Alex Smith Was the Ultimate Game Manager

A former No. 1 overall pick, Smith rarely tried to do too much. Most of the time, that was enough.

April 19, 2021 2:45 pm
Alex Smith
Alex Smith has announced his retirement from the NFL.
Tom Pennington/Getty

As the NFL’s in-person voluntary workouts begin on Monday, veteran quarterback Alex Smith will not be in attendance, virtually or otherwise.That’s because Smith, who completed one of the most miraculous comebacks in NFL history last season after nearly dying due to complications he suffered from a brutal leg injury in 2018, has retired from pro football.

“Two years ago I was stuck in a wheelchair, staring down at my mangled leg, wondering if I would ever be able to go on a walk again or play with my kids in the yard,” Smith said in his retirement video. “On a routine play, I almost lost everything. But football wouldn’t let me give up. Because, no, this isn’t just a game. It’s not just what happens between those white lines on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about the challenges and the commitment they require. It’s about how hard and how far you can push yourself. It’s about the bond between those 53 guys in the locker room and everybody else in the organization. It’s about fully committing yourself to something bigger.”

While Smith will likely be most remembered for his 2020 return, it’s that ability to fully commit to something bigger which the 36-year-old should really be remembered for. The first overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, Smith played for three franchises throughout his career: the 49ers (2005 to 2012), Chiefs (2013 to 2017) and Washington Football team (2018 to 2020), the final stint of which was interrupted by the devastating leg injury.

A winning quarterback with all three teams he played for, Smith made it to the Pro Bowl three times and led the NFL in passer rating (104.7) during the 2017 season before the Chiefs sent him packing in order to give the reins to the offense to Patrick Mahomes. Harsh but nothing new for Smith, who had a passer rating of 104.1 over nine games for the 49ers during his final season in San Francisco before giving way to another quarterback you may remember: Colin Kaepernick.

An accurate passer who was more mobile in the pocket than he is usually given credit for, Smith went 99-67-1 as a starter during the regular season and passed for 35,650 yards and 199 touchdowns in 174 regular-season games, with only 109 interceptions.

Admittedly, Smith’s 2-5 playoff record isn’t stellar, but in some ways it is reflective of the type of quarterback that he was: slightly above-average but probably never good enough to carry a team to a Super Bowl.

That evaluation may sound a bit negative, but in a league that has seen first-round quarterbacks ranging from Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell to Jake Locker and Josh Rosen completely go up in flames after being drafted well above their skill level, it really isn’t. Though Smith’s talents were probably misevaluated coming out of college, that didn’t prevent him from winning at a high level and with greater frequency (.596 winning percentage) than quarterbacks like Kurt Warner (.578), Troy Aikman (.570), Joe Flacco (.560), Philip Rivers (.558) Matt Ryan (.551), Michael Vick (.544) and Cam Newton (.553).

NFL evaluators may not have realized Smith’s skillset was limited, but he accepted his weaknesses and always played within himself, and that recognition was one of his biggest strengths. It didn’t make him a Super Bowl champ, but it did make him a career winner. For a guy who never had the arm talent of an Aaron Rodgers or the acumen of a Tom Brady, that was more than enough.

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