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Why new Chiefs free-agent signing believes he’ll have a bounce-back season in 2023

Kansas City Chiefs new left tackle Donovan Smith should’ve had a front-row seat for teammate Patrick Mahomes completing all sorts of high-difficulty passes during Wednesday’s OTAs practice at the team facility.

Smith, though, said he didn’t have time to enjoy any of that.

“Dawg, right now, I’m just trying to get the playbook down,” Smith said with a smile following Wednesday’s practice, “and make sure I’m in my right assignments.”

There’s no doubt this is an adjustment for the 29-year-old Smith, who spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After he was released earlier this offseason, however, Smith went through free agency for the first time. He said the Chiefs contacted him just after the NFL Draft, and the two sides soon agreed to a one-year deal with a base of $3 million.

“I hopped on a plane, came and visited and it made sense,” Smith said. “So we made that thing go in motion.”

More than anything, Smith represents added security for a Chiefs team that expects to compete for a second straight Super Bowl.

Before KC added Smith, it would’ve relied on free-agent signing Jawaan Taylor to make a seamless switch from right tackle to left tackle. Not only that, the Chiefs also would’ve needed to find a starter at right tackle from the group of Lucas Niang (injured most of last season), Wanya Morris (this year’s third-round draft pick) and Darian Kinnard (2022 fifth-round draft pick who didn’t play a season ago).

Smith’s presence, however, makes things simpler. He’s played left tackle his entire NFL career, meaning Taylor can stay on the right side with the others fighting for backup roles.

The biggest question for Smith is how much he can bounce back following the worst year of his career.

Smith battled elbow and foot injuries a season ago, mostly electing to play through his ailments. It seems a logical reason for his decreased production, as Smith’s Pro Football Focus grade went from a career-high 83.3 in 2021 to a 58.1 last season.

The latter mark was easily the worst of his career.

“It was a little frustrating. I mean, obviously I played with a lot more injuries than I probably should have,” Smith said. “But it’s just something that we do. We go out there, we sacrifice our bodies to go out there for the greater good of the team.”

Smith responded “Absolutely” when asked if he was back at full strength for the Chiefs’ OTAs practices.

“New beginnings, new journey,” Smith said. “I’m healthy. I’m fresh, and feeling real good.”

Injuries certainly could explain some of Smith’s struggles from a year ago; before that, his PFF grade had improved every season.



Donovan Smith PFF offense grade

2015

62.5

2016

63.9

2017

64.9

2018

66.4

2019

70.4

2020

71.8

2021

83.3

2022

58.1



Source: Pro Football Focus

Smith, who will turn 30 next month, said his priorities have shifted some as an NFL veteran. He won a Super Bowl with quarterback Tom Brady in 2021, but he said that sort of team accomplishment remains the top priority.

“I’m a selfless person, so Pro Bowl, all of those things ... yeah it matters, but not really,” Smith said. “I’m more about the obviously championship thing, and being able to get there and get that — that means a lot more. And then just winning games and having fun. That’s what I think means the most to me. Outside of that, everything else will take care of itself.”

If all goes to plan, Smith will use 2023 to show he can return to previous form.

While also proving that last season was an ailment-based outlier — as opposed to a sharp decline.

“I know who I am as a player. I know what I can accomplish,” Smith said. “I’ve accomplished a lot of things, and it’s what we’re going to continue to do.”