One of the more intriguing quarterback situations in the league came to an end this week as the Kansas City Chiefs traded starter and three-time pro bowler Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins. This move signals the beginning of the Pat Mahomes era in Kansas City and the end of the Kirk Cousins era in Washington. The Smith trade is probably the most significant trade in recent NFL history, effectively changing the futures of two veteran quarterbacks.
It also means the Los Angeles Chargers are the clear front-runners for the AFC West in 2018.
What the Alex Smith Trade Means for the Los Angeles Chargers
Smith Was the Chargers Kryptonite
The Chargers simply could not beat Smith. The last time they did so was in a narrow win at Arrowhead Stadium back in 2013.
This season was no different. Smith managed small but comfortable leads over the Chargers that resulted in two solid victories for Kansas City. Smith’s “game-manager” style of lack-luster yet consistent play, devoid of turnovers, seemed to always keep the Chargers defense on their heels.
While Mahomes certainly has arm talent, his understanding of the game is far behind Smith’s. He will undoubtedly make big, exciting splash plays. He may do so frequently. Regardless, the calculated, risk-free approach of Smith will be missed against a Chargers defense that finished in the top 10 in both sacks and turnovers in 2017. Mahomes, in his first season as a starter, will make those rookie mistakes that will hold his team back from attaining the kind of success that’s only possible with a seasoned veteran under-center.
The Time Is Now for the Chargers
With the Chiefs choosing to look toward the future by starting Mahomes, they’re far more vulnerable this season than they have been in any year with Smith. They aren’t the only team in the AFC West that’s rebuilding.
The Denver Broncos, who are certainly in contention for either Cousins or one of the highly-touted quarterbacks in this year’s draft, will still have one of the worst offensive lines in football, an aging receiving corps, and a couple holes on defense to fill.
The Oakland Raiders, who fell completely flat in 2017 and got destroyed by the Chargers in Week 17, are in the middle of a revamp of the coaching staff. New head coach Jon Gruden will look to revive some of the Raiders patented swagger. However, it’s been ten years since Gruden coached. There will no doubt be some adjustment problems.
The Chargers, however, are poised to compete for the Lombardi Trophy in 2018. They have the best quarterback in the division by far in Philip Rivers. Rivers, 36, is coming off one of the best years of his career. They boast an excellent receiving corps led by Pro Bowler Keenan Allen, and Melvin Gordon eclipsed 1,100 yards in the running game. The offensive line struggled in the run game, but they gave up the fewest sack in the league. They will also be getting 2017 second-round pick Forrest Lamp back from his ACL injury. With Lamp healthy, the offensive line should improve further.
The Chargers defense has the potential to be truly great in 2018. The Bolts possess an elite secondary that missed possibly its best player in Jason Verrett in 2017. Upfront, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram form the best pass-rushing duo in the league. Their only real hole was interior defensive line and linebacker. The Chargers will look to improve via free agency and the draft. If the Chargers are able to fill those holes and Verrett comes back healthy in 2018, the Chargers have a top-five defense on their hands.
Chargers Must Figure Out Kicking Woes
Finally, the Chargers have all off-season to find a kicker that is of at least average NFL quality. They lost two games purely because of missed field goals that an average kicker would have made. They missed the playoffs by one game. This is completely unacceptable and their can be no excuse for a repeat scenario in 2018.
Should the Chargers get a decent kicker, a run-stopping defensive tackle, and healthy versions of Verrett and Lamp, there will be few teams more talented than the Los Angeles Chargers. None of them are in the AFC West. Regardless, the Smith trade clearly shook things up.