He wasn't the right selection with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft, but former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith didn't let that define his career.
Seemingly underappreciated at every stop he has made along the way, Smith has generally done the most important thing asked of a QB: Win.
Across 166 career games (161 starts) with the 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington, Smith has posted a 94-66-1 regular-season record. He likely would have more victories added to that total if not for a gruesome leg injury sustained in Week 10 of 2018. Doctors initially feared the leg might need to be amputated altogether, and it has been a long road back to recovery for the former Utah product.
That gruesome injury and the arduous rehabilitation process that followed is documented in ESPN's "Project 11," which airs Friday at 4:30 p.m. PT.
Smith spent the first eight seasons and 80 games of his career with San Francisco. His tenure came to an end, not necessarily due to failures of his own, but more so the emergence of a younger Colin Kaepernick. After some inconsistency at the beginning of the 2012 season, the reigns were handed over to Kaepernick in Week 11, and he literally ran away with the job.
With Kaepernick looking like the dominant QB of the future, the 49ers dealt from a position of strength and traded Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs on March 12, 2013. In a way, that eventually led to the trade for Jimmy Garoppolo.
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In exchange for Smith, the 49ers received from the Chiefs what turned out to be second-round picks in the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts. Just over a year later, San Francisco sent that 2013 second-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for a 2013 second-rounder, 2013 seventh-rounder and 2014 third-round pick. Combined in other trades, those selections turned into Tank Carradine, Corey Lemonier and Chris Borland.
The following offseason, the 49ers traded the 2014 second-rounder they received from the Chiefs and an additional 2014 seventh-round selection to the Denver Broncos for second- and fifth-round picks in 2014 and a fourth-rounder in 2015. San Francisco ultimately then turned those picks into running backs Carlos Hyde and Mike Davis.
Borland retired after one season. Lemonier has been out of the league since 2016. Davis has bounced around four teams, and both Carradine and Hyde currently are unsigned. The misses in the draft, combined with Kaepernick's regression and the efflux of multiple franchise cornerstones, the 49ers went from a perennial NFC power to a bottom-dweller within the span of two seasons. San Francisco went 15-33 from 2014 through 2016, a span in which Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert were behind center.
The 2017 season didn't start off any better. Halfway through, Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard had led the 49ers to a winless 0-8 record. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan had seen enough. On Oct. 31, 2017, the 49ers traded a 2018 second-round pick to the New England Patriots for Garoppolo. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After taking a couple weeks to familiarize himself with the offense, Garoppolo was thrown in the fire for the final five weeks of the 2017 season, reeling off five wins in a row, including two fourth-quarter comebacks. San Francisco had found its franchise quarterback ... again.
Though not nearly as gruesome as Smith's, Garoppolo endured a bad leg injury, tearing his ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 season. Without their franchise QB, the 49ers would go on to finish 2-14. The bright side? That put them into a position to draft NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa.
With Bosa and a fully-healthy Garoppolo, the 49ers were minutes away from winning Super Bowl LIV. Smith played for both of the franchises involved in that game, and he played a role in both making it that far.