DENVER -- With the soothing siren from the shore, the NFL offseason beckons. Pretenders, projects, gems and saviors all swim in the ocean, providing options and hope for teams not playing on the league's final Sunday.
The Broncos eliminated themselves from the conversation as contenders with back-to-back losses to the Super Bowl combatants. Don't remember? I don't blame you. The Eagles and Patriots boxed Denver's ears by a combined score of 92-39, revealing with certainty the fissures in the Broncos' roster.
The takeaway from those games was multi-pronged. The special teams stunk. The defense snapped under the burden of losing the takeaway and field position battles. The offense lacked an identity, and no permanent solution at quarterback. The latter creates the prism in which this critical offseason remains viewed. Land the right quarterback, and the Broncos' odds of rebounding increase dramatically. Misfire, and the playoffs will remain opportunities for Christmas shopping and grousing about parking spots.
Which brings me to today's topic: Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith.
I have written the Broncos will pursue Kirk Cousins. He checks all the boxes. Yet, the competition for Cousins is real (Jacksonville, Arizona, etc). There is no guarantee Denver can sign him, and Washington could complicate the process by placing a transition tag on Cousins. It would almost force the Broncos to pursue other alternatives.
Case Keenum is expected to be on the wish list if Minnesota moves in a different direction. Smith is an interesting alternative, if not more difficult to obtain.
Smith is under contract for one more year at $18 million. He delivered a breathtaking performance last season with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also completed eight scores of at least 50 yards, the most since the NFL merger. According to STATS, the Chiefs connected on 28 passes that traveled 21 yards or more through the air, including 11 touchdowns. The Broncos had four scores in that category.
It's true Smith had better weapons who created more space in routes, namely receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt. Regardless, Captain Checkdown shed his nickname, showing a willingness to push the ball down field.
Smith took chances without turning the ball over. It is his most appealing quality when examining the Broncos' situation. Smith has a 2-to-1 career touchdown-interception ratio. And over the past two seasons owns 41 touchdown passes and 13 picks. The Broncos? Try 39 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.
It doesn't hurt that coach Vance Joseph, even if he's essentially operating on a one-year deal, worked in San Francisco for six years while Smith was leading the 49ers.
What would it take to pry away Smith? His age works in the Broncos' favor. At 34 with one year left on his deal, it narrows the market. Based on the Jimmy Garoppolo trade to the 49ers for a second-round pick, Smith projects to require a third or fourth-rounder in exchange. The Broncos have ammunition in this draft, and could easily part with a draft pick. But the question becomes: Would the Chiefs consider moving Smith to a division rival which could prevent them from winning a third straight AFC West crown?
There is precedent. While the boss in Philadelphia, Andy Reid shipped Donovan McNabb to the Redskins. However, the Chiefs would have every reason, if not right, to gouge the Broncos. Consider it Hot Stove chatter to suggest the Broncos could facilitate a deal by including cornerback Aqib Talib with a draft pick. It is interesting, but almost erases all the salary cap savings Kansas City desperately seeks from shipping out Smith.
Smith revealed his degree in diplomacy over the past week, answering questions about his uncertain future with class and aplomb. He wants to stay in Kansas City, believing the team is a Super Bowl threat. He also knows the NFL is a business, and Kansas City saw tantalizing talent from rookie Patrick Mahomes in a season-ending win over the Broncos. (Mahomes is the godson of former Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins, leaving me aware of this kid's talent for years).
In talking to multiple league sources, the Broncos are inclined to keep receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders if they land a veteran quarterback like Cousins, Keenum or Smith. If they go with a quarterback with the fifth overall pick, it could lead to one of their exits with Denver going younger at receiver. General manager John Elway hinted again of his desire to be active in free agency while talking at the Senior Bowl.
He sees free agency as more of a "known" compared to the draft, and his success on the open market drives this point home (Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Talib, Sanders, Darian Stewart to name a few).
Elway remains blunt that without improved quarterback play the Broncos have no chance of rebounding. It makes the Smith scenario worth exploring even if the Chiefs refuse to pick up the phone or hang up. Early speculation centers on the Cleveland Browns or Buffalo Bills making a run at Smith. Smith, understandably, was not thrilled to be connected to Cleveland. He wants to go to a contender if dealt.
"They've got nowhere to go but up. 1-31 over the last two years just sounds amazing," Smith said this week on The Dan Patrick Show. "If a trade is the case, you want to go somewhere you can have success. Wouldn't you?"
With a 7-15 record over the past two seasons, the Broncos no longer have the luxury of eliminating options. Smith might not top their list, but his performance and potential availability demands, at the least, a strong look.