For the first time since Alex Smith was the top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the veteran quarterback is reportedly set to be a free agent and be given to chance to pick his own team and path.
And going off just simple reasoning, there is evidence to think that team and path may be in Jacksonville.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Kim Jones reported Monday that the Washington Football Team is expected to "move on" from Smith within the next few days. For the first time this offseason, there has been some clarity added to the veteran passer's standing in terms of availability.
Now that Smith is reportedly set to be a free agent and can sign with any new club for the 2021 season -- as long as he doesn't retire -- it is time to theorize about his best fit ... which is likely in Jacksonville.
From connections to current Jaguars leaders to the Jaguars' need for a strong veteran backup quarterback to help mentor rookie passer they eventually take with April's No. 1 overall pick, the Jaguars and Smith seem like an ideal match for each side. There would be some hurdles that require clearing, but the end result could be well worth it from the Jaguars' perspective.
Smith likely wants to go to a team that will give him a chance to start, which obviously wouldn't be Jacksonville. The Jaguars are set to draft a quarterback --likely Clemson's Trevor Lawrence -- and any other quarterback they potentially add this offseason would be his backup.
There won't be a situation like when the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes but started Smith as quarterback in 2017; Lawrence will be the starter from the moment he is drafted. Perhaps coming to a team with an already entrenched starter would be unappealing to Smith, but it may be the most logical and likely option.
There are a few teams with unclear paths to finding a Week 1 starting quarterback this offseason, namely the New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and the Houston Texans. Perhaps one of these two teams could roll the dice on Smith as a potential starter, but it is unlikely he has teams beating down to his door to start in Week 1. He has injury concerns, will be 37 in Week 1, and didn't play very well in 2020 despite a 5-1 record as starter.
If Smith sees a small market for his services and accepts that he may have to be content with being a backup in 2021, then there are countless reasons for the Jaguars to explore signing him. Reasons that go beyond the fact that Smith was a No. 1 overall pick in large part because of current Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, who coached Smith at Utah.
For starters, Smith is known as one of the best teammates and leaders in the NFL. The things you see his former and current coaches and teammates say about him are not just lip service; they are true testaments of the value Smith adds to a team and locker room off the field.
For a Jaguars team that is set to make its most important draft selection in franchise history in less than two months, this kind of mentorship in the quarterback room would be beyond invaluable.
Lawrence is already entering the NFL with high marks for his character and ability to process the game, but all rookie quarterbacks could use a veteran mentor -- even ones projected to be a top pick. If Smith's mentorship was good enough to help Mahomes, the best quarterback in the NFL, then it is good enough for Lawrence too.
“I attribute a lot of my early success to Alex, the way he was able to be a pro every single day and the way he was able to go about not only being a great football player but a great human being,” Mahomes said in January 2020. “It showed me a ton. I learned a lot about how to read coverages and blitzes from him. He gave me a blueprint of how to go about a week and preparing yourself. It showed me how to have success at an early point in my career that I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else.”
Smith also knows all about the pressures of being a top pick and having an organization and fan base rest their faith in them. While the early start to his career in San Francisco was much bumpier than the Jaguars would like for Lawrence, Smith's past experienced could make him an excellent sounding board for Lawrence to relate to.
The Jaguars already have a solid option at backup in the form of third-year quarterback Gardner Minshew, but Smith makes more sense as Lawrence's backup for 2021. Minshew has starting experience and has produced at a moderate degree over the last two seasons, but the Jaguars could get more value from what the backup provides off the field. This isn't to say Minshew couldn't be a mentor for Lawrence, but there is a steep difference between his experience and knowledge and that of Smith's.
There are also the multiple connections Smith has to the Jaguars' regime. Meyer is the primary connection, of course, considering Meyer coached Smith during his two years as Utah's starter from 2003-2004.
Meyer's affection for Smith as a player is well-documented, but it was as recently as last July that Meyer called Smith among the smartest and hardest-working quarterbacks he has been around.
“Alex worked. His work ethic is maybe the best I’ve ever been around, his intelligence is the best I’ve ever been around," Meyer said about Smith in an interview with Crimson Corner of KSL Sports last summer.
"So when the game slowed down for him, and he told me that once at practice, he’s such an analyzer. He’s such an analytical thinker, that he won’t pull the trigger on throwing the ball unless he really understands and boy when he really understood, he’s as good as I’ve ever been around.”
Finally, there is the Trent Baalke factor. Baalke, the current Jaguars general manager, was a scout with the 49ers when they drafted Smith in 2005. Baalke would later get several promotions, eventually earning the title of general manager for the 49ers in 2011.
All 80 of Smith's starts in San Francisco were made with Baalke in the organization, so he likely knows as much about what Smith brings to the table as anybody else. Baalke eventually helped trade Smith to Kansas City, but it is a notable connection nonetheless.
The most important member of the Jaguars organization will be whichever quarterback they pick No. 1 overall in April. To set him up for success, the Jaguars need to go beyond the scope of giving him a strong offensive line and playmakers. They need to give him support in every facet of being a franchise quarterback. And as of today, there aren't many better options to serve as a core piece of that support than Smith.
Whether Smith would want to come to a team without having a chance to play is a question only he can answer, but there is no mistaking the fact that he is the ideal backup quarterback for the Jaguars in 2021. This doesn't mean he will be the backup quarterback, but it is a struggle to think of a better option to be Lawrence's right-hand man as a rookie.