Alex Smith’s return to the football field in 2020 from a life-threatening leg injury was one of the greatest stories of the NFL season. But Smith said his triumphant return was considered more of an unwanted hindrance by the Washington Football Team.
Smith, in a Tuesday interview with GQ Magazine, said he threw a “wrench” in the WFT’s quarterback plans, adding that the team was surprised that he could play after returning from a Nov. 18, 2018 injury: a compound fracture that broke both the tibia and fibula in his right leg. A life-threatening infection made matters worse and nearly forced doctors to amputate his leg above the knee.
Smith returned to Washington before the start of the 2020 season but felt he wasn’t given a “fair shake” as first-year coach Ron Rivera emphasized second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins as the team’s starter.
“When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team’s plan,” Smith told GQ. “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. 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.”
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Smith said the team initially tried to place him on Injured Reserve before final roster cuts, which would have ended any hope of a 2020 comeback. Instead, he opened camp on the team’s physically unable to perform list until Aug. 16. Even then, Smith said, he was not allowed to participate in 11-on-11 full-padded workouts until late in training camp — and only then after he prodded coaches to give him a chance.
“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith said. “I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, ‘f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can.’ So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”
Smith opened as the team’s No. 3 quarterback for the first four games of the season before Rivera opted to bench Haskins (89 of 146 passes, 939 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 13 sacks). Smith, then the primary backup, saw his first action in Week 5 after starter Kyle Allen exited the game with a concussion. He completed 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards in the 30-10 loss.
Smith didn’t register stats again until four weeks later, completing 24 of 32 passes for 325 yards and one touchdown to three interceptions in a 23-20 loss to the Giants. The following week, he earned his first start, leading the team to four wins in five games. He suffered a bone bruise in a Dec. 13 win over San Francisco, but returned in the final regular-season game to lead the team to a playoff-clinching win over the Eagles. He did not play in the team’s wild-card loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay; Rivera instead went with Taylor Heinicke.
In six games started, Smith completed 135 of 203 passes for 1,220 yards and five touchdowns to five interceptions. For the season, he completed 168 of 252 passes for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns to eight interceptions.
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The Washington Football Team declined to comment on the Smith interview, which has raised questions as to whether he will return to play for the team in 2021. His contract extends through the 2022 season, at which he would become an unrestricted free agent. He has a $24.4 million cap hit to the team in 2021, per Spotrac; the team would save $13.8 million if it released him.
Whether Smith returns to play for Washington remains to be seen. But the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year isn’t interested in hanging up his cleats yet.
“I got more left,” Smith told GQ. “I got more to get there, too. So I really do really wanna get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder. I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond.
“At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation, and do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”