Andy Reid: Alex Smith was the greatest thing to ever happen to Pat Mahomes
Jake White @JakeWhite58
When the Kansas City Chiefs selected QB Patrick Mahomes in 2017 it wasn’t universally celebrated as we know it today. We had incumbent Alex Smith who just came off a season in which we won the AFC West, clinched the 2 seed, but ultimately lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional Round. Although Alex Smith wasn’t necessarily losing games for the Chiefs, Andy Reid and company felt the need to upgrade the position with Patrick Mahomes – a prospect they fell in love with for good reason.
So when the Tennessee Titans selected Malik Willis in this year’s draft the comparisons were going to happen right? An incumbent QB who can’t win late in the playoffs, and the fresh blood who can learn the game, sit a year and be groomed for success. Well, that’s where the comparisons end.
Alex Smith has been on record and been universally praised for how he handled the Mahomes draft. He took Mahomes under his wing – tutored, mentored, and coached him in all the ways you want to see, knowing Mahomes was going to take his place someday. But he didn’t have to do that, and Ryan Tannehill seems to be taking that approach.
Ryan Tannehill has been to the playoffs every year he has been in Tennessee (since 2019). So, his thought process of this being his job to lose and not want to give his competition a leg up is somewhat understandable. But as fans, we don’t understand because we want to win now and often don’t care who gets us there. We also understand the dynamic of a team sport and the camaraderie that comes with it. So, shouldn’t Ryan Tannehill, as a competitor, a team leader, and a veteran in this league step up and mentor Malik Willis to better the team?
We want all our football players to be leaders. You want Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce leading the team. You want to see them take players under their wing and make them better. But fans are the ones that put them on that pedestal. Not all gifted players are the leaders we envision them to be. Or the type of leader we want them to be. Aaron Rodgers, Ben Rothlisberger, Brett Farve, and now Ryan Tannehill are just some of the QBs that have been noted as “difficult teammates” and at the QB position. Again, you want these guys to be leaders – to groom the next generation underneath them – but that is not always the case.
Alex Smith had the luxury and also the heartbreak of taking the mentor role for his replacement before Patrick Mahomes, when he was a member of the San Francisco 49ers. A young talented QB in Colin Kaepernick. Alex Smith took the second-round pick and led him through the NFL and celebrated when Kaepernick led them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012. Smith was often praised for the poise and leadership he showed on the sidelines after losing his starting job. In San Francisco and Kansas City, it was evident that that mindset can translate throughout the team.
Ryan Tannehill could probably take some notes from Alex Smith. Smith wasn’t worried about his job, he was worried about the team. And every team Smith was on he made better (except Washington, but that’s another issue). His leadership enhances everyone around him and if winning is the mindset, then leadership and mentoring should come naturally. Tannehill doesn’t have to train Willis, and Willis might have an Aaron Rodgers type career. Where he learned on his own and his talent is superseded. The difference is Malik doesn’t have Hall-of-Famer playing in front of him and could see himself playing sooner rather than later.
Alex Smith is the gold standard for humble, leadership-driven QBs. It’s hard to be compared to him and stand next to those shoes let alone in them. Hopefully, Tannehill will turn over a new leaf and help Malik be the best QB he can be, but I’m not holding my breath.