Alexander Douglas Smith (born May 7, 1984) is an American football quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at the University of Utah, where he was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2004 and led Utah to a Fiesta Bowl victory and a national top-five finish.
Selected by the San Francisco 49ers, Smith was the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. In his first six seasons, he played for a different offensive coordinator each year and struggled with injuries and consistency, drawing unfavorable comparisons with fellow 2005 draft pick Aaron Rodgers. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman in 2011, Smith enjoyed his strongest statistical season. He helped lead the 49ers to their first winning season, first NFC West division title, and first playoff victory since 2002 — along with their first NFC Championship appearance since 1997. Smith sustained a concussion in the middle of the 2012 season and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick. Despite posting strong statistical numbers during the year, Smith did not regain his starting position after he was medically cleared to play.
Smith was traded to Kansas City on March 12, 2013. In his first season with the team, he led them to a 9–0 start and their first playoff berth in three years. Smith went on to guide the Chiefs to an eleven-game winning streak in 2015 and their first playoff win since 1994. Since joining the Chiefs in 2013, only Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have won more games as a starting quarterback. Born in Bremerton, Washington, Smith grew up in La Mesa, California. His father, Douglas D. Smith, was the Executive Director at the high school that Alex attended, Helix Charter High School, until June 30, 2012. As a starter for the Helix Scotties during his junior and senior years, Smith led his team to a record of 25–1, including two San Diego CIF section championships. He was named to the first-team all-conference and all-county squads in the San Diego CIF system. Smith also earned the conference offensive player of the year twice and twice won the team MVP for Helix. During his time at Helix, Smith set a school record by throwing for six touchdowns in one game and recorded the second-highest completion percentage in San Diego CIF history.
Smith attended the University of Utah and played for the Utah Utes, wearing number 11. He finished fourth in voting for the 2004 Heisman Trophy and was selected as the 2004 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in two years with a 3.74 GPA, having matriculated with 64 credit hours earned before attending college, and began work on a master’s degree before being drafted.
At the NFL combine, Smith recorded a 4.7 time in the 40-yard dash and had a 32-inch vertical leap. He also earned a score of 40 out of 50 on the Wonderlic exam. Smith was the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, selected by the San Francisco 49ers. In July 2005, Smith agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million contract with the 49ers; the contract included $24 million in guaranteed money. Dealing with an injury and being taken in and out of the lineup by then-head coach Mike Nolan, Smith played in nine games in his rookie season, recording just one touchdown pass, against the Houston Texans, while throwing 11 interceptions.
After the challenges faced by his rookie campaign, Smith went into the 2006 season with a new offensive coordinator (Norv Turner) and an improved set of offensive weapons around him. Smith also spent the off-season working daily with his new coordinator, wide receivers, and tight end, while working to improve his technique and add bulk. The improved offensive cast clearly helped Smith develop in his second year, especially early. Smith’s first three games of the season saw him throw three touchdowns, no interceptions, and amass 814 yards. Smith met Joe Montana for the first time on November 5, 2006, during a game against the Vikings.
The 49ers wore the throwback jerseys of the 1989 team which Joe Montana and teammates wore. The 49ers went on to win 9–3, upsetting the Minnesota Vikings.
Overall, Smith improved in his second year by throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions. He threw for 16 TDs, 16 interceptions, 2,890 yards, and a 74.8 quarterback rating, all improvements over his rookie year. Alex also became the first 49ers quarterback in club history to take every snap from center over the course of a season in 2006.
Smith entered the 2007 season learning under a third offensive coordinator in three seasons. Norv Turner was hired as the head coach by the San Diego Chargers. Jim Hostler replaced Turner. Hostler’s system involved a mixture of the offensive system installed by Turner with elements of the West Coast offense installed by Mike McCarthy for the 2005 season. During the offseason, the 49ers added wide receivers Darrell Jackson, Ashley Lelie, and rookie Jason Hill as new offensive targets for Smith.
