The Washington Post

After an injury stalled his comeback, Smith will contemplat­e his future

- BY NICKI JHABVALA

Washington Football Team quarterbac­k Alex Smith has two years left on his contract, but he knows perhaps better than most that a player’s future is never guaranteed in the NFL. And his is more uncertain than ever after his stunning comeback was cut short by another injury.

On Sunday, a day after his team’s 31-23 first-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers unfolded with him on the sideline, Smith said he plans to “take a few weeks” to mull over his future and decide whether he wants to keep playing.

“I had so much fun this year, especially given all the covid stuff,” he said during a video conference call with reporters. “But to be back in the locker room, to be on the field with the guys, to be playing a game I love and to lose yourself in it, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. You cannot duplicate it outside of here. . . . My wife has been through a lot, and my family, certainly I’m going to take their input. But that’s something that right now I’m still just living in the moment and not getting ahead of myself. That is for another time and place.”

Though some players, including tight end Logan Thomas, said

they have trouble envisionin­g Smith walking away, the quarterbac­k’s future could be decided by his team’s plans. Coach Ron Rivera said he intends to meet with team owner Daniel Snyder within a day or so to discuss his plans for retooling the roster, among other things. The uncertaint­y at quarterbac­k will be a significan­t part of that conversati­on.

When asked Sunday if he believes Smith can still be effective as a quarterbac­k, Rivera said, “In terms of his health, really the only person who can tell you that is Alex.”

But football is only half of it with Smith, who has been praised for his mentorship and ability to earn the respect of his teammates. Replacing his leadership, especially for a young team, will be difficult.

“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. Alex has that type of intangible, and I think a part of it is because of the experience­s that he’s had in his life, the games that he’s played and obviously what he’s gone through.”

And then there’s the question of whether Smith’s “intangible­s” are so valuable that they could complicate the team’s decision if he wants to keep playing.

“I don’t know,” Rivera said. “It’s certainly something we’re going to have to look at and talk about, that’s for sure.”

After suffering a compound right leg fracture in 2018, Smith returned in October, when he came off the bench during a loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and later guided Washington on a 5-1 run as its starter to clinch the NFC East title.

With his leadership and knowledge of the offense, Smith was the reason Washington’s season turned a corner and the team reached the playoffs. When he was sidelined by a right calf injury for 21/ games, his

2 absence led to Washington nearly falling out of contention.

“To call it a calf injury, I mean, I’m not going to get into a lot of the specifics. That’s how it’s getting tagged, but it’s obviously a little more complicate­d than that,” Smith said, adding it was unrelated to the limb-salvage procedures he underwent in 2018. “. . . Football is a physical game, and injuries are a part of it. Obviously it’s not the way you want to finish the season, so in that sense it’s frustratin­g. But, bigger picture, to be back playing a role and even being in this situation is something that, if you had presented it to me a year ago, two years ago, obviously I would’ve jumped at it.”

Smith expressed no regrets about his two-year journey back to the game, which required 17 surgeries to repair the bones in his lower leg and clean out an infection that destroyed much of the surroundin­g muscle tissue. He surprised many when he was cleared by his medical team to return to football in August, and he continued to beat the odds when he made the active roster, played against the Rams, started for the first time and guided Washington to the playoffs.

“I wanted to see what I had left and if I could, as scary as it seemed, and I wanted to come back and play and be a part of this and all the amazing things that come with this game,” he said. “Thankful that it did, and certainly I know how much other guys’ injuries and rehabs have meant to me. . . . So certainly if you ever could be a link in that chain going forward, that would be amazing.”

But his comeback also made standing on the sideline Saturday night all the more difficult.

“Frustratin­g in the sense that I had felt so good and I felt like I had come so far through the Pittsburgh game [Dec. 7, before the calf injury],” Smith said. “. . . Definitely frustratin­g that I have to sit there and not be suited up and not hold up your end to the team.”

The injury first affected Smith in his team’s win over the San Francisco 49ers a week after the victory in Pittsburgh. He missed the next two games — both losses — while trying to recover. When he returned in Week 17 at the Philadelph­ia Eagles, he held up enough for the win, but his mobility was hindered, and he didn’t improve enough before Washington’s playoff loss just six days later. So Rivera tabbed undrafted quarterbac­k Taylor Heinicke as his starter.

“That was obviously a lot of conversati­on with Coach, especially toward the end of the week, that I did feel like I could roll and told him that,” Smith said. “To what capacity, that was obviously the biggest question. . . . I was willing to absolutely go out there, but Coach felt with [ Tampa Bay’s] defense, the pressure they brought with their defensive line, that it just wasn’t fair, and obviously go with Taylor and his ability to use his legs. . . . And I totally get that. Totally understood it.”

Now the 16-year veteran faces a difficult decision and an uncertain future. The final two years of Smith’s contract have non-guaranteed salaries of $18.75 million and $20.75 million. Should Washington keep him on this contract, he would have a salary cap hit of $24.4 million next season. If Washington cuts him before June 1, it would have $10.8 million count against its salary cap because of Smith’s prorated signing bonus, but it would clear $13.6 million.

Another option: If Washington wants to keep Smith but at a lower salary cap charge, it could ask him to take a salary reduction to stay. But that’s only if Smith wants to keep going.

“Again, I’m going to get away and with a clear head sit down and go over everything and make the best decision,” he said. “But I can’t say [enough] how much I loved the opportunit­y to be here, a part of this team, to get back out there and obviously play this amazing game.”

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