The Washington Football Team is expected to release Alex Smith in the coming days, a source with knowledge of the situation said — parting ways with the quarterback who led the franchise to the postseason this season after completing one of the more storied comebacks in all of sports.
Washington will save roughly $14 million by cutting Smith, who will become a free agent for the first time in his career. The move follows an extraordinary season from the 2005 overall No. 1 pick in which Smith was named the Comeback Player of the Year for returning to the field two years after suffering a life-threatening leg injury. The 36-year-old signal-caller went 5-1 as Washington’s starter, playing a key role in lifting Washington to the playoffs.
Smith has not definitively said whether he wants to play football next season, but has strongly hinted that is the case. The three-time Pro Bowler has gone on an extensive publicity tour in recent weeks, saying he feels he has “more left,” telling interviewers he felt emboldened by the comeback.
There were signs long before this week that the team and Smith were headed for a divorce. Last month, coach Ron Rivera stopped shy of saying Smith would be on the roster in 2021. And in an interview published in GQ Magazine last week, Smith gave a frank answer in which he took a dig at the team for what he saw as an initial skepticism regarding his comeback on the part of coaches.
“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.”
For Washington, relying on Smith’s durability for the upcoming season probably amounts to an unacceptable risk.
Despite Smith’s success under center, the quarterback missed multiple weeks with a bone bruise to his surgically repaired right leg — an injury that led Rivera to start Taylor Heinicke over Smith in the team’s playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith said he made a case to play in the playoffs, but added Rivera felt Smith’s mobility would have been too limited because of the injury.
Smith’s pending release also frees up additional cap room, giving Washington an estimated $52 million to work with — the fourth-most in the NFL. Smith’s contract will leave $8.6 million on the books, but that money has already been paid to the quarterback in a signing bonus.
Washington has been aggressive in its pursuit of an upgrade at quarterback this offseason as the franchise looks to take the next step from a promising 7-9 season. The team offered a first-round and third-round pick for quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the offer was rebuffed when the Detroit Lions sent the veteran to the Los Angeles Rams instead. The Athletic reported Monday that Washington also pursued Las Vegas’ Marcus Mariota, though talks ultimately cooled off.
Smith spent a total of three seasons with Washington. The team acquired him in 2018 to replace Kirk Cousins, sending a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs. In his first season, Smith led Washington to a 6-3 start before breaking his leg against the Houston Texans in a Week 11 matchup.
The injury required 17 surgeries and threatened Smith’s life after the quarterback developed an infection in his leg. From there, Smith started on his remarkable journey to play football again. He missed all of 2019 before being cleared for contact last summer.
When Smith finally graced the field in the regular season, he ended up surprising many, showing good arm strength and bouncing back up after sacks. In his October return to football action, Smith was sacked six times against the Los Angeles Rams — including by All-Pro Aaron Donald on the quarterback’s very first hit.
Smith performed better as the year progressed. In eight games, he threw for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions — good for a 78.5 quarterback rating. His top moment came in Week 13 when he led to Washington over the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers with 296 yards.
Players and coaches said they found inspiration in Smith’s story. They also praised his leadership and his impact on young players. Rivera said Smith’s leadership was “special” and wondered if it could be replaced.
Still, in a telling moment, Rivera was asked in December, prior to the team’s final game, if Washington’s turnaround would have been possible without Smith. The team went from 1-5 to 7-9 in part because of Smith’s play. His answer surprised, and reportedly irked, those in Smith’s camp.
“Well, if we had a healthy Kyle Allen, I think we could’ve,” Rivera said. “I really do. I think we could’ve. Part of the reason is because Kyle, he’s very similar to Alex in terms of his abilities. He’s got the same kind of arm. He makes good decisions like Alex does. He’s got good footwork. I think we could’ve been. I do.”
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