The San Francisco 49ers, one of the best teams in the NFL, just traded their backup quarterback for a high second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and a conditional pick in 2014 from the Kansas City Chiefs. The pick in 2014 is reported to be a similar pick as well, meaning the Chiefs may have just given up two second round draft picks for Alex Smith. That is a lot for a team that still needs plenty of help.
And what did the Chiefs get for their money? Smith is a 29-year-old quarterback who has a career touchdown to interception ratio of 81-63 and his career QB rating stands at 79.1. Even though his best years were in the past two seasons, where Smith has shown considerable improvement, he’s been no better than an average player in the NFL for his career. He was replaced by a much better player in the middle of last year because of injury and he never won his job back in San Francisco.
Those are the facts and they are not disputable.
Alex Smith is a good, not great, quarterback and the Chiefs just gave up two very high draft picks for a player who had a career record of 18-32 before coach Jim Harbaugh came along. And if we’re ranking quarterbacks in the National Football League, Smith would probably come in around 20th in the league.
Those are also facts and only the ranking is remotely disputable.
I’m not trying to knock Alex Smith but what I am trying to do show everyone why playing quarterback in the NFL is the most important position in sports. In no other sport would you give up premium draft picks for an average player, that’s what it means to play quarterback in the NFL. And it’s not just this one example either because every off-season we see quarterbacks who are either average players or past their prime get traded for much more than they are worth.
The Chiefs should know this better than anyone since they traded for Matt Cassel after he put up an 11-5 record for the New England Patriots in the 2008 season. Despite just 15 career starts, the Chiefs gave the Pats a second round pick and Mike Vrabel in March of 2009. Since then Cassel has led the Chiefs to just one playoff appearance in his four years in Kansas City and was replaced by Brady Quinn this season.
A few years ago the Philadelphia Eagles traded one of the best quarterbacks in team history, Donovan McNabb, to a rival team in the off-season. McNabb wasn’t a bad player when he was shipped to the Washington Redskins for a second round pick and a conditional pick, which turned out to be a fourth round selection, but he wasn’t nearly the same great player he was in Philly either. In fact, McNabb only played another year and a half in the league since the Minnesota Vikings replaced him with Christian Ponder midway through the 2011 season.
The Eagles also traded Kevin Kolb, who at his best was an average quarterback, to the Arizona Cardinals before the 2011 season. Philly got a good cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick in 2012, for a quarterback whose touchdown to interception ratio is 28-25 for his career. Kolb is so poorly thought of that the Cardinals replaced him with worse quarterback play in 2012 and the team is trying to find someone to find their quarterback of the future.
Then there was the Cincinnati Bengals trading Carson Palmer in the middle of the season in 2011. The Oakland Raiders spent a first round draft pick in 2012 and a second round pick in 2013 on a 31-year-old quarterback with limited mobility. The Raiders were so desperate for a quarterback they used premium draft picks on Palmer even though they were one of the most talent void teams in the NFL. Since the Raiders have acquired Palmer they have a record of 10-15, while the Bengals have made the playoffs for consecutive years for the first time in team history.
These are the lengths that NFL teams will go to in order to solve their quarterback problems! The Chiefs trade for Alex Smith is just the latest example of how important the position is and why it remains the most important position in all of sports.
Please don’t tell me that MLB pitchers are more important than quarterbacks because they’re not. Starting pitchers only affect the outcome every fifth day, and while it’s extremely important in baseball, it isn’t enough to be considered the most important position in all of the major sports. And relievers don’t usually come in unless everyone else has done their jobs.
Point guards or centers in the NBA are crucial to their team’s success no doubt, but neither of those positions is as vital as a quarterback in football. NHL goalies are the only other spot in contention for most popular position in team sports but in the end, quarterbacks control much more of the game than goalies do.
NFL teams will always do anything they can to get a great quarterback because at the end of the day they know one thing: if you don’t have a good quarterback, you don’t have a chance. That’s why it is the most important position in all of sports.
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