Sports Opinion & Analysis

The Man in the Red Jersey

In NFL on March 8, 2013 at 7:17 am

By Chris Carosi

It’s a lot easier to decide what is “good” for an NFL franchise as a whole. One can access the skill and value of players objectively from a reasonable point-of-view and make educated choices based on that. For example, “Joe Flacco is overpaid.” That’s just one.

“Haha, yeah I was thinking about tattooing on my rear end, ‘My solid gold toilet is being made by Dwarves, bitch.'”

For a player, it’s a little fuzzy. Who is to say a player will succeed or fail in a certain system? How can one really with 100% certainty say a guy belongs in a particular franchise based on the past? How much of a player’s success is based on their individual merit and how much is based on the coaching staff or surrounding players? Can you drag and drop players with similar skill into a system and have it work?

This is why a GM makes more money than you and I. Professional football is a game of 22 role players on the field essentially, so filling the roster gaps with the best available skill fit for the coaching system and for the right value is difficult stuff. Add to this the nature of the game itself, which constantly shifting and evolving.

49ers GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh discuss the market value of Dockers.

There are examples of the good, the bad, and the weird with quarterbacks. Some players can walk into any team and simply pull the team with them like a magnetic force (Peyton Manning). Some have success with the right formula, fizzle out, get a big contract and then disappear (Daunte Culpepper, Jake Delhomme). Some have success, get a big contract with another team, fail miserably, get a second chance with the right system and supporting cast, and have success again (Kurt Warner). Some just practice really well and get passed around like a crumby bicycle and never get their head above mediocre (Kyle Orton).

Kurt Warner probably was huge in coaching Eli Manning though. Oh yeah, he’s touching his butt in this picture also.

And some are Alex Smith. The jury is out, has been out, on this guy for a long time now. It’s clear that the entrance of Jim Harbaugh and staff found whatever it was about his game that could be developed to a high level, and simply coached it exceedingly well to fruition. Alex Smith was on his way to these past playoffs, no doubt. He had a 70% completion rate before suffering his concussion last season, with a quarterback rating of 104.1. He was on pace for his best season ever before going down.

The entrance of Colin Kaepernick was a little bit of  a surprise. To me, it spoke more about the excellent coaching in San Francisco than Kaepernick’s skill.  To take a quarterback of a different skill-set and building the offense around that. Basically, it seemed like Kaepernick was just a better athlete and so they just plugged him in and went with it. Of course, it didn’t seem to work in Super Bowl XLVII, but that’s another article. We’ll see what he can do with a full off-season and mini-camp as starter.

“Coach, even if you get out-coached by your brother and have a tantrum on the sideline over a holding call tonight, you should know that we are definitely cooler than the Ravens.”

What does work, what has worked, for Alex Smith is the confidence of those around him. The patience he’s dealt with in his career is very rare in the NFL. It’s interesting that the 49ers stuck with him as long as they did, and that he managed to achieve success so far along the line, after four or five years of mediocre play. And while they did experiment with some other dudes like Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Shaun Hill, and J.T. O’Sullivan–Smith just stuck around and stuck around and eventually got kind of good.

Alex Smith will keep the red jersey on as he moves east to the centre of BBQ guzzling known as Kansas City, where quarterbacks have gone to slaughter as steady as a slaughter can ever be. Which is appropriate given the awesome brisket served all across KC. It’s clear that this is the only thing I know about Kansas City. The Chiefs haven’t had a steady and solid quarterback since Len Dawson. The MVP of Super Bowl IV. They drafted and traded Rich Gannon. And Joe Montana played there for two years past his prime. Remember that?

My first memory of the Steelers in the playoffs is Smokin’ Joe picking them apart past his prime.

Since Montana, who retired in 1995, the title of Chiefs quarterback has been filled by such excellence as:

Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, and Matt Cassel among others. And yes, all of those guys look exactly the same.

To be fair, the Trent Green era was pretty competitive. They had Dick Vermeil coaching and they had that one playoff game against the Colts where no team punted, but who will remember Trent Green? He was a good backup for the Rams. Just like Cassel was a good backup for the Patriots, and Grbac was a good backup for San Francisco. The players one remembers are further back, in the Schottenheimer era: Derrick Thomas, Christian Okoye, and… damn I’m blanking

So technically speaking, Smith breaks the mold. The Chiefs aren’t trying to groom a good backup into a starter (finally). They are trying out a guy-that-was-a-decent-starter-who-lost-his-job-to-a-younger-more-skilled-dude-due-to-injury. So we actually can say that things are looking up for Kansas City. And maybe Smith will have chemistry with Dwayne Bowe. And maybe the passing game will help the running game, and all of a sudden we have a competitive team again.

Speaking of contracts, Bowe is now the third-highest receiver in the league. He could have a great year if the Chiefs offense comes around. Or it could be terrible.

And if there’s a time for the Chiefs to make a move, they do it now. They’re only two seasons removed from a division title, and the AFC West is very vulnerable. Manning’s Broncos are very good, but he won’t last forever. The Chargers are terrible and the Raiders seem stuck in cement. The NFL rarely works out to what it looks like on paper. If Alex Smith is as good a leader as it might have seemed in San Francisco, we’ll be swimming in hot wings in KC!

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