Alex Smith’s comeback in D.C. didn’t last very long.
The Washington Football team announced Friday that they have decided to release their 2020 starting quarterback Alex Smith—who was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year last season—after three years with the team.
Smith played in eight games and started six for Washington as he led the franchise to its first NFC East title since 2015 last season, but head coach Ron Rivera said that after he met with the 36-year-old this week the team was going to honor Smith’s request to be released.
“I had a chance to meet with Alex Smith this week and we had a very honest and real discussion. We had the chance to reflect on the 2020 season and talk about moving forward into next year,” Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “After the conclusion of that meeting we decided that it would be best for both parties to move on and we will be granting Alex his request to be released.”
While Rivera and the brass have made it to be as though Smith asked out, it seems more likely that this was a mutual decision. Washington is looking to rebuild, and considering that Smith will be 37 in May and making $24.4 million next season, a release—which saves them $14.9 million against a COVID-ravaged salary cap—seemed the best option for the team.
Though Smith’s 2020 season stats weren’t all that impressive—six touchdowns, eight interceptions—his ability to manage a game and be a calming presence in a very youthful locker room was priceless and indispensable as they went on to win their division despite a 7-9 record.
The Bremerton, Washington native had leapfrogged Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen, two younger and supposedly more dynamic options, midway through the season and led the squad to a 5-1 record in six starts with his cool and even-tempered style of play, though a calf injury unfortunately kept him out of their playoff matchup with the eventual Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those late-season heroics were even more impressive when you consider Smith’s road back to the gridiron over the past three years.
Just 10 games into his Washington career in 2018, Smith suffered a leg injury the likes of which only Joe Theismann can relate. He suffered spiral and compound fractures to his right tibia and fibula when he was sacked by JJ Watt and Kareem Jackson in a November game against the Houston Texans 33 years to the day that Theismann went down with his infamous injury.
After the initial surgery Smith developed a life-threatening infection in his leg that was so bad that several doctors suggested his only option might be amputating the leg above the knee. Instead, Smith went through 17 surgeries during four separate hospital stays over a period of nine months.
In the end, doctors were able to save the leg with skin grafts and muscle-transfers—but an NFL return seemed like an impossibility. Many even in Washington’s organization doubted a doctor would ever clear Smith to play again, but he defied the odds and continued passing all of the tests until eventually, he made his NFL return on October 11th, 2020.
In Smith’s three seasons in the nation’s capital, Washington went 11-5 when he started and 6-27 with everyone else. Despite those jarring numbers, Smith said that his improbable return threw a “wrench” in the team’s plans and that he didn’t feel wanted by the franchise last summer.
“They didn’t see it, didn’t want me there, didn’t want me to be a part of it, didn’t want me to be on the team, the roster, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith told GQ magazine recently. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.
“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”
It remains unclear whether Smith will continue playing in 2021, though sources have indicated to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that he would like to continue playing.
Washington, meanwhile, will look to fill the void left by the best quarterback and leader the team has had over the past three years. Despite the fact that they won the NFC East last season, they still sit third at +350 NFL odds (888sport) to win the division, sitting behind the Dallas Cowboys (-111) and Philadelphia Eagles (+300), which speaks to the question marks surrounding their roster.
Taylor Heinicke, the young gun who stepped in and played a lovely game in that Wild Card loss to the Bucs, has been extended on a two-year, heavily incentivized deal that could be worth up to $8.75 million. Apart from him, Washington will likely have Allen back as an exclusive rights free agent as well as undrafted free agent Steven Montez.