Is Alex Smith Worth $18 Million a Season?


Earlier today there was some discussion about Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs negotiations being pretty much at a standstill due to Smith believing he should be paid upwards of $18 million a season. This figure should come as no surprise to those who listen to the podcast or follow my Twitter feed as I’ve mentioned that number many times in the past. Smith was basically considered a bust for the first six or seven years or his career and little more than a game manager at his best, but the marketplace puts a premium on QB play and there is little mid tier market that exists at the position anymore.

It was not that long ago that the QB market was kind of filled with a few tiers of players. At the top tier you had Drew Brees and Peyton Manning making around $20 million. Following that grouping was Matt Schaub and Mike Vick in the $16 million range. A step down from there were players like Carson Palmer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Mark Sanchez in the $13 million range. In between it all you had the outdated contracts or Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger that had set the market a few years back.

Slowly that mid tier of Vick and Schaub through Sanchez evaporated. The new NFL has essentially divided the QB position into high paid veterans and rookies. Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco all make over $20 million a season. The low floor was set when Tony Romo, a statistical gem but with a lack of success, made $18 million a season in a new contract signed in 2013. Matt Stafford, a former number 1 overall pick, signed for about $17.7 million. From there you drop all the way down to Smith at $9.3 million and Palmer at $8 million to get a recent reference point (Tom Brady took unique $11.4 million a year deal that won’t be applicable to anyone else).  After that it becomes rookie ball and hanger ons.

My assumption last season was that Jay Cutler of the Bears would be the player to re-define that mid tier contract in the $15-$16 million range. Cutler was a classic player to fit that mold. He was talented and had that draft pedigree but there were flaws which never saw the talent turn into stats or incredibly productive team performance. He was the type of player a contending team would never give up on, but probably not the type of player you build around.

Somehow he ended up surpassing Romo in annual value at $18.1 million a season. That should have sent shockwaves around front offices in the NFL because it signaled that talented veterans were going to get paid at a very high level moving forward. It opened the door for Smith, who had been a bargain the last two seasons, to really reach for the stars in contract talks.

Here are how Romo, Cutler, and Smith stack up in some key categories. Please note that these stats are three year averages and are for the seasons leading up to the extension, meaning 2010-2012 for Romo and 2011-2013 for the other two.

Win %44.7%61.1%74.4%
Comp %66.4%59.9%62.7%

Outside of age and record it is difficult to see any manner in which Cutler compared favorably to Romo. In fact he was outdistanced by Romo in every other category. Smith and Cutler are certainly comparable players. Cutler is going to throw for more yards but that comes with a far higher risk than Smith, who is not nearly as turnover prone. That probably intensifies the game manager label for Smith, but you are also paying for more games when you get Smith. Though the Bears did not sign a pricey backup for Cutler, most teams would consider signing a higher priced backup due to the injury history. Dallas did that with Kyle Orton in the event Romo had another bad injury. Smith has been durable.

Turning to more advanced metrics which are provided by Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Advanced Football Analytics, Pro Football Reference and ESPN we get the following:

Total QBR65.657.555.4
PFF Pass13.34.477.33
Air Yards/Comp6.617.45.76
Avg. YAC5.024.665.40

Even moreso than traditional numbers, these categories are dominated by Romo. What Cutler did besides being younger than Romo to warrant a similar contract is hard to imagine. In these categories Smith would be considered a bit superior to Cutler. Cutler’s main strength is that he throws the ball further down the field than Smith. The YAC is not as strong for Cutler, but he would seem more reliable in getting yards without help compared to the others.

Regardless of how you look at the numbers I think it is clear that Smith has a strong argument to match or slightly exceed Cutler’s salary. Smith is one year younger and in the last three seasons been much more successful. While some of Smith’s wins are attributed to being on an excellent team in San Francisco he should benefit greatly from his trade to Kansas City where the team went from worst in the NFL to a double digit win team with Smith at QB. It has marked three straight years that his teams have gone to the playoffs.

