The All-Name Free Agent Team: Alex Smith*

The following is part of a series that can be most easily described as a Free Agency preview.

Before starting this series, first a disclaimer. Free agency is usually the most over hyped aspect of the NFL offseason – at least if you subscribe to the following:

1. If these free agents are such good players, then why did their teams allow them to become free agents?

2. Or, with the availability of more cap room and cap tags, it’s pretty rare to find a top-notch player fully available for the taking.

3. As such, most NFL free agents are either trying to cash in on either their first or last big money contract. Again, it’s worth asking why the player’s original team weren’t the ones to provide such a deal and naturally in such a situation, the idea of player motivation arises.

And of course, around these parts, the Browns haven’t been active participants in free agency for a few years. Either because of an inability to attract top talent or an unwillingness to spend top money, the Browns have eschewed the process in favor of building through the draft. As for 2013, it’s unclear whether the team’s new management will continue this approach. If you follow the logic of Joe Banner serving as the team’s fiscal arbitrator, then it’s hard to envision the Browns going on a shopping spree.

In the end, it’s likely that most Browns’ fans will again feel the sting of disappointment that has become a regular March feature. Seemingly every year, Browns’ fans psyche themselves up for a free agency extravaganza that never comes. While names such as Nnmadi Asomugha, Albert Haynesworth, Mario Williams and Adalius Thomas ultimately reveal themselves to be fool’s gold, perhaps it’s the appearance of the Browns not doing anything to improve the team that is most disappointing.

Yet, when you compare the fortunes of the team’s top consistent winners and losers, it’s easy to note how little of an impact free agency actually has. The most consistently good NFL teams build through the draft and sign their top players to contract extensions well before they can reach the free agency market. The rest of the league’s teams are the ones who chase free agents.

But, in an effort to play along – I’ve assembled what I feel is a roster of free agents – all of whom possess two common traits.* First, they are free agents and second, we’ve all heard of them.

And for a quick reference, here is a link of available NFL free agents and something more Browns’ specific.

Alex Smith**

-Offers several years of NFL experience.
-Even the dimmest of football reporters know his name.
-Played under Norv Turner for one season.
-Has won a playoff game.

-Has already made a ton of NFL money.
-Doesn’t stay healthy.
-Was benched en route to a sure playoff run.
-Existed before Jim Harbaugh came to the NFL.

The current prospect of Alex Smith as a top quarterback target is either the result of some crafty public relations work or accounts for the sheer stupidity of both football fans and executives. Had this discussion taken place two years ago, the idea of Smith serving as anything more than a backup quarterback would be pointless. Smith’s faltering career – one filled by injury and erratic play framed within the expectations of being the top overall draft pick – was life-flighted by Jim Harbaugh.

Based solely on numbers, here’s a stark reminder of just where Smith was pre-Harbaugh:

Before Jim Harbaugh
2005 – 2-5 Record, 50.9 Completion %, 875 Yards, 1 TD, 11 Int, 29 Sacks
2006 – 7-9 Record, 59.1 Completion %, 2890 Yards, 16 TD, 16 Int, 35 Sacks
2007 – 2-5 Record, 48.7 Completion %, 914 Yards, 2 TD, 4 Int, 17 Sacks
2008 – Did Not Play
2009 – 5-5 Record, 60.5 Completion %, 2350 Yards, 18 TD, 12 Int, 22 Sacks
2010 – 3-7 Record, 59.6 Completion %, 2370 Yards, 14 TD, 10 Int, 25 Sacks

-To note, 2006 was the magical year that Smith was under Norv Turner’s tutelage.

These are sobering numbers, particularly in the area of actual games played. Smith suffered a series of injuries and also was benched for the likes of Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan and Troy Smith – a trend that continued in 2012. Naturally, it’s easy to point to the level of talent that surrounded Smith and of course, the 49ers suffered through the ineptitude of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary’s coaching reigns.

For another comparison, it’s interesting to stack up Smith’s early career with that of another former first overall draft pick.

Like Couch, Smith played for a franchise that burned through Head Coaches and coordinators before landing Harbaugh. Smith’s line of offensive coordinators included Mike McCarthy, Turner, Ted Tollner and Mike Martz before Greg Roman arrived in 2011. Certainly, the endless transitions didn’t help Smith’s overall development – nor did the 49ers’ continual botching of the draft.

In a very weird sense, it’s almost as if Smith has always been a Browns’ quarterback. The comparisons are kind of eerie.

Anyway, in all fairness, Smith morphed into an efficient quarterback under Harbaugh.

After Jim Harbaugh
2011 – 13-3 Record, 61.3 Completion %, 3144 Yards, 17 TD, 5 Int, 44 Sacks
2012 – 6-2-1 Record, 70.2 Completion %, 1737 Yards, 13 TD, 5 Int, 24 Sacks

It’s arguable, but Harbaugh is probably among the league’s top quarterback developers – at least if two seasons’ worth of evidence is enough proof. Certainly in terms of putting his quarterbacks into positions to succeed, Harbaugh and Roman crafted an offense that fit Smith’s talents and/or didn’t expose his weaknesses. In 2011 – when he posted an impressive 14-4 overall record – Smith threw more than 30 passes in exactly half of his games – a mark of a truly balanced offense.

