Alex Smith knew the Chiefs were drafting a quarterback. He said as much a few weeks before the draft, so when the Chiefs moved up to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II in the first round, he was hardly surprised.
That’s one of the reasons he felt compelled to call Mahomes shortly after his selection and welcome him to Kansas City.
“Yeah, we talked ... it really was just touching base,” Smith said. “It was quick. It’s a whirlwind. I remember being there. There’s a lot going on, you’ve got a thousand people (reaching out). It can kind of be an overload. I just wanted to introduce myself and tell him to go enjoy it and we’re going to have plenty of time to get to know each other, starting today.”
Mahomes, who worked with the Chiefs’ veterans for the first time on Wednesday, was complimentary of Smith’s gesture last week, saying it meant a lot to know Smith was in his corner.
And that’s exactly the feeling Smith, a 12-year veteran, wanted Mahomes to take from the conversation, especially since things tend to get nasty in the NFL when a team has multiple quarterbacks who could potentially start, even if those teams try to diffuse those issues ahead of time by publicly lowering expectations for one (Mahomes) and naming the other (Smith) the starter, as the Chiefs have.
“I don’t think you want to shy away from anything — I just think you want to be real,” Smith said of the dynamic between two starting-caliber quarterbacks. “You want to be honest, almost even embrace (it). Sometimes it can be awkward, and it is. But you just embrace that and be real, and I think everybody kind of appreciates that. I just kind of emphasized that to him, that any of that extra curricular stuff that goes on elsewhere just doesn’t take place here. That’s just kind of the environment we have.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Smith, 33, has been here before. Prior to his trade to Kansas City in 2013, Smith fended off a talented second-round pick, Colin Kaepernick, for a while before a concussion forced him to the bench. He never got his job back, and had to be a good soldier as Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
However, Smith is older now than he was then, and he understands why the Chiefs — who he’s led to a 41-20 record as a starter the last four seasons — drafted the strong-armed Mahomes.
“I’m at a different place than the last time I dealt with something like this,” Smith said. “I get it. If any of us were the GMs, this is, maybe the most timportant position in all of sports, and it would be crazy not to be stockpiling talent. You’d be nuts not to. So I get it, right? I’m going into year 13.
“But at the same time, that doesn’t change my focus, right? I feel like I’ve got a lot of years left in me and still feel like I’m getting better.”
So does he see any parallels in the situations? Yes and no.
“I’ve kind of been asked that a lot, and people kind of try to, like, bring that up,” Smith said. “Obviously, they took a QB early, and that scenario and everything that comes with that is similar. Other than that, this is a completely different coaching staff, a completely different team. I feel like I’m a much different player. So all of those are very different.”
But the biggest difference, he said, is that general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid are the ones who brought him here, so they’re still invested in him, whereas the coach and general manager who drafted him in San Francisco were long gone by the time he was trying to fend off Kaepernick.
“In that sense, it’s very different,” Smith said. “Yeah, they did bring me here. I’ve been here four years, this is my fifth year now. It was different there. There were different faces, and I wasn’t necessarily there guy or anything like that.”
But again, Smith has been playing in the NFL long enough to know that being a team’s “guy” at quarterback is something determined year-to-year. There is no time, and no patience, for complacency.
“I think they’re committed to me this year — that’s just the nature of it, right?” Smith said. “If you don’t go out there and perform, Coach Reid and (offensive coordinator Matt Nagy), they’re very honest. You’ve got to go out there and do your deal. We all have to, and those guys will tell you they’re included in that. We’ve all got to bring it, all of us are on the line. Whether or not we drafted Patrick doesn’t change that.
“If you weren’t good enough and didn’t get it done, you’re not going to be around long. That’s just our culture, and I know it. That’s the nature of the position. This is year 13. There’s no free rides.”
So for Smith, the upcoming organized team activities — which are basically a months-worth of hit-free practices — are another chance to get better. These practices are for executing new concepts and developing timing and a rhythm with receivers.
For Smith, it will also be an opportunity to work on his throwing motion and footwork, which he’s apparently tweaked in an effort to raise his game.
“Let’s take out some wasted motion, let’s see if I can speed it up, clean it up,” Smith said.
For a player who remains as frustrated by the Chiefs’ disappointing 18-16 home divisional-round loss to Pittsburgh — in which they lost despite the Steelers’ failure to score an offensive touchdown — as anyone, it’s an example of the lengths he’s willing to go to take the next step as a passer and lead the Chiefs to their first AFC Championship Game since 1994.
Mahomes might be the future, but it’s up to Smith — who has two years left on his deal — to fend that off as long as possible, fan and media speculation be darned.
“Now, I’m not listening to talk radio in my car, but you hear it,” Smith said. “You just bank it. And you put it away, and you do use it. No question. Not trying to be consumed by it, but you do use it.”