Alex Smith is making 2018 QB decision difficult on the Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ever since trading up in April to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the Kansas City Chiefs have stood by Alex Smith as their starter for the 2017 season. There was no competition for the starting spot, no quarterback controversy.

Smith is repaying the favor. Through two games, he is the NFL's second-leading passer. He is on pace for 40 touchdowns and almost 5,000 yards.

Both would far surpass his personal bests, making Smith a big reason the Chiefs will take a 2-0 record into Sunday's game against the Chargers in Los Angeles.

Smith is also making more difficult the Chiefs' decision about what to do with him in 2018. They didn't acquire Mahomes to sit on the bench forever, and his play during training camp and the preseason was impressive enough that it's reasonable to believe he could be ready to be the starter next season.

The Chiefs see that as a good problem to have.

"I just want Alex to be Alex," coach Andy Reid said. "That's all.

"I don't want him to look anywhere other than getting ready for the game, whatever game it is, get ready for it and then be yourself. That's plenty good."

Once Mahomes started playing well this summer, it seemed almost a forgone conclusion that he would take over from Smith next season. Smith, 33, has been steady and reliable, 41-20 as a regular-season starter for the Chiefs over four years. But he has been unable to get the Chiefs beyond the divisional round of the playoffs. They allowed just 18 points in last year's playoff game but couldn't score enough to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Chiefs would also trim $17 million off their salary cap next year by trading or releasing Smith.

Smith understands why the Chiefs drafted Mahomes and the reality of his situation. He said shortly after the draft that this could be his final season in Kansas City.

But he is making the upcoming decision difficult for the Chiefs.

"For sure," he said. "The reality is whether or not they drafted Pat, I still had to make that decision [difficult] for them anyway. You either hold up your end or you don't. If you don't, you're not going to be around. They're going to find somebody, try to [find somebody].

"Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in that when you do draft a guy. But really, the situation hasn't changed. That's the reality of it when you're this far along in your career. You've got to go prove yourself every year."

That's true. But the Chiefs haven't before had an alternative to Smith as they have in Mahomes. The other No. 2 quarterbacks in Smith's time with the Chiefs have been Chase Daniel, a career backup, and Nick Foles, a former starter who had flamed out spectacularly the previous season with the Rams.

However, Smith didn't need the Chiefs to motivate him by drafting Mahomes in the first round. If they thought that would have helped Smith, they might have made a better effort to draft a QB before this year.

They drafted one to secure a most important position for the long term. They also believe Mahomes could be an upgrade over Smith, though so far this year that would be virtually impossible given the way Smith has played in the first two games.

"That's a pretty important position," Reid said. "I've said this right from the get-go. It's not any different. Alex knows he's not getting any younger in this business. So you always want to stay up on that position, whether he plays today or he plays five years from now, 10 years from now. You want to make sure that position is solid at this level. So if you have an opportunity to go up and get one, especially where we finished, you take that chance of doing that."