Who Was The Chiefs Quarterback Before Mahomes?

chiefs quarterback before mahomes

The quarterback who started for the Kansas City Chiefs immediately before Patrick Mahomes was Alex Smith. Smith played for the Chiefs from 2013-2017 and was the entrenched starter before Mahomes took over the job.

In a recent post-Super Bowl press conference after winning his third championship, Patrick Mahomes credited the culture and foundation that was already in place on the Chiefs thanks to Alex Smith’s leadership and play in previous seasons. As Mahomes stated: “I got brought into this culture, Alex Smith was leading this team and they had the pieces in place.”

Smith was acquired via trade from the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, he made three Pro Bowls and led them to three winning seasons. However, due to a serious foot injury in 2018, this opens up new opportunities for today’s great captain Mahomes.

List of Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterbacks

Dallas Texans Era (1960-1962)

  • 1960-1962: Cotton Davidson, Len Dawson

Kansas City Chiefs Era (1963–Present)

  • 1963-1975: Len Dawson
  • 1976-1978: Mike Livingston, Tony Adams
  • 1979-1980: Steve Fuller
  • 1981-1986: Bill Kenney
  • 1987: Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge
  • 1988-1992: Steve DeBerg, Dave Krieg
  • 1993-1998: Joe Montana, Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac
  • 1999-2000: Elvis Grbac
  • 2001-2006: Trent Green
  • 2007: Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle
  • 2008: Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen
  • 2009-2012: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Tyler Palko
  • 2013-2017: Alex Smith
  • 2018–Present: Patrick Mahomes

Len Dawson: The Golden Arm

Before Patrick Mahomes, the most iconic quarterback in Chiefs history was undoubtedly Len Dawson. Nicknamed “Lenny the Cool” for his unflappable demeanor on the field, Dawson led the Chiefs to victory in Super Bowl IV and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Dawson’s journey to Kansas City was a winding one. He was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957, but struggled to find playing time behind starter Bobby Layne. After stints with the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Texans (who would eventually become the Chiefs), Dawson finally found a home in Kansas City in 1962.

Under head coach Hank Stram, Dawson thrived. He led the league in completion percentage eight times and was named NFL Man of the Year in 1973. Dawson’s most iconic moment came in Super Bowl IV, where he threw for 142 yards and a touchdown to lead the Chiefs to a 23-7 victory over the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings.

Dawson’s legacy with the Chiefs is secure. He held virtually every franchise passing record until Mahomes came along, and his number 16 jersey is one of only ten retired by the team. For older Chiefs fans, Dawson will always be the gold standard at the quarterback position.

Trent Green: The Bridge to the Future

After Dawson’s retirement in 1975, the Chiefs struggled to find a long-term answer at quarterback. Names like Steve Fuller, Todd Blackledge, and Steve DeBerg came and went, but none could match Dawson’s success.

That changed in 2001, when the team acquired Trent Green from the St. Louis Rams. Green had been a backup to Kurt Warner on the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning team in 1999, but was looking for a chance to start. He found that opportunity in Kansas City.

Green’s tenure with the Chiefs got off to a rocky start, as he suffered a gruesome knee injury in the team’s first preseason game. But he bounced back strong, starting every game for the Chiefs from 2002 to 2005.

During that span, Green put up impressive numbers. He threw for over 4,000 yards in three straight seasons from 2003 to 2005, becoming the first quarterback in Chiefs history to accomplish that feat. He also made two Pro Bowls and led the league in passing yards in 2005.

Despite his statistical success, Green was never able to get the Chiefs over the hump in the playoffs. The team made the postseason in 2003 and 2006, but lost in the first round both times. Still, Green’s steady presence under center helped bridge the gap between the Dawson era and the high-flying offenses of the late 2000s and 2010s.

Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon: The Tandem of 1998-2000

Between Dawson and Green, the Chiefs’ quarterback position was in flux. From 1998-2000, the team lacked an entrenched starter, instead alternating between Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon.

