There are many nice things you can say about a quarterback, but “game manager” is not really one of them. Some coaches and teammates will try to tell you differently, but really it’s a polite way of saying, “He’s not a great quarterback, he has modest ability, but he can complete short passes and hand the ball to the running back without tripping or fumbling.” As writer Michael Smith put it, “He’s good enough not to lose games for his team, but not good enough to be the primary reason his team wins games. It’s a backhanded compliment ”
It’s the equivalent of calling a wide receiver “a possession receiver” — translation: he’s slow and probably white and can’t go deep, but he can run good routes and catch the ball on the underneath routes.”
Game manager: That’s what Alex Smith is called. He is in Year 10 of his NFL career, which began with his selection as the No. 1 pick in the entire draft in 2005, following a stellar unbeaten senior season at the University of Utah. It’s been a rocky road since then, and if ever there was a recipe for how NOT to raise a young quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers could write it. Six offensive coordinators in Smith’s first six years. Coaches questioning his manhood and the legitimacy of a shoulder injury (which required surgery to repair). Repeated benchings. A poor supporting cast. Public threats that the quarterback would be released. Worst of all: Mike Singletary.
Then, shortly after he hit his stride — after he had his team on the way to the Super Bowl until a teammate fumbled a pair of punt returns, and while in the process of completing 35 of 38 passes for 385 yards, five touchdowns and one interception and ranking fourth in the NFL in passing and getting the Niners off to a 6-2-1 start — he was concussed and benched and lost his starting job even when he was healthy. And then he was traded to Kansas City.
This week the Kansas City Chiefs, after watching Smith The Game Manager lead them to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth last season, rewarded him with a four-year contract extension worth $68 million. This is not one of those flashy, back-end-loaded contracts like the six-year $115M deal Andy Dalton signed, which allows the Bengals to cut and run without any financial obligations after two years and guarantees only $17 million. Smith, who took an economics degree from Utah, was wary of that from the beginning and the Chiefs responded by guaranteeing him $45 million.
One media report reported the contract extension by referring to Smith as “The efficient game manager,” so nothing has changed except the cost. Even Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Smith’s biggest fan, said last year, “We’re winning games and (Smith) is doing a nice job of managing it.”
Jim Harbaugh, Smith’s coach with the 49ers, called him “a great game manager.” The Bleacher Report produced a story headlined, “Is Alex Smith the Ultimate Game Manager?” The story noted that Smith threw for 273 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions and the Chiefs managed to beat the Eagles. A Business Insider headline: Alex Smith Can’t Shake The ‘Game Manager’ Label.
When Smith was asked by the NFL Network about the term “game manager,” he said, “I have no idea what that means.”
Probably he does.
There have been many successful “game managers” in the NFL, including Brad Johnson, Joe Flacco, Trent Dilfer, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Bob Griese and even Bart Starr, and they all won Super Bowls. Rex Grossman, on the other hand, was not a game manager, nor was Vince Young.
Smith, the unspectacular game manager, manages to come out on the winning side of the score and that has been his calling card so far. He is 30-9-1 as a starting quarterback the last three seasons (27-5-1 until the Chiefs hit a slump at the end of the 2013 season). His ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions during those three seasons is a remarkable 53-17. He has completed more than 60 percent of his passes. But he has only four 300-yard passing games in his entire career, counting playoffs. Peyton Manning had 13 of them — last season.
Smith's numbers are the definition of a game manager. But the new contract the Chiefs gave to him says much about how they feel about it.
“I think it’s a tribute to him,” Reid told NBCSN. “I don’t know one great quarterback that hasn’t been a great game manager. So I think it’s a heck of a compliment, and he does that One great thing about great quarterbacks is they make everyone around them a little better than what they are and he’s able to do that, including the head coach."
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org