Yet, the underlying truth regarding Smith is that he was put into the absolute best situation to succeed, yet Harbaugh continued to try to find a replacement. First by drafting Colin Kaepernick, then chasing Peyton Manning, then in the ultimate sign of not having faith, Harbaugh gambled on a sure playoff run to bench Smith in favor of the untested Kaepernick.

Or, let’s be more succinct. Smith has already been given the absolute best situation an NFL quarterback can ask for: terrific coaching, an offensive system that emphasized running and smart passing, excellent defense and a weak division. Yet, Smith was dumped. And now the veteran quarterback will likely NEVER enter a better situation in the NFL – at least in terms of coaching and surrounding talent. If Smith’s history is anything to measure his future, then it’s very likely he will struggle on a team with lesser talent.

And while Smith’s last two seasons have been productive, it’s interesting to think that his career resurrection has been essentially based on a limited amount of throws. In a league designed to reward teams who pass, Smith has made a name for himself by playing the dated role of the “complementary quarterback”, or “game manager” if you’re into dumb cliches. Smith has won a lot of games by going against the league trend of throwing a lot of passes.

The Pick:
Smith has been the recipient of a great deal of hype – no doubt highlighted by the 49ers’ Super Bowl exposure. As is often the case, this hype overshadows Smith’s actual talents as an NFL quarterback. Smith is a solid veteran quarterback – one who can run a team and make some plays. However, Smith only succeeded on a larger scale when the situation around him was nearly perfect. In coming to a team that is anything but, it’s hard to envision Smith reaching similar heights.

According to this rationale, Smith would make for a solid free agent pickup for a team needing a bridge quarterback – but wouldn’t be expected to do much more or to command a huge sum of money. Of course, given his name and exposure, Smith carries a big price tag and in his current unique case, the 49ers could probably extract a first or second round draft pick from a QB-desperate team. Based on his history, Smith would make for a very expensive gamble.

For another comparison, here are some other quarterback alternatives:

Matt Moore

Chad Henne

Tavaris Jackson

Jason Campbell

Brian Hoyer

A case could be made that Moore is nearly the equal of Smith – and would represent a greater value to a team like the Browns. Of course, Moore can’t claim a similar “name” recognition – which seems to be an oddly vital aspect of free agency. As for the other quarterbacks, it’s a less than inspiring group. However, if you are Bill Belichick and you know that Mike Lombardi is dying to trade with you, why would the Patriots not quickly re-sign Brian Hoyer and wait for the Browns to unload a third-round draft pick?

Then again, there’s that whole idea of the Browns actually finding a franchise quarterback. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid sad debates like whether Alex Smith or Matt Moore is a better option?

Until then…

*Once again, Alex Smith is not a free agent – in case you are an unpaid Internet fact checker or just a D-bag who likes to make obvious corrections.

**I fully understand that Alex Smith is not a free agent. However, for the purposes of this exercise, let’s just assume that he is.


As always, leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS section at the bottom of the page.

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Comments (19)

  1. jimkanicki

    let me take the counterpoint on alex smith. :-)

    the niners teams pre-harbaugh were a bit of unstable suck. the mike nolan teams shuffled through four OCs, mccarthy, turner, hostler, martz in three+ years. he had a different top WR each of the nolan years, and they werent jerry rice: brandon lloyd, antonio bryant, arnaz battle, isaac bruce.

    nolan is fired mid-season 2008; enter mike singletary, who i happen to like actually. but this was his first HC gig, it seemed he was over his skis. in his final year, he knew he was on the hotseat so he too had incentive to scapegoat the qb and did so by benching him.* starting troy smith over alex smith is non-verbal communication saying: ITS NOT MY FAULT YOU GUYS! youve also got the vernon davis mess and bear in mind that davis was the new primary target for smith during the singletary years. singletary also gets fired in season; it’s got to wear on the QB after awhile.

    if we look at the current niners o-line, we find consider investment in draft picks: a. davis (1st rd, 2010), iupati (1st, 2010), staley (1st 2007). also v. davis (1st, 2006). this indicates to me that the line smith was working behind during the nolan years must’ve been utter suck. that’s a lot of firsties on the line. might the line have also contributed to early performance?

    why did harbaugh choose kap? maybe it’s as simple as wanting to ride with a unique offense that kap is perfect for and smith is not. but yet, that’s not to say smith is not athletic. he’s seemed very mobile to me when i’ve seen him. he ran a 4.7 in his combine (same as aaron rodgers); actually had the fastest QB shuttle time.

    number one draft picks are easy scapegoats. let’s stipulate this. as we know, our sports journalists tend to gravitate to the less complex story. ‘niners continual system tweaking retards offense’s progress’ or? ‘alex smith sucks.’ as we know, steady drumming of an incorrect narrative can result in it being accepted as truth.

    i dont think it’s stretch to see how circumstances beyond his control created a no-win environment for smith.

    i don’t see us getting him. there will be many suitors and the price will be very high.
    but i’d be all for it if we could him and still plug some holes on defense.

