Alex Smith has yet to officially say if he wants to play in the NFL next season. But that hasn’t stopped the Washington quarterback from taking shots at the franchise — even though he’s technically still on Dan Snyder’s payroll.
In a stunning new interview, Smith reflected on his comeback from a life-threatening leg injury — and said he felt Washington coach Ron Rivera and his staff “didn’t want” him under center in 2020. Rivera replaced former interim coach Bill Callahan and coach Jay Gruden prior to last season.
Smith told GQ Magazine he “threw a wrench” in the team’s plan.
“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 said. “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 it a go at this point.”
Washington started the year with Dwayne Haskins at quarterback before turning to Smith in October after Haskins was benched and backup Kyle Allen went down. Two years removed from his broken leg, Smith went 5-1 as a starter — helping lead Washington to the playoffs. Smith, however, didn’t start the team’s playoff game as Rivera went with backup Taylor Heinicke due to Smith’s nagging calf injury.
Smith’s return to the playing field was routinely praised and he was a slam dunk to win the league’s comeback player of the year award at the end of the season. Coaches and teammates marveled at Smith’s determination to overcome an injury that required 17 surgeries.
Smith, though, said in the interview published Tuesday that he was bothered by the team’s decision at the beginning of training camp to put him on the Physically Unable to Perform list. “I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” he said.
Smith remained on the list for two weeks before the team activated him. At the time, Rivera said the quarterback still hadn’t been cleared for full contact. Smith said wanted to see if he could still play the position following his injury.
“I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out,” Smith said. “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, [expletive] 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.
“Like I said, new coaches, new faces, and I think I definitely surprised a lot of people that never thought I would even be trying it.”
Smith’s comments were particularly surprising because the quarterback often avoids criticizing anyone — let alone his employer — in interviews.
In speaking with reporters earlier this month, Rivera stopped shy of saying Smith would be on the roster next season. The team is in the market for a new quarterback after the team’s surprising playoff berth. Smith’s durability — the calf injury was on his surgically repaired right leg and caused him to miss multiple weeks — figures to make it hard for Washington to rely on him in 2021.
If Smith was right — and Rivera truly didn’t want the quarterback last season — Washington’s options were limited. The team couldn’t have cut Smith to save money as the dead money, Smith’s signing bonus was already paid out, would have been even larger than any unguaranteed salary on the books.
Regarding his future, Smith told the magazine that he feels like he has a lot “more left” in him for football. But he said he needs to test how his body feels and ultimately make the decision with his wife.
In the meantime, Smith has spent his time conducting various interviews over the past weeks. To GQ, Smith reiterated that he also had doubts about last year’s comeback that would ever be possible, something he repeatedly told reporters over the course of the season.
But unlike before, he made it clear he viewed Washington among the skeptics, as well.
“There was a very small group of people that actually thought that I could do this,” Smith said. “I think the rest of the world either doubted me, or they patronized me. ‘Yeah, that’s really nice that you’re trying.’”
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