When an NFL franchise drafts a quarterback in the first round, there he’s held to some pretty high standards. In an ideal world, he’d turn out to be Patrick Mahomes and lead his team to the promised land; that dream, however, doesn’t always turn into a reality. The San Francisco 49ers learned that firsthand when they selected Alex Smith.
Although he never turned into a legitimate star, Smith still had a solid NFL career. In fact, he earned more than $160 million in the pros, despite his disappointing playoff record.
Alex Smith’s early NFL career
The University of Utah might not be a traditional college power, but Alex Smith helped make the Utes relevant. Playing in Urban Meyer’s spread offense, the quarterback won all but one of his starts; he also threw for 5,203 yards and 47 touchdowns during his time as a starter, which caught the eye of NFL scouts.
The San Francisco 49ers were impressed with what they saw and selected Smith first-overall in the 2005 NFL draft. While his career didn’t get off to the best start—the quarterback only started seven games as a rookie, going 2-5—things would only get worse. Smith started every game in 2006, but hardly rewrote the record books; the following season, he started seven games before separating his shoulder.
After missing the entire 2008 campaign with an injury, Smith did show some improvement. Even his success, however, was hardly cause for celebration; while the 49ers did improve under Jim Harbaugh, the quarterback was derided as a game manager rather than a quarterback leading his team to victory.
In 2012, Smith lost the starting job to Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concession; he would be traded to the Kansas City Chiefs that offseason. The quarterback started 75 games for the 49ers, winning 38 of them while throwing for 14,280 yards and 81 touchdowns.
Turning a corner with the Kansas City Chiefs
While the San Francisco 49er’s revolving door at offensive coordinator didn’t help matters, Alex Smith didn’t set the league on fire during his first seven NFL seasons. His time in Kansas City, however, went much differently.
Under Andy Reid, Smith’s “game management” became a strength rather than a weakness. Although he wasn’t going to throw for 400 yards per game, he didn’t need to; the Chiefs were content to use their quarterback as part of a larger system, maximizing the talents of players like Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill.
Smith spent five seasons in Kansas City, throwing for 17,608 yards and 102 touchdowns while leading the four playoff appearances. He eventually lost the starting job to Patrick Mahomes, though, and was traded to the Washington Redskins. He was playing well during the 2018 campaign but suffered a brutal injury in Week 11; the quarterback almost lost his right leg and hasn’t played since.
Alex Smith has struggled, but he’s still earned more than $160 million
Even before his leg injury, it’s safe to say that Alex Smith’s career hadn’t lived up to his draft status. While it’s not exactly fair to call him a bust—the 49ers didn’t make his life easy, and he has started over 160 NFL games, winning 94 of them—the quarterback never developed into a star. Whether it’s fair or not, most fans will remember him as a mediocre game manager, rather than a dynamic quarterback.
Despite that reality, Smith has still earned plenty of money during his time in the pros. He took home just under $40 million during his time with the 49ers; in Kansas City, a nice signing bonus and a sizable raise helped him earn $67 million more.
The Washington Redskins then signed Smith to a $94 million contract extension; he made $40 million in 2018 and still took home his 2019 salary through an injury guarantee. That shakes out to roughly $161 million, and the quarterback is guaranteed another $16 million for the 2020 campaign.
Despite his awful injury, Alex Smith still hopes to return to the gridiron. Even if his comeback falls short, though, he’s still earned more than enough money to live comfortably in retirement.