- The Chiefs rock of a right tackle on Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, his winless former Browns, old offensive coordinator and new Bears head coach Matt Nagy, and the story behind the only snap he ever missed in college
Before the 2016 season, Mitchell Schwartz joined Kansas City on a five-year, $33 million deal that made him one of the highest-paid right tackles in football. Since being drafted by the Browns in the second round out of Cal in 2012, he has yet to miss a start, including two career playoff games—losses to Pittsburgh last year and Tennessee last weekend. Schwartz shared with The MMQB his thoughts on the Chiefs’ early playoff exit, former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy’s hiring in Chicago, and Alex Smith, the Chiefs quarterback who is rumored to be on the trade block after the best statistical season of his career.
ROBERT KLEMKO: It’s possible that Saturday’s loss was the last time you’ll play with Alex Smith. What has he meant to this team?
MITCHELL SCHWARTZ: I think he was the best quarterback in the NFL this year, and the numbers bear that out. He put up some crazy statistics, and he was by far the best deep-ball thrower in the NFL this year. So it’s been a blast. He’s the guy that makes us go. Unfortunately from his perspective, all the bad in middle of the season was offensive line related. We gave up too much pressure and he wasn’t able to step into his throws and that’s something we tried to address, and as we got better, he got better. He’s awesome, I can’t say enough good about him.
KLEMKO: Would guys in this locker room be disappointed if he was traded and the team went forward with Patrick Mahomes?
SCHWARTZ: I think in a general sense he’s under-appreciated. We really understand in our locker room how valuable he is to our offense, relative to other quarterbacks in the NFL. If that were the case and Alex is out, we’d understand what we’re losing. We know that Alex is really the driving force that makes the offense go. If it happens, it happens, but I think we all love playing with him.
KLEMKO: This offense transformed in a lot of ways this year with the addition of Kareem Hunt and guys like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill stepping up as playmakers. What was behind that?
SCHWARTZ: I think we put an emphasis on stretching the field vertically. Alex over the years had this stigma about being a checkdown passer. But we have great speed. Tyreek, if he’s not the fastest guy in the NFL, he’s in the top three. Albert [Wilson] and Chris [Conley] are able to catch the deep ball, and very few tight ends can run like Kelce and run any sort of route you need him to. So you have all those guys and our offense is able to throw the ball vertically.
KLEMKO: How did Alex and Patrick get along? Did you get the sense there was any animosity there, or did Alex bring him along?
SCHWARTZ: Alex understands that backups are one play away from being the guy. From all appearances he was great with Pat, and that showed when Pat got the opportunity to play. Alex is the consummate pro, and he’s handled this whole situation very well. I was in Cleveland with Johnny [Manziel], so it’s good to see a guy roll with it and be a team guy. He wants the best for himself and also for the team.
KLEMKO: You mention the Browns; Do you still have friends there? How tough is it to see those guys go through a winless season?
SCHWARTZ: You go 1-31 in two seasons and it piles up. It’s tough for them and you don’t ever want to see that happen to your friends. I think they kind of understand—I don’t want to say they were tanking—but they get that these couple years were just a resetting of the roster, getting the cap in really good shape, and getting all the draft capital. Sashi [Brown] had a four- or five-year vision and he only got to see three years of that, and now John [Dorsey] is taking the reins. They went with the idea that you build a really good roster and then compliment that with a quarterback. It’s more of a long view, where you try to set up a QB for longterm success. That’s the last piece for them, and I think that once they do find that, they be able to turn things around really quick.
KLEMKO: In Kansas City you went 10-6 this year. You lose some key players to injury in the playoffs, and throughout the season. How big a role did injuries play in the early exit?
SCHWARTZ: I think if you look at the course of the season we did have some big injuries. Losing Eric Berry early really hurt. Chris Conley getting hurt was a big one. Dee Ford. Over the course of the year we had some big injuries, but I think most teams have injuries like that. Toward the end of the year you’ve just got to find guys. I think everyone that filled in for them did a pretty good job, but over time it does take a toll. It’s not a reason for losing, but it’s a factor.
KLEMKO: You, on the other hand, haven't missed a start in the NFL. I heard a story and you'll have to tell me if it's true: You missed just one snap in college, and it was because your shoelace broke.
SCHWARTZ: That’s right [laughs]. UCLA game, I had to come out for the second play of the game and get that fixed. Being available is big for me. One thing Joe [Thomas] and one of his former coaches used to say was, “The best ability is durability.” You want to be available to your team at all times, especially on the offensive line. The biggest thing a coach looks for in a lineman is consistency. You don’t want a guy who’s [play is conditional]. You don’t want a guy who’s going to whiff every once in a while. You want a guy who’s stable, who you can trust, who’s consistently going to block the right guy. And you want to be able to bank on his health as well. I think all offensive linemen strive for that. It’s a big point of pride for most of us.
KLEMKO: Has the position of right tackle changed at all since you entered the league?
SCHWARTZ: I don’t know if there’s more of a focus on attacking the quote-unquote weaker pass blocker, but as defenses have evolved and are tailoring their schemes to what offenses are doing with the quick passing game, defenses are putting a huge premium on getting to the quarterback any way they can. So you’ve got these guys who are extremely fast, extremely good pass rushers, and you put your speedy guy over there and attack the guy on the right side. So it seems like every week you’re facing a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher. It seems like that league is stacked with guys who can rush the passer.
KLEMKO: What was Coach Reid’s message for you guys after the weekend?
SCHWARTZ: We were all pretty disappointed, and we understood we needed to play better. Coach talked about how one of the goals was to win the division, so we were able to accomplish that, but we have much bigger goals. He said to remember that as you go through the offseason program, make sure you’re doing all the right things to set yourself up for success.
KLEMKO: One change we know of going into next year is that Matt Nagy is headed to Chicago to be their head coach. Did you feel like he was on that path, and how do you think he’ll fit there?
SCHWARTZ: It seemed like he was. He brought a lot of good ideas, and everybody in the building really liked him. Great guy to be around. I think with the success of [Sean] McVay and Kyle Shanahan, you want to go get the hot young coach, especially an offensive coordinator with the young quarterback. That’s a natural fit with [Mitchell] Trubisky. A lot of the stuff we’re doing offensively seems to fit with what he does well, at least having watched him from afar. A lot of the run-pass option stuff, getting the quarterback on the move, spreading things out and simplifying the run game. I think that’s a good match there. We wish him the best of luck. You never know what translates to head coaching success, but he brings a lot of passion, energy, and he’s always prepared. Those are all good things to have as a head coach.
KLEMKO: If indeed he is your quarterback next fall, what encouraged you about Mahomes in Year One after seeing him start the final regular season game?
SCHWARTZ: The biggest thing to me was his progression. In that Denver game he came a long way from the preseason with the stuff he was able to do. He didn’t seem phased at all. That’s a credit to Alex as much as anybody, being in that room and helping bring him along. It’s a credit to all the coaches in that room too. And it’s a credit to Patrick. It can be easy as a backup quarterback to let things slide and say, “Well if I get in the game its not really that important anyway,” but he didn’t do that. Everybody can see his ability to throw the ball, but the mental progression is what really stood out to me.
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