From the time the San Francisco 49ers’ season ended in early February and quarterback Alex Smith began to consider a future elsewhere, he had a preferred destination in mind.
He looked toward Kansas City, where the Chiefs needed a new starting quarterback and had just hired a head coach with a reputation for developing passers.
That, the former No. 1 overall draft pick said Wednesday, was when he expressed his desire to be traded to the Chiefs. From there, it didn’t take long until Smith’s wish was granted.
“I made it clear to the 49ers that I wanted to play,” Smith said at his introductory news conference, one day after the trade that sent him to the Chiefs was formally completed. “They made it clear they weren’t going to release me. Then the process started with potential teams. There was no doubt in my mind this is where I wanted to be. It wasn’t close. Everything pointed here.”
Attired in a dapper gray suit and crisp white dress shirt, the bearded Smith spoke highly of new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
“The opportunity to work with coach Reid was something that, from all the quarterbacks I’ve ever talked to they’ve only had good things to say,” Smith said. “From the outside looking in, you see the talent that’s here. You see the potential. It’s just a matter of getting things going, getting the chemistry right, the culture right.”
In return for Smith, the Chiefs sent their second-round draft pick this year plus a conditional 2014 draft choice to the 49ers.
The Chiefs on Wednesday also acquired Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donnie Avery, the fourth free agent they nabbed in the first 24 hours of the NFL’s signing period. In 2012, Avery had the best season of his four-year pro career, catching 60 passes and scoring three touchdowns.
It has been a busy week at One Arrowhead Drive. Former Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano, former New York Jets defensive end Mike DeVito and former New Orleans Saints quarterback Chase Daniel all agreed to contract terms with the Chiefs on Tuesday.
“If you took one common denominator of the free agents we’ve brought in this far, there’s a certain toughness and grit about them,” Reid said. “Maybe they’re not the flashiest of players, but they’re hard-nosed, tough guys and they’ve proven that. I welcome that to our football team. I think our locker room will welcome that.”
The signature move of the new administration of Reid and general manager John Dorsey is the trade for Smith. The Chiefs were desperate for a starting quarterback after going through last season with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, the NFL’s two lowest rated passers.
While Smith wanted to come to Kansas City, the Chiefs also settled on him as their preferred target. Their options for finding a new starting quarterback weren’t many. Free-agent and realistic trade possibilities were otherwise mainly journeymen.
The Chiefs still have the first pick in this year’s NFL Draft. But Dorsey recently said in an interview he wasn’t sure any quarterback was worthy of being a first-round pick, much less the No. 1 pick.
The terms of the trade with San Francisco were agreed upon more than two weeks ago but the exchange couldn’t be completed until Tuesday, when the NFL’s trading period began.
Despite also adding Daniel to the mix at quarterback, Reid made clear that there will be no competition for the starting spot.
“Alex is the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Reid said.
Daniel is a local fan favorite after playing in college at Missouri. That could create some pressure on Reid to switch to Daniel if Smith falters.
“I don’t think there’s any problem there,” Reid said. “Chase is a tremendous football player at a very important position. It wouldn’t matter where he played (in college). I don’t think that’s a factor. We’re very lucky to have him with us. You saw the great job he did in his role with New Orleans.”
While Daniel appeared in 45 games with the Saints, most of that duty came while he was holding the ball on extra points and field goals. Just five of those appearances were at quarterback.
Reid indicated he’s coveted Smith for years, going back to his time coaching the Philadelphia Eagles. He had inquired more than once about trading for Smith even then.
The 49ers, who benched Smith last season in favor of Colin Kaepernick, were more receptive to dealing Smith now that he was their backup.
“He was somebody that if I had the chance, I would want him on my team,” Reid said. “When we did have a chance to bring him to Kansas City, I’m very excited about that.
“He’s run an offense very similar to ours, particularly the last couple of years. He’s done it at a very high level. You look at that part of it, the efficiency, the winning, which we’re all graded on — he’s got pluses in all of those areas.”
Smith, 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, turns 29 in May. He was the first pick of the draft by the 49ers in 2005 after two strong seasons as a college starter at Utah, but only in the past couple of seasons has he lived up to that promise. Repeated changes in offensive coordinators and systems set him back during his early years. He flourished only after Jim Harbaugh arrived as the 49ers’ head coach in 2011.
Smith was the NFL’s top-rated passer last season before he was knocked out of the lineup with a concussion in November against the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers stayed with Kaepernick even after Smith was cleared to return from the injury.
Smith said all of the ups and downs of his career have made him a better player.
“Playing quarterback, you rely on everybody,” Smith said. “Everybody impacts you. I should know that better than anybody. I’ve been through a lot. They all make a difference and it takes all of them to really makes things right.
“I’m ready for this because of what I’ve gone through. You grow as a player, you grow as a person. It’s a new opportunity for me, and I can’t say how excited I am for it. I’m ready to get going and make the most of it.”