levels of the defense, and could stand to spend free agent money on positions outside of quarterback. In addition, this past season wide receiver Albert Wilson emerged as a reliable third option in the Chiefs’ receiving core. A free agent this offseason, re-signing him would likely cost much more than the $1.79 million he made this past season.
Ultimately, the best play for the Chiefs this offseason is to retain Smith. With much disarray and uncertainty going into next season, Smith still is the best option to weather the storm for another season. At some point next season the time may come to trade away Smith, however, that time has not come yet.
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