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Alex Smith trade: Chiefs pay steep price for 49ers quarterback

The Chiefs absolutely had to address their quarterback situation, but the cost for Smith is high.

Jim Rogash

The Kansas City Chiefs found their answer. The only problem is that the trade for Alex Smith is likely to lead to more questions.

The biggest question mark facing the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason was at quarterback, so it's not surprising that the team made a bold move to address the position. That much was expected. Whether it was using a high draft choice or making a trade, the Chiefs needed to supplant Matt Cassel as the incumbent and remake the position under John Dorsey and Andy Reid's leadership.

The Chiefs primary problem, however, was only a part of a larger one: the overall quarterback market. In short, the Chiefs picked the wrong offseason to have the worst record in the NFL. Last year's rookie quarterback crop produced players like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. This year? Even after the recent NFL Combine, there is still no clear-cut favorite among the quarterback crop and each prospect comes with a warning label.

The same could be said of the free agent market or the trades available to the Chiefs. The fact that the Chiefs GM, a former Packers exec, didn't trade for Matt Flynn tells you what you need to know about the Seahawks back-up. The Eagles apparently weren't making Nick Foles available after all. Free agents like Matt Moore and Jason Campbell aren't going to lead any team to the playoffs.

That left Alex Smith as the best option available for the Chiefs. And that's why Kansas City made the move that they did.

There's a lot to like about Alex Smith as the Chiefs starting quarterback, especially compared to the miserable results of the last year with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn splitting time. Last season, Chiefs quarterbacks completed only 57.5 percent of their passes with 8 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. Meanwhile, Smith has a 19-5-1 record as a starter over the last two seasons with 64% completion rate and 30 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions.

Smith is also only 28 years old and has been to the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl in the last two years. He's a veteran who fought against a bust label applied early in his career enough to win in the NFL, and he still has a long career ahead of him. On paper, he's the best option for a team like the Chiefs.

Smith is a clear upgrade for the Chiefs, so in terms of roster development, it's a solid move. However the rumored price tips the scales in another direction. Smith, after all, is not without question marks of his own, and the supposed price tag of a second-round choice in the upcoming NFL Draft along a similar future pick makes this cost prohibitive.

As the worst team in the NFL, the Chiefs have multiple needs to address at most positions. The price for Smith had been reported as a mid-round draft choice, and Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee had the 49ers return at a "high fourth round pick". To pay the top second-round pick in this year's draft along with a future choice is placing significant value on Smith as a starting quarterback.

Smith has fared well these last two years, but the asterisk next to all of it is head coach Jim Harbaugh. Smith is a quarterback who needs the right pieces in place around him to make it work. The Chiefs have went through this already with Cassel, who they acquired for a second-round choice from the Patriots. In 2010, Cassel enjoyed a Pro Bowl season as the team's offense, under Charlie Weis, catered to his abilities (and inabilities). When the team needed Cassel to carry them, however, everything fell apart.

To compare Smith and Cassel as equals might not be fair or accurate, but fans will be reticent to jump on board the bandwagon until Smith proves himself on the field. While Matt Schaub proved a solid trade for the Texans at the price of two second-round choices, a quick glance through recent NFL transactions clouds a sunny forecast. Whether it's Kevin Kolb's failure in Arizona or Carson Palmer's mediocre turn in Oakland, trading high value draft picks for veteran quarterbacks typically favors the team gaining future assets.

What is clear in this deal is that both Andy Reid and John Dorsey do not agree with the questions surrounding Smith, and ultimately that's what matters most. The price seems high, even exorbitant at this stage, but both Reid and Dorsey know the value of a draft pick well as both the Packers and Eagles have placed emphasis on building through the draft in recent years. In short, if they are comfortable trading for Smith, then perhaps Chiefs fans should be as well.

However you can't blame them if this isn't the answer they wanted to hear.

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