New Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey concedes that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
In past years, the Browns have driven the position into a brick wall.
This offseason, the Browns have a rare chance to address the position for both the short and long term. Part of the solution is to not give up on DeShone Kizer and continue to work with him. But other pieces need to be added, with another young quarterback via the draft and with a veteran to ensure the young player(s) are not forced on the field before they are ready.
Adding a veteran is paramount. Bill Walsh once said that if a quarterback plays too soon, the experience can be traumatic and ruin him. That Kizer fought to the end last season is to his credit. But it does not erase the need to add a veteran.
Which means the dots are in place to bring Alex Smith to the Cleveland Browns.
Smith has been with the Chiefs the past five seasons. He’s won 50 games, started 76 and has never been part of a losing season. In five playoff games he’s thrown for 1,250 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions with a 96.0 passer rating.
But he’s only won in the postseason once in Kansas City, and never advanced beyond the divisional round. Smith is 33, and the clear feeling coming out of Kansas City is that the Chiefs feel he has taken them as far as he can. Last season, the Chiefs traded up to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes 10th overall. His time seems to have arrived.
Which leads to Dorsey, who was part of the decision to bring Smith to the Chiefs in 2013. If Dorsey is looking for a perfect quarterback to step in and play efficiently for a young team, he doesn’t have to look past the guy he knows well.
Some of Smith’s numbers are more than impressive -- especially in limiting turnovers, a Hue Jackson emphasis. Smith has not thrown more than eight interceptions in a season since 2010. Kizer led the NFL with 22 last season (six more than Cam Newton at second); Smith has thrown 20 in the past three seasons.
His completion percentage has been at 60 percent or better in each of the past seven seasons. Sixty percent is another Jackson benchmark.
Smith is also the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 3,000 or more yards and have 10 or fewer interceptions in five consecutive seasons. This season he threw for 4,042 yards, with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.
In short, he’d be a good fit for the Browns, where he could step in and start and play as long as he plays well. He also would be the veteran voice for the other young quarterbacks on the roster.
It's easy to point to Smith simply because of Dorsey's past association with him. Dorsey may have another plan in mind, because acquiring Smith will not be as simple as Dorsey making a couple calls, clicking his heels and making it happen.
The Browns would have to sell Smith that they are the right team for him. Coming off 1-31, that's not an easy sell. In the past, several veteran quarterbacks have come to the Browns and found the challenges overwhelming. Smith might relish the challenge the way Dorsey does, and he might be attracted by the presence of Josh Gordon and the five draft picks in the first two rounds.
It still would be a tough sell -- especially if his priority is a team that can win quickly.
Other teams are well aware what Smith brings. Arizona may want a new veteran quarterback to go with a new coach after the retirement of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer. Buffalo may see itself as one veteran quarterback from advancing in the playoffs. Smith’s coordinator Matt Nagy is now the coach of the Bears, which raises possibilities there. The Jets and Redskins (if they lose Kirk Cousins) also could be teams that would at least ponder obtaining Smith. There also are always surprises.
As for Cousins, he will be another option for the Browns. But as a free agent he will be able to choose where he plays, and the situation in Cleveland would warrant gross overpayment to get him to sign. In normal times, he’d be an excellent option, but as the times in Cleveland are seriously abnormal, it’s unlikely he’d join the Browns. Keep an eye on the Broncos signing him.
Smith is under contract for 2018 -- and will earn $17 million in salary and bonuses. Trading him would save the Chiefs $10.9 million in salary-cap space. The Browns have so much cap space they could allocate $55 million this offseason and still have $55 million left.
It may not happen.
But if it did, Smith sure seems like an ideal fit.