By Nick Shook
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Alex Smith has battled the stigma earned by his early career struggles for much of the last decade and throughout his tenure with the Chiefs. Saturday night’s result won’t quiet the uninformed doubters.
Individually, the quarterback had yet another solid performance, completing 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns in the 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans. But while Smith did his job, Kansas City crumbled in the second half, surrendering an 18-point lead to a hungry Titans team led by Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry. As the Titans stunned fans at Arrowhead Stadium and viewers around the globe, Smith’s Chiefs couldn’t respond, with the result sending Kansas City home earlier than expected yet again.
For Smith — a quarterback who finished eighth in total passing yards, posted the NFL’s highest passer rating and second-highest completion percentage among qualified passers, finished with a league-best 28-5 TD-INT ratio and was the starting quarterback of a division-winning team — it’s yet another mark against his legacy, even though he had very little to do with the loss. Alex Smith can’t win a big playoff game, they’ll continue to say, even though he was forced to play without Travis Kelce in the second half, had receivers drop multiple key passes and played under a coordinator who called a disproportionate amount of passes when nursing a shrinking lead. It might also have been the last time Smith will wear a Chiefs uniform.
“The game just ended,” Smith said when asked about the possibility of not getting another chance with the Chiefs. “We’ll get into all of that in the next couple of weeks.”
It’s preposterous to think — why would a team that saw an early playoff exit pull the plug on a quarterback with Smith’s numbers?
At 33 years old, Smith has showed no signs of decline, but he’s on a contract that expires after next season. He’s due $20.6 million, including a $2 million roster bonus that triggers if he’s on the team at the start of training camp. If released before then, he’ll count just $3.6 million against the salary cap.
“Listen, he did some good things,” head coach Andy Reid said after the loss when asked of Smith’s future in Kansas City. “He really put together a nice year, but he’s feeling as empty as we all are here. These guys are hurting. Nobody knows better than the players and feels worse than those guys. They put in so much time and effort into this thing. He had a good year this year.”
Yes, he did, but that didn’t exactly sound like a firm response from Reid. When considering who else is on the roster at the position, it starts to make sense.
Smith is sitting ahead of first-round pick and heir apparent Patrick Mahomes, who showed plenty of promise in his lone regular-season start in Week 17. The succession plan is already in place, and for a team looking at a close call with the salary cap in 2018, shedding Smith would create massive relief.
Buoyed by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport’s Saturday report that the Chiefs are open to trading Smith during the offseason, Kansas City should be expected to attempt to deal the quarterback to a team flush with space — Cleveland, for example, though the Browns aren’t alone — and would likely only release Smith if it can’t find a suitor. Considering these numbers, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach might not have a ton of leverage — even with a hotter-than-usual quarterback market forming — but it seems likely Smith won’t be back in 2018.
Fresh off a heartbreaking playoff loss, Smith wasn’t anywhere near considering a future without the guys with whom he just spent the last half of the year.
“Yeah, I mean, you kidding me? I signed the contract,” Smith said when asked if he wanted to return to the Chiefs in 2018. “I’m under contract for another year, so like I said, I’m not thinking about anything else. Right now, obviously disappointed. Like I said, I felt like we had a good chance, and it’s gone.”
For what it’s worth, it appears at least one of Smith’s teammates would want him back next season:
The chance at a ring is indeed gone with this group. Next year’s group might not include the guy under center. We’ll see how that affects the future of both parties involved.