These days, Patrick Mahomes is pretty much the end-all, be-all of Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks. With all due respect to Len Dawson, KC’s current signal-caller has completely changed the franchise’s fortunes. In seemingly the blink of an eye, he took the club from perpetual disappointment to the promised land.
There’s another QB, however, who shouldn’t be forgotten: Alex Smith.
While most modern Chiefs fans know all about Smith and his importance to Kansas City, he’s recently been thrust back into the spotlight. Ryan Tannehill’s comments about mentorship have reminded everyone in the midwest of just how lucky Mahomes was to work with the former first overall pick.
Ryan Tannehill said that it’s not his job to mentor Malik Willis
Thanks to the realities of football, NFL quarterbacks have to be protective of their jobs. Only one man can stand under center, and if you’re not the starter, you’re sitting on the bench. Ryan Tannehill, however, may have let that competitive edge get the better of him.
Recently, the Titans quarterback spoke about his painful end to the 2021 season and how therapy helped him process that disappointment. While that’s perfectly understandable and sets a good example of normalizing mental health, Tannehill also made some less praise-worthy comments.
For context, Tennessee selected quarterback Malik Willis in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft. The veteran signal-caller said he didn’t have any advanced warning of that move but did note that he texted his new teammate. The camaraderie, however, seemed to begin and end there.
“We’re competing against each other,” Tannehill said of Willis, according to Nick Shook of NFL.com. “We’re watching the same tape, we’re doing the same drills. I don’t think it’s my job to mentor him, but if he learns from me along the way then that’s a great thing.”
That comment has Chiefs fans appreciating what Alex Smith did for Patrick Mahomes
While Tannehill’s comments may sound a bit jarring, they’re perfectly understandable. The starting quarterback is paid to win football games, not to train his potential replacement. With that being said, though, it does shine a spotlight on Alex Smith’s time in Kansas City.
During his time in San Francisco, Smith saw the 49ers draft Colin Kaepernick. While that experience was jarring at the time, he came to understand it. When a similar thing happened in Kansas City, he was ready to mentor Mahomes.
“I don’t think you want to shy away from anything — I just think you want to be real,” Smith told the Kansas City Star in 2017 (h/t NFL.com). “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 extracurricular stuff that goes on elsewhere just doesn’t take place here. That’s just kind of the environment we have.”
Mahomes, of course, spent a year behind Smith learning the ropes. The quarterback has spoken highly of that time, and Patrick Mahomes Sr. has gone as far as saying that “[his] son can never repay Alex Smith for everything that he did for him.”
Moving beyond the personal side of things, it’s reasonable to conclude that Smith’s character helped Mahomes from a footballing perspective, too. As any long-time NFL fan can tell you, plenty of young quarterbacks have suffered early setbacks after being thrust into the action before they were ready. Mahomes, however, was able to sit on the bench for a year. That allowed him to prepare for the starting role rather than running for his life. Who know, maybe if he absorbed 50 sacks as a rookie, he’d be gun shy and lacking the confidence to pull off some of his audacious throws.
While it’s impossible to know how things would have gone if Smith didn’t help the young QB, Chiefs fans won’t be looking to rewind the clock anytime soon. Patrick Mahomes has shaped the franchise’s history for the better, and Alex Smith is an undeniable part of that story.