Alex Smith has been benched for younger quarterbacks twice in his NFL career. Both times the quarterbacks that replaced him, Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, praised him for mentoring them to be more complete players.
Now in Washington, the 36-year-old made an incredible return to the field during a Week 5 loss to the Rams after almost two years recovering from a gruesome leg injury and is currently the second-string quarterback on the roster, behind Kyle Allen. Balancing his own dream of becoming a starter again and mentoring his younger teammates, Smith told the Washington Football Talk podcast, has been no problem.
"For me it's easy. I've been doing it a long time and I've learned a long time ago those two things aren't contradictory. We all play a team sport," said Smith. "Obviously I was once a young quarterback with a lot to learn (once), and anything I can help with those guys I am certainly trying to help. With that said though, when I get my reps out there, I roll. I try the best I can to make the most out of it."
It's that kind of character from Smith that'll continue to steer Washington's quarterbacks in the right direction. Though Kyle Allen, 24, remains the starter ahead of Smith, second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins may not be a part of the team's plans moving forward after two months of trade rumors culminated with him staying put.
In Smith's eyes, however, that while the decision to bench Haskins is a tough one for the second-year quarterback, his NFL journey is only just beginning.
"It's even harder when you're a young guy. For me, it's happened multiple times, you know, as far as getting traded and the team moving on from you," Smith said. "Everybody even in life, even in football, no one has it easy. The bumps come. As frustrating as it could be, You got to continue to improve and reach his potential. That's what his job is. He has a high ceiling and he's got to work towards it.
"As a young quarterback, he's got so much ahead of him. you can't let something like this sidetrack you. This is a crazy game. You never know when the next opportunity is going to come and you better be ready for it."
The first time Smith found himself losing the starting spot, he was having a solid seventh season for the team who drafted him first overall in 2005. A concussion took him out of Week 10's contest, and Kaepernick's mobility brought something new to the table that Jim Harbaugh jumped at the chance to utilize.
That changeup took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013 as Kaepernick dashed past the NFC with ease thanks to a proficient quarterback-keep offense. After ultimately coming up short against the Ravens, Smith was traded to Kansas City later that offseason.
"Whether Alex is with us or he's somewhere else next season, he's been a great teammate to me," Kaepernick told NFL Network in the offseason that year. "[He's] been a great friend, a great mentor. So anywhere he goes, or if he's still with us, he's gonna be successful."
Smith helped Kaepernick progress immensely with his progressions and readings of the secondary and did so once again once Mahomes overtook him as the starter for the Chiefs. It was a much different story this time around, as it wasn't an injury that forced Smith to the sidelines but rather prodigal talent from Mahomes.
After having a career season in 2017, in which Smith threw for a career-high 26 touchdowns and career-low five interceptions, the Chiefs fell short, 22-21 to the Titans in the AFC Wild Card game. In Week 17, Smith and the rest of the starters rested as Mahomes got his chance to shine. He did shine, and never looked back becoming the starter and NFL MVP in 2018.
When Mahomes won the Super Bowl last year, he made sure to mention the impact Smith had on him.
"I learned a ton from Alex Smith. I attribute a lot of my success, especially so early in my career, to him," said Mahomes postgame after winning the big game. "The way he was able to go about being a professional, going out and having the great year he had my first year, and just seeing how he went about it every single day," Mahomes continued. "How he game-planned, how he recognized coverages. He didn't hold anything back from me. He taught me.
"That's just the type of person he was, and he is."