LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. - Following the gruesome injury that nearly cost him his leg and nearly took his life, the fact Alex Smith even returned to the football field was nothing short of amazing. The quarterback will not be back on the field with Washington next season, and it's not nearly as big of a surprise.
Smith, who will turn 37 years-old in May, is under contract for two more seasons after leading Washington to a 5-and-1 mark as the starting QB in 2020 - a year in which the team won the NFC East division title and he was voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year one season after missing all 16 games. He completed a remarkable comeback from a broken right leg that required 17 surgeries to repair but ended the 2020 campaign out of uniform because of a strained right calf in the same leg.
“It’s not the way you want to finish out the season, so in that sense, it’s frustrating,” Smith said at the time. “Bigger picture to be back, playing a role and even to be in this situation is something that if you had presented that to me a year ago, two years ago, obviously I would have jumped at.”
By releasing Smith, Spotrac reports Washington will free up $14.7 million in salary cap space for the upcoming season. The NFL free agency window opens March 17th.
In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Smith said that his return to the field "definitely threw a wrench in the team's plans," and Washington "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. … Heck no they didn't want me there." Smith claimed the issues between him and the front office were the result of his roster status and whether he should be on the Physically Unable to Perform list or Injured Reserve.
“We’re exploring all of our options,” head coach Ron Rivera said of the quarterback position during a press conference last month. “Nothing is off the table.”
“The biggest thing we have to do is we have to continue to go through our process,” Rivera said when asked about Smith’s future. “We’ve got to sit down and talk about it.”
“It’s a different feeling when he’s back there,” receiver Steven Sims said of Smith's presence on the field. “Everything about him is professional. It’s everything you want in a quarterback.”
Washington reportedly talked to the Detroit Lions about trading for quarterback Matthew Stafford before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Rams. Rivera said he’s “not going to get into details about the things we’re doing and how we’re doing them.”
Despite being out of football until he was signed to the practice squad in December, 27-year-old journeyman Taylor Heinicke, a former Old Dominion University standout, started the playoff game against the Buccaneers and impressed in the defeat.
Washington has the 19th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is likely too late for any of the top quarterbacks available.
Since the summer, he hit the milestones of being cleared to practice, making the roster, playing in another NFL game, starting for the first time since 2018 and winning again — and shied away from the spotlight.
In 2018, Washington traded for and signed Smith to a $94 million extension. When he was injured in November of that season, the team was 6-and-3 and in first place.