As talking heads continue racing to declare a winner of a trade that can’t become official for another two weeks, I prefer to go in a different direction. Much like we must wait at least two years before attempting to reach a verdict on a team’s draft, I think only time will tell whether the Niners or Chiefs benefitted more from San Francisco sending Alex Smith to Kansas City in exchange for the 34th overall pick in 2013 and a conditional 2014 pick.
Thus, instead of trying to predict the future, here are three immediate takeaways from the first major chip to fall this NFL offseason:
• The rich certainly got richer by the Bay, where the Niners could have an astounding 15 picks (once compensatory picks are announced) in this April’s draft. Any decent GM in the league should find a stud or two with that type of ammunition; can you imagine what Trent Baalke, with his recent draft success, will do? When taking into account that his club is likely the most talented in football from 1-to-53, don’t be surprised if/when Baalke leverages this year's picks (in an underwhelming draft, no less) to continue stockpiling picks for the future. Of course, that motherlode of 2013 picks also gives Baalke enough trade bait to potentially entice the Jets to send disgruntled Darrelle Revis cross country, or 31 other NFL teams to consider moving down if the Niners have their sights set on any particular player in this year’s draft.
Lest we forget, however, that the Niners are now one major shot to Colin Kaepernick away from Scott Tolzien, the 2011 undrafted free agent who has never dressed on a Sunday in his short career. San Francisco might like Tolzien, but I would be stunned if it didn’t seek an upgraded contingency plan behind Kaepernick, who, despite being built like a horse, is more susceptible to injury than a classic dropback passer. The Niners had the NFL's most athletic one-two punch under center prior this trade, with Smith’s size and speed giving San Francisco some continuity in its innovative, read-option scheme if Kaepernick went down. Tolzien's greatest assets are his intangibles; his athleticism is average at best. It will be fascinating to see if the Niners place greater value on acquiring a mobile backup for their young phenom, Kaepernick.
• The Chiefs were desperate for a QB. Smith was the best option available. If he leads Kansas City to a Super Bowl, the trade compensation will be considered peanuts. However, I believe Andy Reid the quarterback developer will face as much if not more pressure because of this deal than Reid the roster architect. Again, the Chiefs needed a solution, and they found a swift, sensible one in Smith. But what if the former top pick, who spent the first five years of his career toiling in mediocrity under a variety of coordinators before a renaissance under Jim Harbaugh, goes back to being an underachiever? Harbaugh's first two NFL seasons rank among the most successful ever by an NFL head coach. Reid, despite a long, highly respectable run in Philly, hit some major lows in the past two seasons. I’m not predicting this will happen — Reid has built his career on getting more than most could out of his triggermen — but Harbaugh's immediate success doesn't exactly buy Reid extra time.
Of course, what made this deal so logical in the first place is that Smith has the ideal skill set for Reid's West Coast attack. Another under-the-radar perk for the Chiefs, who should absolutely still have designs on acquiring another signalcaller for Reid to develop, is knowing that Smith has thick skin. He was a good soldier when the Niners drafted Kaepernick. He was as selfless as they come when it became clear Kaepernick could sit no longer. It remains to be seen if Smith can take the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, but we already know what kind of teammate he will be — regardless of the circumstances.
• With Kansas City now believing it is set under center for the next few seasons, the likelihood of the Chiefs spending the first overall pick on a QB in a draft devoid of elite QB prospects is slim to none. That puts the NFL’s other 2-14 team a season ago, the Jaguars, in the driver’s seat with the second pick. And with an ESPN report surfacing Wednesday that the Raiders have real interest in West Virginia's Geno Smith at No. 3, a pair of still-green decision makers starved for QB reinforcements, Jacksonville’s Dave Caldwell and Oakland’s Reggie McKenzie, find themselves in a raging inferno. Add the Jets’ John Idzick and Arizona’s Steve Keim to the fray of first-time GMs looking to fill the most important position on the field, as well as first-time head coaches, Cleveland’s Rob Chudzinski and Buffalo’s Doug Marrone, and we could learn a lot in a hurry about the direction of these franchises.
Something tells me that the front-office execs and head coaches who show the most restraint in a year with no sure things are the ones who will make out the best. We already knew the QB market, both draft and free agency, was underwhelming. But with Smith off the table, are teams suddenly more willing to give up more for Matt Flynn? Matt Moore? Drew Stanton? Ryan Mallet? Rest assured, more than one team is going to reach on a QB. If you thought the Chiefs acted out of desperation, chances are you ain't seen nothing yet.