On September 10, the 49ers placed Smith on injured reserve after Dr. James Andrews confirmed the team’s diagnosis of a broken bone in his shoulder, believed to have been caused by a wire left in his shoulder from the previous surgery, which had sawed through the bone. Regardless, the 49ers’ general manager, Scot McCloughan, said that the 49ers expected to release Smith before the 2009 season, when they would owe him a salary of $9,625,000.
After Nolan was fired on October 20, 2008, the 49ers expressed interest in having Smith remain for the 2009 season if he was willing to renegotiate his contract.
On March 10, 2009, the 49ers announced that his contract had been successfully restructured and that he would stay with the team. He took a considerable pay cut to remain with the 49ers, with whom he would be under contract for the next two years. After the pay cut, Smith said that he was ready to compete for the starting quarterback spot, primarily against Shaun Hill.
After restructuring his contract with San Francisco, Smith lost the battle for the starting quarterback position to Shaun Hill. However, in a Week 7 game against the Houston Texans, Smith replaced Hill in the third quarter, after Hill had performed poorly and the Niners faced a 21–0 first-half deficit. Smith led the team back with three touchdown passes, all to tight end Vernon Davis, but fell short of victory, 24–21. Singletary named Smith as the 49ers’ starting quarterback the next day at his weekly press conference on October 26.
After his return as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Smith displayed signs of progress, despite the team’s 3–4 record in his first seven starts. He led the 49ers to a Week 12 victory, 20–3, against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, throwing for 232 yards with two touchdown passes while posting a 96.8 passer rating. In a Week 13 match-up against the NFC West division rival Seattle Seahawks, he recorded the first 300-yard passing game of his career, completing 27 of 45 throws with two touchdown passes. -Smith entered the 2010 season as the starting quarterback. For the first time in his career, he returned under the same offensive coordinator from the previous season, as Raye was retained. However, continuity in a poor system resulted in the team starting 0–5, and on September 27, Raye was fired and replaced by quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. Under Johnson, Smith was expected to run a variation of the spread offense that he ran in college.
The 49ers continued to build their team having now drafted Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati with their two first-round picks to provide more protection. On September 8, Coach Singletary announced that Smith was named one of the team’s captains.
In week 5, Smith was booed at home and the crowd chanted for his backup, David Carr, before leading the 49ers to two scoring drives to close within three points. However, he was hit as he threw on the third drive attempt, resulting in an interception and a 24–27 loss, dropping the 49ers to 0–5. Smith once again suffered an injured shoulder in the 49ers week 7 game against the Carolina Panthers and was not available to play week 8 against the Denver Broncos in London.
He was replaced by Troy Smith, who had 14 games of experience in the NFL before joining the 49ers organization just before the start of the regular season. Troy Smith took Smith’s position after winning 2 straight victories against the St. Louis Rams and the Denver Broncos. However, following a loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 13 that left the 49ers with a 4–8 record, Troy Smith was demoted to backup in favor of Alex Smith. Smith would start against Seattle in Week 14 in a game the 49ers needed to win to stay in contention in the NFC West.
Smith acknowledged that his performances needed to be more consistent. On December 12, 2010, the 49ers played the Seahawks in San Francisco. Smith was booed by the Candlestick crowd after the first two plays. However, the boos turned to cheers after Smith helped lead the 49ers to a 40–21 victory over a division rival.
The win moved the 49ers one game behind the division leaders (Rams and Seahawks) with three games left to play. However, the 49ers struggled the following Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers and Troy Smith started the following game against the Rams. Troy Smith struggled in the loss to the Rams and Alex relieved Troy Smith in that game. After the game, Singletary was fired and Alex finished the season starting against the Cardinals. The 49ers finished the season 6–10 and Smith became a free agent after the season. After his firing, Singletary said, “You gotta have a quarterback.” Smith had won just 19 games in 50 career starts through 2010. In 2010, he was chosen as the 11th-smartest athlete in sports by Sporting News.