Kansas City’s salary cap situation may make things difficult if Smith signs a Cutler size contract. Their salary cap is incredibly tight and it may require a contract with heavy prorated bonus money. The Bears signed Cutler on terms they wanted. The Chiefs probably can not do that with Smith. If they are not sold on Smith at these numbers then its best to hold off before doing a contract even if, in the long run, it makes the cap numbers more difficult to manage. If they still believe that Smith is a game manager that has been lucky by circumstance the last few years then they are better off waiting on a new contract. If things go poorly for him this year they will reap the benefits down the line. This was one of the mistakes Houston made when they extended Schaub a season too early only to regret the decision before the ink even dried on the contract.

Realistically it is hard to believe that Smith could increase his value that much more by winning a championship.  The current low value player who received the salary boost from a Super Bowl win is Joe Flacco at $20.1 million. Flacco was 28 when he signed his contract, three years younger than Smith will be if his contract expires. So you are not looking at a difference of $4-5 million per year if he wins as was the case with Flacco.

The bigger risk for the Chiefs in waiting is what happens with the turnover from the 2004 QB draft class, all of whom are in situations that likely will require extensions by the 2015 season. Manning, Roethlisberger, and Rivers are all playing on contracts that really have no valid place in the market.  They only have one more year of NFL experience than Smith and could be comparison points for him. If they all end up over $20 million it could push the value for Smith, even if he has a similar season as he had in 2013. That could also benefit the Chiefs if those contracts do not surpass the $20 million barrier and barely surpass the Cutler contract. Manning and Roethlisberger have more championships and ties to their cities while Rivers is going to be a much stronger statistical performer than Smith.  Having a strong understanding of where those contracts could be headed might be important in the Chiefs decision making process.

But the $18 million asking price is not outlandish based on what Smith has done the last few seasons. It’s a valid asking price given the Cutler contract and will likely be around what Smith earns from the Chiefs or another team in the NFL. We’ll see how it plays out over the summer.




Free Agency Thoughts: Kansas City Chiefs


Key Additions: Vance Walker ($3.3M per year), Joe Mays($3M)

Key Re-Signings: Husain Abdullah($1.1M per year)

Key Losses: Branden Albert (Dolphins), Tyson Jackson (Falcons), Jon Asamoah (Falcons), Geoff Schwartz (Giants), Dexter McCluster (Titans)

Major Cuts: Dunta Robinson ($3.1M cap savings)

Free Agency Thoughts:

Free agency for the Chiefs was more about the state of their salary cap than it was about signing players. The Chiefs spending spree occurred in 2013 and with a high payroll already a factor in 2015 with no starting QB under contract that season there was little that Kansas City could do this year but watch their team begin to get torn apart.

The Chiefs did not really want Albert last season and tried to trade him so it was no surprise to see him leave via free agency. There was barely an avenue to afford him last year and absolutely none this year. Could they have kept one of the guards without touching contracts on the roster?  Probably not, but its realistic to question if money would have been better allocated there than to Joe Mays at LB.

Last year Mays was a late cut from the Broncos who saw no need to pay him $4 million. He signed with the Texans for around $1.1 million. While he played ok, paying $3 million for him is a bit rich. Akeem Jordan signed with the Redskins for the minimum and will only count for $635,000 against the cap compared to $2 million for Mays. That extra $1.5 million may have given the team a way to keep one of their linemen.

Vance Walker should be a solid addition in their rotation and lower in cost than the departing Jackson, who came off a career season which turned into nearly $10 million in guaranteed salary with the Falcons. Teams should always be wary of career seasons from underachievers in a walk year and Kansas City wisely was cautious.

The rest of free agency was basically just signing whatever low cost guys they could with Abdullah leading the way at $1.1 million a year. I’m assuming he will see an expanded role at that salary, if not they should have looked at a minimum contract.

