When the Chiefs signed Donovan Smith to a contract last spring following the 2023 NFL Draft, it signaled the beginning of a new chapter in Smith's career—from a player with a lot of security with the team that drafted him to a valued veteran presence who is likely going to have to ride out a series of one-year deals until he decides to hang it up.
The Chiefs came out of free agency and the draft with Wanya Morris and Jawaan Taylor at positions being completely remade, which means Smith had an immediate inside edge on a starting spot for a contending team. He signed a one-year, $3 million contract with incentives attached and gave the Chiefs their perceived starter on the left side for the next season.
True to projections, Smith was the Week 1 starter at left tackle for the Chiefs and held down the spot until a neck injury sent him to the sidelines in early December. At that point, Morris took over as left tackle and retained that role even as Smith was able to return to practice. While it looked like Morris might hold down the position through year's end, a concussion gave Smith a second chance at claiming the spot and that's how things stand heading into the Super Bowl.
The 49ers are going to do their best to force the Chiefs tackles to make mistakes and rush Patrick Mahomes with the football, but if Smith can hold his own against Nick Bosa and company, he'll have enough current game film to remind teams they have a starting option on the open market if/when they need one. If Smith looks good enough, that deal won't have to be a veteran minimum.