The 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as the new head coach, and Greg Roman replaced Johnson as the new offensive coordinator. Harbaugh, a former quarterback, was the best teacher the 49ers had since Norv Turner in Smith’s second season. Harbaugh made it known to Smith that he was welcomed back to the team. Smith’s family wanted him to leave San Francisco. Although he was unsigned, Smith organized the players’ workouts during the 2011 NFL lockout and helped to install Harbaugh’s new offense. After the lockout ended, Smith signed a one-year $5 million contract with the 49ers. Smith was named the starting quarterback heading into the regular season, and Harbaugh believed Smith could succeed in the coach’s West Coast offense.
During the season, Smith’s game showed marked improvement, especially in his leadership and intangibles. While he did not put up big numbers, he helped the 49ers win games through efficient play, minimizing mistakes and controlling the clock. In Philadelphia in week 4, Smith rallied the team from a 23–3 second-half deficit to win 24–23, completing 9 of 9 passes for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns in the third quarter alone. Two weeks later, Smith led his third come-from-behind road victory of the year with a six-yard fourth and goal touchdown pass to tight end Delanie Walker, beating the Lions in Detroit 25–19. In a week 10 matchup against the New York Giants, he completed 19 out of 30 passes for 242 yards. The Giants shut down the 49ers’ run game (Frank Gore was held to zero yards on six carries before leaving the game in the second half) and Smith was instrumental in the 27–20 victory.
By the time the 2011 season was finished, Smith had helped lead the 49ers to a 13–3 record in the regular season, including five come-from-behind victories in which four were on the road, and the 49ers earned a first-round bye in the playoffs. After 3 head coaches, 7 offensive coordinators, and 17 different starting wide receivers in the span of 7 seasons with the 49ers, Smith would finally make his first playoff appearance. While the 49ers finished with their most wins since 1997, they did it while ranked 29th of 32 teams in the NFL in total passing yardage for 2011 (including yardage lost from sacks), and Smith was often cynically referred to as a game manager. In this manner, the New York Times wrote that Smith was “a steady, if unspectacular, player surrounded by a solid team” in 2011, whose career year “underscored how much he struggled previously.” It was his first season with over 3,000 yards passing, and he set personal single-season highs in virtually every relevant statistical category commonly cited for quarterbacks: in pass attempts with 445, in completions with 273, in completion percentage with 61.3 percent, in passing yards with 3,144, in average per pass with 7.1 yards per attempt, in overall passer rating with 90.7, in rushing attempts with 52, in rushing yards with 179, and in total touchdowns scored with 19 (17 passing & 2 rushing), all while being sacked a league-high 44 times.
He also threw a league-low 5 interceptions in 2011, breaking a 49ers franchise record, and setting yet another personal single-season best in fewest passes intercepted per attempt with a 1.123 percent interception rate, likewise the lowest percentage in the league that year. In the NFC Divisional round of the playoffs, Smith led the 49ers to a win over the New Orleans Saints, with a final score of 36–32. Smith threw for 299 yards, three touchdown passes, and no interceptions while rushing for an additional touchdown. Smith led touchdown drives of 80 and 85 yards in the final 4:02. He scored on a 28-yard touchdown run, and he threw a game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining, eschewing a more conservative open receiver that would have settled for a field goal and a tie. Analyst Ron Jaworski said “Alex Smith won the game, not Alex Smith by not making mistakes. His performance won the game for them.” Smith also became the first quarterback in NFL playoff history to lead two go-ahead touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of a game. The 49ers lost 20–17 in overtime to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. Smith completed 12 of 26 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, but the team turned the ball over twice on special teams. Smith was chosen by teammates as winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, annually awarded to the player that exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage.