Overall Grade: C-

I’m sure the first inclination is to look at the losses and gains and give the team a D or F, but what else could they have done?  The team had no chance to do anything in free agency due to their cap. They were not going to trade Tamba Hali nor could they justify touching Dwayne Bowe’s contract after the hideous season he had.  You can nitpick Mays but even that may not have resulted in a deal for one of the lost players. Of the teams we have gone over so far this was the first one that faced a salary cap constraint that made it near impossible to do anything.




Chiefs Promote Watkins From Practice Squad


The Kansas City Chiefs promoted G Rokevious Watkins from their Practice Squad on Wednesday which is not really news. The interesting part, however, is the fact that they included a $90,000 signing bonus in his contract. The Chiefs have, all season, carried Watkins on their Practice Squad and consistently bumped his level of pay to help entice him to remain in Kansas City. He received the standard salary of $6,000 for two weeks, had that bumped to $7,500 and that just recently had it bumped to $8,000 per week.

Watkins, a 5th round pick of the Rams in 2012, has now pocketed $281,300 in signing bonus money over the last two seasons, putting his two year guaranteed payout well above that of the first pick of the 5th round of the draft. Watkins spent almost all of 2012 on injured reserve, was suspended for one game this year and had battled weight issues which led to his release from the Rams. The Chiefs, according to a League source, also included incentives to try to get Watkins to control his weight in the future.

View Rok Watkins Contract and Salary Cap Page



Chiefs Restructure Contract of K Ryan Succop


We’ve discussed a lot about the Chiefs very tight salary cap situation which became better after the team restructured the contract of CB Brandon Flowers, but still left them with little breathing room. To try to increase that margin for error the Chiefs restructured the contract of K Ryan Succop by reducing his base salary from $1.95 million to the league minimum of $715,000 and converting the difference to a prorated bonus. The move saves the Chiefs $926,250 in cap room in 2013.

View Ryan Succop’s Contract and Salary Cap Page

View Ryan Succop’s Interactive Financial Report

Chiefs Cutting Ties With a Draft Pick and Some Other Notes


The Kansas City Chiefs were the first NFL team to part ways with one of their 2013 draft selections when they released RB Braden Wilson. Wilson was a 6th round selection that was signed with one of the compensatory picks awarded to the Chiefs. He had received a signing bonus of $78,680.

Though many of us believe that being drafted is a ticket to the NFL, for many, selected where Wilson was, it is not. Nearly 26% of 7th round draft picks will never be credited with a game played in the NFL and about 24% of the 6th round selections are in the same boat. Teams do not save any cap room releasing these players, they simply have determined that the fit is not what they expected.  So while Wilson will have the distinction of being the first draftee cut the odds are strongly against him being the last.There should be plenty of 5th, 6th, and 7th rounders let go in the next week and maybe even a 3rd or a 4th that doesn’t make it either.The Chiefs also released QB Ricky Stanzi, a 5th round pick in 2011, was waived yesterday. In two years Stanzi never played a game for the Chiefs. He will carry cap charges of $52,673 in both 2013 and 2014.  

In addition the Chiefs terminated the contract of veteran Terrance Copper, a solid special teams player. Copper was most likely the victim of the Chiefs tight cap situation, which saw the team with about $300,000 in cap room before the weekend’s releases. Copper, who had signed a 3 year contract in 2011, was set to count for $915,000 against the teams salary cap. His dead money charge is just $75,000, a figure comprised of his signing bonus proration and workout bonus earned.

That move will free up somewhere between $285,000 and $360,000 in net cap room depending on the salary of his roster replacement. In about a week salary cap charges move from just counting the top 51 players to the entire roster, including players on IR, PUP, and the Practice Squad. For teams tight against the cap, like KC, it makes veterans like Copper likely candidates for release as there is no real pay cut that they can take to give the team the cap flexibility they need. If I had to venture a guess I would think the Chiefs need to create a minimum of $3 million in cap room with the final cuts.


