Last December, the top two quarterbacks selected in the 2005 NFL draft were leading teams to playoff berths.
Fast forward to spring, and neither attended offseason activities; Alex Smith retiring from football in April, mere days before ESPN reported that Aaron Rodgers no longer wanted to play for the Packers. Tension has since built between Rodgers and Green Bay, Rodgers dismayed with organizational decisions, including a lack of communication by general manager Brian Gutekunst.
Smith, who was shuffled among three teams in his career, wondered: Why?
“Clearly it’s not an ideal situation and not what it should be,” Smith told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday over Zoom. “I think he’s due a certain level of communication and certain level of respect beyond the average player. And I don’t think that’s asking a whole lot just to communicate.
“Clearly that didn’t happen over the last couple years.”
The Packers selected Rodgers with the 24th overall draft pick in 2005 after San Francisco snatched Smith with the No. 1 overall slot. Their careers have since been narratively linked, but their trajectories diverged greatly.
Smith was thrust into a starting role his rookie year, the 49ers winning just 19 of his 50 starts through 2010. He quarterbacked a 13-3 season in 2011 before Colin Kaepernick emerged, prompting a trade of Smith to Kansas City. He coordinated five consecutive winning seasons, three times winning Pro Bowl honors, before the Chiefs dealt Smith to Washington to clear the way for Patrick Mahomes.
Mounting comebacks from a shoulder injury and life-threatening leg infection, Smith finished his career completing 62.6% of passes for 35,650 yards, 199 touchdowns and 109 interceptions.
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Rodgers, meanwhile, sat behind Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for three seasons before the Packers started him in 2008. He’s since won 126 of 190 starts (.663), thrown for 51,245 yards and connected on 412 touchdowns to just 89 interceptions. Rodgers has also competed in 21 playoff games and won a Super Bowl. He’s the defending league MVP, an award he’s earned three times.
Smith said those accolades should dictate front-office conduct.
“Here’s a guy who’s given 16 years to an organization, he’s been through a lot of changes there as well, he’s coming off maybe one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever, still playing at an incredibly high level,” Smith said. “You rewind to a year ago and all the talk was: ‘Is Aaron done? Is he on the decline? Yada yada yada.’ He played right through that. They’ve been on the doorstep of the Super Bowl the last couple years. So I think it’s hard.
“The way people have been treated, he’s come out and said as much. So I think that’s important in any business — not just football, but in any business and especially team sport, it’s important how you treat people. Really, I think it hasn’t been ideal there. Hopefully they can get it figured out.”
In retrospect, Smith reckoned perhaps being selected with the first overall draft pick wasn’t ideal, either. He’s grateful he met his wife and started his family in Northern California. But on the field?
“You’re going to the team with the worst record and probably the most moving parts and variables, and that’s hard as a young player,” said Smith, whose 49ers cycled through six offensive coordinators in his first six seasons. “I think it’s a road I needed to go down as a player and person to come out the other side. I certainly learned a lot about myself and who I am, not just as a player but as a person and leader as well.”
Smith achieved greater success — and triumphed adversity — along his next two stops. He said he hopes Rodgers doesn’t experience what it’s like to play for a second or third franchise.
“Just being a pure fan, I hope they can get it figured out and make it right, because it’d be weird to see him in a different uniform,” Smith said. “I certainly hope he obviously gets the chance to finish out his career there.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Rodgers deserves better from Packers, says ex-NFL QB Alex Smith
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