Smith made the USA Today All-Joe Team, an award which is given to the best players not to make the Pro Bowl. Smith became a free agent following the 2011 season. The 49ers were reported to be interested in signing Peyton Manning, who had just been released by the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts, leading Smith to visit the Miami Dolphins, reportedly with the intent to sign with the Dolphins if the 49ers signed Manning. Shortly after Manning made the decision to join the Denver Broncos, Smith signed a three-year contract worth $24 million to remain with the 49ers. During the offseason, the 49ers added wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency, and A. J. Jenkins in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft to improve a passing game that lacked production from the receivers the previous season. Smith began the 2012 season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Smith completed 18-of-19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 24–3 Monday night win over Arizona and San Francisco was 6–2 after eight games. In the following game against St. Louis, Smith suffered a concussion in the second quarter, throwing a touchdown with blurred vision before exiting the game.
He was replaced by Colin Kaepernick, and the game ended in a 24–24 tie. Smith missed the following game, and Kaepernick was 16 for 23 for 243 yards with two touchdowns in a 32–7 win over Chicago. Harbaugh was impressed with Kaepernick and said: “We have two quarterbacks that have a hot hand” while dismissing any rule that a player should not lose their starting job due to an injury. A quarterback controversy began. Smith was ranked third in the NFL in passer rating (104.1), led the league in completion percentage (70%), and had been 19–5–1 as a starter under Harbaugh, while Kaepernick was considered more dynamic with his scrambling ability and arm strength. Smith was medically cleared to play the day before the following game, but Harbaugh chose not to rush him back and again started Kaepernick, who threw and ran for a touchdown in a 31–21 win over New Orleans. The following week, Harbaugh announced that Kaepernick would start for the 8–2–1 49ers, while also stating that the assignment was week-to-week and not necessarily permanent. However, Kaepernick remained the starter as the 49ers again qualified for the playoffs. Harbaugh has stated that Smith had been more of a coach to Kaepernick later into the 2012 season than even he was. Before losing the starting quarterback job, Smith was on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, yards-per-attempt, passing touchdowns and rushing yards. Smith was named to the USA Today All-Joe Team for the second year in a row and was also named the captain of the team.
On February 27, 2013, the 49ers agreed to trade Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for the Chiefs’ second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and a conditional pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The deal became official at the beginning of the new league year on March 12.
After the trade became official, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid stated that Smith would be the starting quarterback for the 2013 season. Smith’s job as the starter was solidified during OTA’s (Organized Team Activities, a term usually referring to NFL pre-season activities). According to coaches and teammates, Smith displayed a very high “football IQ,” and his accuracy in passing was lauded as the best many had ever seen. According to Kansas City’s quarterbacks’ coach, Smith was “super intelligent” and had all of the intangibles that he looked for in a quarterback. The Chiefs were the last unbeaten team in the 2013 NFL season with Smith winning his first nine regular-season starts, gaining 1,919 passing yards with nine touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Smith earned his first and only perfect passer rating on December 15, 2013. He was 17 of 20, with 287 yards and 5 touchdowns, four of them going to Jamaal Charles, in a victory over the Oakland Raiders. Alex Smith and the Chiefs lost to Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild-Card Playoff Game on January 4, 2014. Smith threw 4 touchdowns, completing 30 of his 46 pass attempts for 378 yards and no interceptions, while also carrying the ball 8 times for 57 yards. However, he did commit his team’s only turnover, losing a fumble. The final score of the game was 45–44 in favor of the Colts.
Smith was elected to his first Pro Bowl at the end of the season as a replacement for Tom Brady. In the game, Smith led all QBs in yards, tied for most touchdowns, and led the game-winning touchdown drive at the end of the game for a 22–21 win. On August 31, 2014, Smith and the Chiefs agreed to a four-year contract extension. Smith appeared in 15 games and completed 65.3% of his passes in the 2014 season while throwing for 3,265 yards and 18 touchdowns to only six interceptions. However, the Chiefs finished with a 9-7 record and did not qualify for the playoffs.
