Alex Smith will be 37 in May. He threw just six touchdown passes (and eight interceptions) in eight games last year for the Washington Football Team. The fact he was playing at all was inspirational — his return from a gruesome leg injury that required 17 surgeries and cost him the entire 2019 season earned him NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
As an actual starting franchise QB, though, his career is seemingly over. Word broke Monday that Washington won’t bring him back even though it has no obvious QB1.
Is Smith done? He said he doesn’t want to be, and he certainly shouldn’t be, at least if you consider the words not of an NFL front-office executive, coach or scout, but someone who might be Smith’s best advocate for what he can still bring to a franchise.
“I learned a ton from Alex,” Mahomes said last year at the Super Bowl.
In 2017, Smith was the star quarterback in Kansas City, a Pro Bowler coming off another 11-win playoff season. The Chiefs surprised the NFL by trading up to draft Mahomes, then an uncertain prospect out of Texas Tech, where his team often struggled and his stats were written off as the product of a gimmick offense.
Smith had been around long enough, however, to know that when a team spends resources to move into the top 10 to pick a QB, that QB is going to be the starter.
Rather than try to freeze out the young guy, rather than pout or complain, rather than seek a trade or create headlines in the media, Smith took Mahomes under his wing.
Smith threw for over 4,000 yards for the only time in his career that season. He completed 67.5 percent of his passes and chucked 26 touchdowns and just five picks. He started 15 of 16 games. He got K.C. back to the playoffs.
He also worked with the then-22-year-old Mahomes about everything from film study to sleep cycles to media duties to maneuvering through the politics of the locker room. Mahomes was eager to listen and learn, but he never stopped being amazed at the experience that Smith was so willing to impart. Mahomes said that if Smith saw him staying late to watch extra game footage, Smith would stay with him to help.
“Just seeing how he went about every single day, the game plan, recognizing coverages,” Mahomes said. “He didn’t hold anything back from me. He taught me. That’s just the type of person he is.”
That type of person will win an NFL franchise a lot of games … even if he never steps onto the field or only begins the year as a starter (where he can still be decent).
It’s why Alex Smith should be a coveted backup entering free agency.
You might not want to build a roster around him, and you might have reasonable concerns that he will last 17 regular-season games, but as a locker room quarterback whisperer, there may not be any better available.
If you’re Jacksonville, for example, does having Smith work with presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence make sense? (The fact Smith’s college coach at Utah, Urban Meyer, is in charge makes this even more tantalizing.)
How about whatever team takes Zach Wilson or Trey Lance or Justin Fields, or anyone else with a young quarterback out there who still has plenty to learn?
Smith comes with a unique resume that conveys credibility. He’s a former No. 1 pick with long runs in San Francisco and Kansas City. He has been in seven playoff games and three Pro Bowls. Yet he has never been so good that the game came easy.
He’d eventually lose his starting jobs to Colin Kaepernick and Mahomes in San Francisco and Kansas City, respectively. He mentored both, only to watch them get the teams over the hump and into Super Bowls.
He also tried to work with Dwayne Haskins in Washington. That one didn’t work for the former first-round draft pick. Smith called Haskins “crazy talented and a good kid” yet watched him buckle while trying to play in his hometown.
“I’ve told him this … you don’t have a chance until you’ve eliminated a lot of the distractions in your life,” Smith said on the Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast. “It’s hard as a young player, as a young draft pick, certainly as a quarterback thrust with a lot of weight and expectations.
“You’ve got a lot of voices telling you different things,” Smith continued. “In the end, this all comes down to playing well on the football field. You have to be able to eliminate all that other stuff because none of it matters if you can’t go out there and play at a high level. You’ll never be able to develop into the player, into your potential if you don’t eliminate all that stuff as well.”
Anyone got a young franchise quarterback-in-the-making who might need to hear that lesson? Along with many more?
On the field, Smith is hardly the most coveted quarterback potentially on the move this offseason.
His value to a right franchise extends far beyond that. At least if teams listen to Patrick Mahomes.
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