Best & Worst Contracts: The Kansas City Chiefs


A few weeks ago Jason LaCanfora published a list of best and worst contracts in the NFL so I thought it might make a good idea for us to do the same here at OTC, with a team by team approach. I’ll try to be a bit more analytical in terms of why money was paid and how it fits in the market, but the general premise is the same. The one key difference is outside of restructured rookie contracts under the old CBA we will only use veteran contracts as there is a big difference between best draft picks and best contracts.  Please note that there is a difference between a bad player and a bad contract when discussing some of the selections. Clicking on a players name will take you to his salary cap page.

Jamaal CharlesBest Contract: Jamaal Charles

Charles is one of the best RB’s in the NFL and ran for over 1,500 yards on a team with no offense whatsoever. While overshadowed by the tremendous comeback of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Charles recovered from an ACL injury and returned without missing a beat, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and performing nearly as well as he did in 2010.

Because he plays in Kansas City, which has not been in major contention in some time, people fail to realize how good Charles is. In his last three full seasons he has averaged 1,365 yards rushing with a low of 1,120. He is the model of consistency for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs wisely locked Charles up in 2010, when Charles had one year remaining on his contract and had only produced one top flight season. Charles received $8 million up front, the only amount actually guaranteed by the team. The structure of his deal will never impact the Chiefs, with no cap charges exceeding $5 million until 2015, unless he hits various escalators in his contract. Even if he hits his 2014 escalator the cap charges will rise to around $6 million. He could be cut or traded next season with only $2.67 million in cap charges, which is not an impactful figure by any stretch.

At $5.4 million a year in annual salary Charles is a steal. He was the last player to come in at the position under the $6 million mark as there is a clear dividing line between Charles and the next group of players, most of whom earn over $7 million a year. Ray Rice ($7 million) and Matt Forte ($7.6 million) bot received significantly larger guarantees and have salary cap compromising contracts. Charles is far better than Forte and you could make an argument just as good as Rice. Perhaps no contract illustrates the bargain that the Chiefs have in Charles than the $7.3 million a year given to Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, who has produced in the last three years about as many yards and Charles will produce in one.

tyson jacksonWorst Contract: Tyson Jackson

I debated between Jackson and Branden Albert when deciding on this one. Albert was an example of an organization thinking it was too smart by franchising tagging a player they never wanted and then wondering why no team in the NFL would meet their asking price. Normally you have to at least pretend that there is a spot for the player on your team when you play hardball and they never did, with leaks all around saying he did not fit in to their future at all. Now when their bluff was called they are stuck with a $9.828 million dollar pricetag for somebody they would prefer was on another team and they have nobody to blame but themselves for that. But at least Albert can play, Jackson can’t.

Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2009 draft Jackson has been the epitome of the word bust. In four seasons Jackson has sacked the QB five times. He only has 113 tackles. He already has his rookie contract reworked once for some cap relief and they deleted the 2014 season in his 2012 renegotiation to take the proration off the books and prepare for his release in 2013. Except when 2013 rolled around not only did they decide not to release him, but to guarantee him a good chunk of salary to ensure he remained on the team rather than exploring free agency, where a team would have given him a look, but a $4 million dollar look?  Doubtful.

The Chiefs could have released Jackson and taken a dead money cap charge of just $2.5 million in 2013. While he had $3.22 million in guaranteed salary, the salary was not guaranteed for skill and thus the Chiefs could release him with no issues. For whatever reason they decided Jackson was once again worth keeping. Rather than holding him to the $3.22 million in partial guarantees the Chiefs upped his guarantee to $4 million in full guarantees. They also raised his offseason workout bonus from $250,000 to $500,000, essentially guaranteeing him $4.5 million of a $4.7 million dollar contract. If Jackson plays in 50% of the teams snaps he will earn an additional $500,000. Now Jackson’s cap charge stands at $7.2 million, 5th highest among 34 Defensive Ends, a number that never should have been on the Chiefs books.