    * note, i so wanted us to take a run at smith when the 2010 benching happened. at the time we’d burned through two QBs and were running with the 3rd string rookie who -according to lore- wasnt even given a playbook until forced into duty.

    • I hadn’t thought of the Singletary scapegoat idea. That makes a lot of sense and Singletary was definitely out of his element as a Head Coach. Certainly, Smith was a bit of a victim here. And yes, the talent level around Smith was Browns-esque until Harbaugh arrived. However, it’s worth asking if Smith ever elevated his offense or was just another dimension of a bad team.

      To me, this is the real mark of whether a quarterback can be a transcending player or merely just a part of an offense. Anything less than a QB who can truly change a team’s direction is not worth a free agent investment or in Smith’s case – trading away an (inflated) high draft pick.

      I will say that Smith is certainly tough – both physically and mentally. To again use the Couch comparison, Smith has been badly beaten up over his career and survived both the Singletary and Harbaugh benches.

      • jimkanicki

        your excellent youtube reminded me of two more pro-alex-smith incidents:

        nolan pretty much challenged his manhood resulting in smith looking like hell while playing with a separated shoulder that wound up needing surgery.

        when singletary wanted to (tried to) bench smith for david carr, vernon davis with (frank gore approving) told smith go back to singletary and fight for his job.. because they wanted smith in there.

        i do think the guy’s gotten a bum rap. i saw sobs on twitter commenting about smith’s deep ball. i don’t know if smith’s arm strength is a question or not so i’ll just leave that open.

        • I guess I’m probably framing Smith’s worth within the context of the Browns either spending big money on him or giving up a draft pick. In that sense, he’s definitely worth a huge investment. Still, Smith isn’t going to win a lot of games for a talent-starved team. And on a good team, he can be solid but what is the ceiling?

  2. BulldogDad

    Going after Alex Smith makes no sense from a risk/reward standpoint. He’s not even a good fit in Chud’s downfield offense. Bringing in a Matt Moore or Derek Anderson (assuming he’s all grown up now) to push/mentor Weeden does make sense.

  3. Gary Collins

    Perhaps the exercise would be to question 1. Do we want Alex Smith at all? 2. If we do, what would we be willing to give up in a trade? Our 1st round pick? No, hell no, but what if San Francisco threw in their 1st round pick? Or their 1st, 2nd, and Smith for the 6th overall?

  4. Smith is a bust. Which leads me to my next point, he sucks. I foresee the team bringing in a low priced veteran, drafting a QB in the 4-5th range. Weeden will have to compete, however weeds will be the lead horse. I don’t see any other way other then Philip Rivers for weeden and Rubin.

    • Your logic is very solid in your first two sentences. Well done.

      As for your trade scenario, I’ve never been a big Rivers fan. I can’t see a Norv and Rivers reunion taking the Browns to a playoff level when it didn’t happen in San Diego.

  5. Thanks for imparting some sanity into the Alex Smith discussion. It shouldn’t even be a debate. I guess the media guys have nothing else to write about so they float his name whenever they can. I think we will see that Chud and Norv Turner will get a lot of mileage out of BW and his big arm. I think he is far more explosive than A Smith will ever be. In fact I am not sure how much upgrade if any, he would be over Colt.

    • The discussion will linger solely because no one has anything else to talk about.

      • jimkanicki

        no one else to talk about?! well we’ll see about that.. let’s revisit the ryan mallett 2011 sugar bowl!

        You’ll see good mobility, short pass touch, long pass accuracy, plenty of arm strength, movement through progressions, mostly good decisions, equal parts under-center/shotgun, and about ten drops by my count.

        don’t understand the antipathy on mallett.

        • It all goes back to Lombardi. I’m sure you already have realized this, Kanicki – but anything linked to Lombardi will be shit on by a LOT of media and fans. I have no problem with Mallett, but I really can’t see a Weeden/Mallett competition nor can I see the Browns giving up a lot for Mallett. I think most people are under the impression that Belichick is just waiting to fleece Lombardi in a trade and Mallett is the most obvious bait.

          And I know it’s not the logical thing to do in the ego-inflated NFL (and especially with Banner and Lombardi), but the Browns should at least give Weeden a crack at a real NFL offense in 2013. After all, how could any QB have succeeded in Shurmur’s mess of an offense? Now, I can fully appreciate bringing in some competition (from Matt Moore and/or another rookie to whoever), but I hope Weeden is not just discarded because the people in charge didn’t draft him.

          • And I see what I just did there. I advocated for Weeden to get another shot because he was the victim of a terrible offense. I guess this also works in Alex Smith’s defense (which is what Kanicki was pointing out).

            I hate when logic gets in the way of a good argument.

          • jimkanicki

            meh, dont worry about logic. im actually indifferent between smith or weeden or mallett. i reserve the right to advocate for any and retain ambivalence for all.

          • Good call. I don’t want to get backed into a corner either.

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