After another strong season in 2015, Smith was elected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate but turned down the offer. He once again led the Chiefs to the playoffs, where the Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans 30-0 in the Wild Card round. Smith threw for 190 yards, a touchdown, and one interception in the victory over the Texans. He also rushed 5 times for 27 yards and had a 64-yard scramble, which was called back due to a holding penalty. The Chiefs went on to lose 27-20 against the New England Patriots in the divisional round. The Chiefs became the first team ever to start the season 1-5 and win a playoff game. At the end of the season, Sports Illustrated named him the best looking quarterback in the NFL, an honor previously won by Tom Brady. He was named team MVP for 2015 alongside safety Eric Berry. In the regular season, Smith threw for 3,486 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 65.3, passer rating of 95.4, and 7.4 yards per attempt. He also rushed 84 times for 498 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an average of 5.9 yards per carry. At the end of the season, he was recognized as the 81st best player by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.
In Week 1, Smith led a fourth-quarter comeback over the San Diego Chargers to win the game 33–27 in overtime after facing a 24–3 deficit with six minutes left in the third quarter. Smith won the game in overtime with a two-yard rushing touchdown. This became the largest comeback win in Chiefs history as the Chiefs started the 2016 season on a positive note. In 2016, Smith posted a career-high passing yard with 3,502 and a career-high 328 completions despite missing one game. In addition, he ran for a career-high five touchdowns, with three of them coming in the last three games. He was ranked 81st by his fellow players, for the second consecutive year, on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2017.
During the season opener on Thursday Night Football on September 8, Smith finished with 368 passing yards and four touchdowns as the Chiefs pulled off a 42–27 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Smith’s 368 passing yards and four passing touchdowns were both the second most in a game in his career. Smith’s performance in Week 1 led all eligible passers in yards and earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week, marking the first time that he won the award. During Week 13 against the New York Jets, Smith finished with 366 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. After the first 2 minutes and 46 seconds have passed in the first quarter, Smith quickly got 2 touchdown passes to Travis Kelce. However, the performance was overshadowed as defensive penalties and errors proved to be costly as the Chiefs lost 31-38. With his performance against the Jets, Smith became the first player in the modern era to have both a 70-yard pass and a 70-yard run in the same game. With a playoff spot already secured, Smith was given a rest in Week 17, and Chiefs’ 2017 1st round pick Patrick Mahomes II made his NFL debut against the Denver Broncos. Smith finished the 2017 regular season with a career-high 26 touchdowns. For his performance in the season, he was named an alternate for the Pro Bowl. On January 12, 2018, the NFL announced that he will play in the Pro Bowl as an injury
replacement for Philip Rivers. Overall, in the 2017 season, Smith finished with 4,042 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
The Chiefs made the playoffs in the 2017 season. In the Wild Card Round against the Tennessee Titans, Smith had 264 passing yards and two touchdowns in the 22–21 defeat. On January 30, 2018, the Chiefs reportedly agreed to trade Smith to the Washington Redskins in exchange for a 3rd round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and cornerback Kendall Fuller. The trade, however, cannot be completed until March 14, the first day of the new league year.
Smith has a brother, Josh, and two sisters, Abbey and MacKenzie. One of Smith’s great-grandfathers was an Austrian immigrant of Serbian descent who immigrated to the U.S. from the Austro-Hungarian Empire when he was 12 years old. To honor him, Smith, his brother, and his father are each tattooed with four firesteels, the traditional Serbian cross. His sisters have said they will do the same. Smith’s uncle, John L. Smith, is a college football head coach, and his cousin, Chris Shelton, was a former Major League Baseball player. In 2014, Alex was awarded an honorary degree by his alma mater, the University of Utah, where he also delivered the commencement speech for the graduating class. Smith married former Oakland Raiders cheerleader Elizabeth Barry in 2009. In May 2011, the couple had their first child, a son named Hudson. In 2013, they had their second child, Hayes.
In 2007, Smith started The Alex Smith Foundation and the Alex Smith Guardian Scholars Program, which helps send foster teens to college. He started the program with $500,000 and continues to personally fund the majority of the charity with his own money. The Boston Globe held up Smith’s foundation as a model charity that properly allocated its funding, noting that it “raised $839,244 between 2008 and 2010 and spent 91 percent of the funds on scholarships and grants”.