SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Two and a half years after 49ers fans chanted, "We want Carr!", the NFL was saying, "We want Alex!"
How else to explain the richer-than-expected compensation the 49ers will receive for their backup quarterback?
It wasn't just that the Chiefs were interested in Alex Smith, it was that they were more interested than the other squads that came calling. At least two other teams — Arizona likely was one of them — were in the running, and the competition increased the price tag.
That speaks to an abnormally bad year for passers at the top of the draft and in free agency (Derek Anderson or Tyler Thigpen, anyone?).
It also should be validation for a quarterback who has been kicked around at various times during his career but who has two rare qualities these days — dignity and patience — that have allowed him to rise above his circumstances.
The last time Smith stepped onto the field in a 49ers uniform? It was for the coin toss at the Super Bowl, an image that underscores just how bizarre and aggravating and heartbreaking it was for Smith in his final season in San Francisco.
Before the season, he was voted as a team captain by his peers. By its end he was relegated to a largely ceremonial role as Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 18 years and captivated the nation along the way. (The Kaepernick love affair continues: On Thursday the Turlock, Calif., native was in Chicago alongside First Lady Michelle Obama and other athletes to promote exercise in schools.)
Smith seethed at his situation. But he did so inwardly. Pouting or protesting would have damaged a 49ers locker room as the team prepared for the playoffs.
He told reporters he was unhappy, and he said he felt the only thing he did to lose his job was get a concussion. But that tiny bit of frustration was all he let loose. Otherwise, he acted professionally, took on the role of the No. 2 quarterback, and the teammates who supported him took their cue and went about their business as well.
Smith is very much the antithesis of a modern athlete: He's a quiet leader.
He doesn't have a Facebook page or a Twitter account. He's been active in the community but doesn't call attention to the fact.
His foundation to help foster kids was cited recently in study by the Boston Globe as the paragon of athlete-run charities.
When 15-year-old Sierra LaMar was missing last offseason in Morgan Hill, Smith showed up unannounced at a searching station and asked how he could help.
During the lockout, Smith organized player workouts despite the fact that he wasn't under contract at the time. He even sprung for a plane ticket for one of the incoming rookies and let him drive his car — OK, it was his wife's car — when the rookie was in town.
There's no question Smith would rather be the 49ers' starting quarterback, lead the team to a Super Bowl victory and complete the rags-to-riches story that began when the then-moribund franchise drafted him No.1 overall in 2005.
But the new chapter isn't a bad one.
He'll work in Kansas City under Andy Reid, an offensive-minded head coach who knows quarterbacks. He'll operate in a passer-friendly West Coast offense. The Chiefs have a good defense, an excellent running game and a No.1 pick they'll likely use on an offensive lineman to protect Smith. And they reside in perhaps the weakest division in the NFL, meaning the turnaround won't be as daunting as it was when he arrived in San Francisco.