Alex Smith understood the rationale. After coach Ron Rivera informed the quarterback he would be unable to play in Saturday’s 31-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a calf injury, Smith said he knew he wouldn’t have had the mobility necessary to extend plays like backup Taylor Heinicke did against Tampa Bay’s blitz-heavy pass rush.
But that didn’t make the decision any easier to handle.
“Really difficult, really difficult,” Smith said. “Definitely frustrating having to sit there and not be suiting up, not holding up your end to the team. Obviously, it’s not where you want to be.”
Smith missed what might have been his last chance to play in the NFL — if the 36-year-old decides to retire this offseason. Speaking to reporters Sunday, Smith said he has yet to make a decision and would take the next few weeks to mull over his future.
Smith indicated that behind the scenes, his listed calf injury was “a little more complicated” than initially let on. The three-time Pro Bowler did not elaborate, but Smith was first hampered by the injury during a Week 14 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Smith missed the next two games and made his return for the team’s Week 17 finale in Philadelphia.
Smith was able to finish the Eagles game, though look severely limited throughout the win and told reporters he was still sore. That soreness carried over to practice, where Smith was limited as the team prepped Heinicke to start.
The injury was a disappointing twist given that Smith fought so hard to return from the life-threatening leg injury that he suffered two years ago. Smith, though, said missing Washington’s playoff game likely won’t affect his choice — one way or another.
Smith said he had “so much fun” returning to the field this season. He called it one of the best feelings in the world, one that he couldn’t duplicate outside of football. Now, Smith said he plans to talk over his football future with his wife.
“I’m going to get away with a clear head and go over everything and make the best decision,” Smith said. “I can’t say it (enough) how much I love the opportunity to be here, to be part of this team, to be out there and play this amazing game.”
Even if Smith wants to return, Washington will have to determine if the franchise wants to keep him. The quarterback will turn 37 in May and carries a $23 million cap season. But Washington can get out of Smith’s contract by cutting him with $8.6 million left in dead money.
Coach Ron Rivera said figuring out the position will be one of Washington’s biggest priorities this offseason. The team started four quarterbacks throughout the season, including the playoffs, and still finished 7-9 despite the near-constant shuffling. Rivera deflected questions whether Smith’s injury down the stretch complicated his thoughts on retaining him.
Smith, though, was a valuable commodity to Washington in 2020. The 2005 first overall pick provided stability with natural leadership and calmness that teammates said rubbed off on them. After taking over in November, Smith jumpstarted the team’s struggling offense and was 5-1 as a starter.
Smith’s stats weren’t overly flashy — he finished with 1,582 yards and six touchdowns to eight interceptions in eight games — but Washington was more effective with him under center. From Week 10 to 14, Smith’s first start until the calf injury, Washington ranked 15th in total yards and sixth in time of possession.
Rivera said the type of leadership that Smith provides is rare.
“There’s an intangible that some guys have and possess, and Alex has it,” Rivera said. “Can it be replaced? Well, you’re going to have to find a guy that has that same type of intangibles, and those guys are special. They only come around once in a while.”
Teammates drew inspiration from Smith’s recovery. Right guard Brandon Scherff said he marveled at the way Smith popped right back up when he took his first sack during his season debut in October. Tight end Logan Thomas added Smith was “special” — telling reporters he had confidence that Smith could keep playing should he decide to carry on.
For Smith, just attempting the comeback was enough.
If he had come up short — if a 2018 meeting with the Houston Texans was his last game — then he would have “slept just fine at night” knowing that he tried, Smith said. To even make the roster, Smith, of course, endured 17 surgeries, an infection and hours upon hours of rehab.
“To me, it was really about the pursuit,” Smith said.
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