Check out Our Other Best & Worst Contract Articles

AFC East: Buffalo BillsMiami DolphinsNew England PatriotsNew York Jets

AFC North: Baltimore RavensCincinnati BengalsCleveland BrownsPittsburgh Steelers

AFC South: Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsJacksonville JaguarsTennessee Titans

AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders (July 10)


An Offseason Look at The Kansas City Chiefs

I’m going to (hopefully) go over all 32 teams rosters and potential cap moves over the next few weeks. We’ll start things off with the Kansas City Chiefs, who own the number 1 pick in the draft. The Chiefs had a miserable season in 2012. Pro Football Focus ranked them to have the 20th ranked offense and 27th ranked offense, Football Outsiders ranked them 31st on offense and 30th on Defense, and in my own efficiency rankings they were 32nd in scoring and 25th in defense. So they need significant overhaul.

Cap Positions

Surprisingly the Chiefs have a high cap payroll on the books in 2013. My estimates have their top 51 at just under $120 million plus nearly $3 million in dead money. The team does have significant money to carry over from 2012 that will give them more than enough cushion once free agency begins, but as of today their cap number is going to be closer to $12 or $13 million once things get underway, so clearly they have some housecleaning to do.

The biggest dead weight on the roster is Tyson Jackson, who carries a base salary of $14.72 million despite a grand total of 3 sacks in 2012 and only 5 in his career. Releasing Jackson, who took a $3.75 million dollar paycut last season, would create $14.97 million in cap room, which moves them from average to near top of the market in spending dollars. Jackson should be as good as gone.

The other possible release would be QB Matt Cassel who turned a fluky 2008 cameo for the Patriots into a $48 million dollar contract from the Chiefs. Cassel is extremely mistake prone and both sides would probably benefit from a change of scenery. Releasing Cassel saves the team $7.75 million in cash and $5.875 million in cap space.

Notable Free Agents

The Chiefs have two free agents that will draw interest around the NFL. LT Branden Albert is one of the better tackles in the NFL and wants to be paid top 5 money. Is that reasonable? Probably. I think you can compare Albert to someone like Jordan Gross of the Panthers or Duane Brown of the Texans, both of whom are in the upper echelon of salary. I dont think Albert will reach the $10 million a year club that the Jets D’Brickashaw Ferguson snuck into a few years ago, but he should settle in that $9.5-$9.75 million a year range which will probably earn him $25 million in guarantees. It is a move the Chiefs should stronly consider making.

The teams other free agent is WR Dwayne Bowe who played last season on the franchise tag. Franchising Bowe again would cost the team $11.418 million in 2013 and that is not really an option for a team with no Quarterback. Bowe is looking for premier money on a long term deal and the Chiefs will probably be best suited to let him accept an offer from another club while they rebuild the more important positions on the team.

Rookie Pool:

The Chiefs have 7 picks thus far in the upcoming draft. Below you will find my estimates for the cost of the draft picks. The signing bonus money is typically going to be cash needed this season to sign their players this year.

PickSigning Bonus2013 Cap2014Cap2015Cap2016CapTotal
Round 11$14,518,444$4,034,611$5,043,264$6,051,917$7,060,570$22,190,362
Round 22$2,324,836$986,209$1,232,761$1,479,313$1,725,865$5,424,148
Round 31$703,304$580,826$717,826$854,826$990,826$3,144,304
Round 42$486,000$526,500$616,500$706,500$796,500$2,646,000
Round 51$215,512$458,878$548,878$638,878$728,878$2,375,512
Round 62$125,116$436,279$526,279$616,279$706,279$2,285,116
Round 71$69,124$422,281$512,281$602,281$692,281$2,229,124

For the Chiefs to get the fast turnaround they really need to hit in this years draft to begin that roster overhaul. The class will take up a nice little chunk of cap room, but if they can find one or two stars from the group it will give the team significant financial flexibility to make other moves.


With 10 players set to be unrestricted or restricted free agents in 2014 this could be a year where the Chiefs sit on some cap room while they get a better handle on their needs and then try to have a more impactful free agent season in 2015. I would think its in their best interests to re-sign Albert this year and look for a stopgap QB to hold the fort while they develop their roster, see what they get out of this years rookies, and then plan to make a splash two years from now.