Grbac, a former 49ers backup, signed with the Chiefs in 1997 and won the starting job the following year. He had a solid season, throwing for 3,389 yards and 19 touchdowns. But he struggled with injuries and inconsistency, and was ultimately benched in favor of Gannon late in the 1998 season.

Gannon, who had previously been a journeyman backup, made the most of his opportunity. He led the Chiefs to the playoffs in 1998 and earned a Pro Bowl nod. The following season, Gannon and Grbac split time once again, with Gannon starting 10 games and Grbac starting 6.

The tandem approach worked well for the Chiefs, as they finished the season 9-7 and made the playoffs once again. But in the offseason, the team decided to commit to Grbac as their starter, signing him to a lucrative contract extension. Gannon, seeking a chance to start full-time, signed with the Oakland Raiders.

In retrospect, the Chiefs may have made the wrong choice. While Grbac had a solid season in 1999, throwing for 4,169 yards and 22 touchdowns, he struggled in 2000 and was ultimately released after the season. Gannon, meanwhile, went on to have an MVP season with the Raiders in 2001 and led the team to a Super Bowl appearance the following year.

Steve Bono: The Forgotten Quarterback

Sandwiched between the Dawson and Grbac/Gannon eras was a quarterback who is often overlooked in Chiefs history: Steve Bono.

Bono, a former 49ers backup, signed with the Chiefs in 1994 after spending the previous season with the Vikings. He won the starting job in 1995 and had a breakout season, throwing for 3,640 yards and 21 touchdowns. The Chiefs finished the season 13-3 and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

But Bono’s magical season came to an abrupt end in the divisional round, as the Chiefs lost at home to the underdog Indianapolis Colts. Bono struggled in the game, completing just 11 of 25 passes for 122 yards and an interception.

Bono remained the Chiefs’ starter for the 1996 season, but his production dipped significantly. He threw for just 2,828 yards and 13 touchdowns, and the team missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The following offseason, the Chiefs traded for Elvis Grbac, ending Bono’s tenure as the starter.

While Bono’s Chiefs career was short-lived, he did provide some memorable moments. His 76-yard touchdown pass to Willie Davis in the 1995 season opener remains one of the longest in franchise history, and his 21 touchdown passes that season stood as a team record until Trent Green broke it in 2002.

Joe Montana: The Aging Legend

Before Patrick Mahomes, the most high-profile quarterback to play for the Chiefs was undoubtedly Joe Montana. The four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time NFL MVP signed with Kansas City in 1993 after spending the previous 14 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

Montana’s tenure with the Chiefs was short but memorable. In his first season with the team, he led them to the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the Buffalo Bills. Montana threw for 2,144 yards and 13 touchdowns that season, earning a Pro Bowl nod in the process.

The following season, Montana once again led the Chiefs to the playoffs, but they lost to the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round. Montana retired after the season, ending his illustrious career.

While Montana’s numbers with the Chiefs were far from the gaudy stats he put up in San Francisco, his presence undoubtedly brought excitement and legitimacy to the franchise. His arrival in Kansas City was a major news story, and his playoff run in 1993 rekindled memories of his glory days with the 49ers.

Alex Smith: The Game Manager

After Trent Green’s departure in 2006, the Chiefs once again found themselves searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. They cycled through names like Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, and Tyler Thigpen, but none could solidify their hold on the starting job.

That changed in 2013, when the team acquired Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers. Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, had lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick the previous season after suffering a concussion.

In Kansas City, Smith found a home. He started all 16 games in 2013, throwing for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card berth. Smith’s numbers were far from spectacular, but his efficiency and mistake-free play earned him the “game manager” label.

Smith continued to be a steady presence for the Chiefs over the next four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017 and helped lead the team to the playoffs in four of his five seasons as the starter. But despite his regular season success, Smith struggled in the playoffs, posting a 1-4 record in five postseason starts.

In 2017, the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick, signaling that Smith’s days as the starter were numbered. Mahomes sat behind Smith for his rookie season, but the writing was on the wall. In January 2018, the Chiefs traded Smith to the Washington Redskins, clearing the way for Mahomes to take over as the starter.

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