In keeping with an annual Christmas gesture for the linemen who “sacrifice to keep me clean,” or at least do all they can to make it so, Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith did what he called “a lot of brainstorming.”
Then he bought them Gucci backpacks, which he placed with care on top of Yeti coolers in front of their lockers on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to shop for that many guys,” said Smith, who bought them suits a year ago and added that the tradition is just a small token of his appreciation for them.
Even if Smith laughed when asked if they get anything for him, saying that’s not how “gravity” flows, appreciation is the operative premise here.
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So even if it’s against the gravity of a number of critics, as Smith prepares for what on Sunday could be his last regular-season start at Arrowhead Stadium, it’s a good moment to pause and reflect on how much better off the Chiefs are than they were five years ago in great measure because of Smith’s mind-meld with coach Andy Reid.
That team, you’ll recall, was 2-14 in 2012 with Matt Cassel at the helm of the worst offense in the NFL, all symptomatic of a diseased franchise.
His naysayers notwithstanding, despite the human limitations that sometimes have splotched his play, Smith has been at the very heart of the extreme makeover as a player and as an absolutely first-class leader and ambassador for the organization no matter what the circumstances.
The most valuable player on the team this year also is the Chiefs’ nominee for Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and absolutely one of the most impressive men you’ll ever meet.
Maybe that sort of stuff doesn’t matter much to some fans, and that’s understandable.
But maybe it’s worth something to know that the guy who leads this team is somebody you can take pride in having represent your city.
For that matter, he figures to one day be in the Chiefs Hall of Fame for what he’s done — no matter how much some will focus on what he hasn’t done … at least not yet.
The Chiefs have won 49 of the 75 games he’s started, which is five more wins than anyone else in team history had through five seasons (Trent Green is second with 44, Pro Football Hall of Famer Len Dawson is third with 40).
So, wins and losses aren’t really a good stat by which to measure a quarterback, you say?
Bolstered by his 2017 NFL-best passer rating of 105.4, Smith has the highest ranking (94.8) in franchise history among players who have started more than 16 games for the Chiefs.
And the numbers that make up his profile this year are outstanding: 316 completions in 466 attempts (67.8 percent), 25 touchdowns to five interceptions, 34 passes of 25 yards or more, etc.
All that said, much of his legacy here, or at least his signature, will be applied in the weeks to come.
Assuming the Chiefs win one of their last two games or otherwise clinch the AFC West, Smith will have a chance to lead them to just their second playoff win since 1994.
A win or two beyond that, and the Chiefs might have to ask themselves some questions about the timing of the presumed passing of the baton to Mahomes, their big-armed heir apparent.
Since it’s also not a simple straight-up consideration of one over the other, but one that will be measured by a $13 million-plus difference in salary cap consideration ($17 million to Smith next year; approximately $3.7 million), the default dynamics seem heavily tilted toward a transition to a much-anticipated Mahomes’ era.
That can’t come fast enough for some, including those calling for Mahomes the moment Kareem Hunt fumbled on the first play from scrimmage in the season opener at New England to a more recent clamor after Smith’s lousy numbers in losses to the Giants and Bills.
For that matter, who doesn’t want to see Mahomes play soon?
If the Chiefs clinch the division by beating Miami on Sunday and set their playoff spot, you could well see the inevitable future in their regular-season finale at Denver.
But before you assume The Next Big Thing will just magically perform like a seasoned veteran and automatically raise the Chiefs to heights they haven’t seen in decades …
Before you send more “mean tweets” for us to read about how it’s a bad look to point out how much Smith should be appreciated, look at the ledger and consider his overall play and the grace and dignity with which he handles everything, and remember all he’s done for this team …
Not to mention so many others through his foundation dedicated to foster teens and his other charitable work.
That doesn’t go on his W’s and L’s resume as a quarterback, of course, which will be the ultimate measure of his time here.
But it does go on something substantial about Smith, a dedicated family man who is playing the best football of his career, is unfailingly a gentleman with fans, never ducks or even sneers at a question from the media (your conduit as fans) and simply gives in every way.
From distributing the ball to crediting his playmakers and thanking those who make it all possible.
This guy is a treasure, occasional warts and all, and he should be remembered that way here whenever he goes and whatever Mahomes is destined to do.