LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. - Quarterback Alex Smith has announced his retirement from the NFL, closing a chapter on one of the most incredible comeback stories in NFL history. He made the announcement in a video posted to Instagram.
“I want to say thank you for believing in me, and thank you for helping me believe in myself — and in the impossible,” Smith said. “Because even though I’ve got plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I’ve got, I can’t wait to see what else is possible.”
Smith, who will turn 37 years-old in May, was released by the Washington Football Team last month. Last season, he led 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.”
In an 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.
NEW: Statement from @WashingtonNFL owner Dan Snyder on Alex Smith’s retirement, calling his achievement “the greatest comeback in professional sports history”— Adam Winkler (@AdamWink) April 19, 2021
Via @WTKR3 https://t.co/zu1s3perA1 pic.twitter.com/OzeHP8V5Tj
Smith earned Comeback Player of the Year honors for getting back on the field last season. Smith’s first game action since the injury came Oct. 11 when Kyle Allen was injured, and he made his first start at Detroit on Nov. 15. He went 5-1 as the starter, including a victory at Philadelphia in Week 17 on a strained right calf that clinched the NFC East title for Washington.
The injury prevented Smith from playing against Tampa Bay in the wild-card round the next week, which Taylor Heinicke started and impressed enough to earn another contract.
Coach Ron Rivera agreed with Smith’s comments in the GQ article this year that the organization didn’t think he’d play again.
“The biggest thing he and I talked about, really, was that there was really no roadmap to get us to where we were,” Rivera said last month. “He worked his butt off to put himself in a position to come back and play. ... It was always in the back of my head: ‘What if he gets hurt again? What if he hurts that leg, that specific leg?’ I don’t want to be the guy that put him back on the field to let him get hurt again.”
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.
“I’m going to take a little time to enjoy a few of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what’s coming for them in the backyard,” he said.
A self-professed “skinny, no-name recruit,” Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 and played 14 seasons for San Francisco, Kansas City and Washington. He threw for 35,650 yards and 199 touchdowns in 174 regular-season games and played in seven playoff games.
“Football wouldn’t let me give up because, no, this isn’t just a game,” Smith said. “It’s about how hard and how far you can push yourself. It’s about the bond between those 53 guys in the locker room and everybody else in the organization. It’s about fully committing yourself to something bigger.”