The Alex Smith story is not over yet. Two years after he suffered a catastrophic leg injury and suffered complications from surgery so severe the doctors weren't sure he was going to keep the leg, five months after stepping onto the football field in full pads again, three months after starting his first game since the injury, and weeks after winning the 2020 Comeback Player of the Year award, Smith will hit free agency. Ian Rapoport has the scoop.
Despite the good feelings that Smith's story brings to the surface, it isn't a huge surprise the Washington Football Team wants to move on. The entire organization (including the name) has changed since Smith's injury. A whole new group of people now occupy the building and sidelines. Smith himself said he felt the new leaders of the team weren't actually all that enthusiastic that he managed to come back.
So now the veteran QB hits free agency with the intention of playing again. He will be hard-pressed to find a starting job after throwing for 1,582 yards, six touchdowns, and eight interceptions in six starts last year. Those aren't terrible numbers, but they aren't very good and the eye test suggests that Smith's ability to consistently lead a team to wins is behind him at this point. But with the wild game of musical chairs Smith's fellow quarterbacks are playing this offseason, there will likely be places where Smith can at least compete to be the starter or have a chance to step in at some point during the season if things don't go as planned. Here are four potential suitors for Smith's services.
San Francisco 49ers
Smith's story sometimes feels like a movie with how far he had to go to recover and get back on the football field. A Hollywood ending would be finishing his career in San Francisco, where it all began. The Niners are committed to Jimmy Garoppolo for next year (publicly, at least), but there are few teams who understand the value of a quality backup than this organization; Jimmy G played only six games last year and three games in 2019. He has had only one healthy season as starter in the Bay. Kyle Shanahan seems to love current backup Nick Mullens but he didn't manage to get much done on the field in 2020.
Besides the fun aspect of connecting the plot of Smith's career arc, he'd be a solid addition. San Francisco has a good enough team (when everyone doesn't get hurt, as they did last year) to be competitive with an average quarterback under center. Shahanan would be able to draw up an effective offense even with Smith's limitations. It's a good fit for both sides.
This is a likely destination for Smith if he accepts that the mentor role is what he's best-suited for at this point in his career and would enjoy one last big check before hanging up the cleats. It seems probable that Jacksonville would love to have Smith helping expected No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence acclimate to the NFL. It's made even more probable because Smith's old college coach has now joined the professional ranks with the Jaguars.
It's been a while since Urban Meyer and Smith collaborated, but if Meyer remembers Smith fondly, it wouldn't be too hard to convince the front office to give Smith a few million dollars to be a de facto coach. Smith would get paid and be a part of something greater even if the Jags are not going to be very good next season. If that's how he envisions his final years in the league, there's no better place than Jacksonville.
New England Patriots
The Patriots missed out on the two big quarterback transactions so far this offseason and don't have the ammo to go after Deshaun Watson. In short, nobody knows who will be under center come September in Foxborough. They could draft a QB, but with the No. 15 pick they won't be able to land any of the starter-ready prospects barring an unforeseen slide from one of the big names. Bill Belichick wouldn't shell out big money for Smith, but if the QB wants a shot at starting in 2020, New England is a great place to start.
Smith would not be set up for success. The Patriots have one of the worst skill position groupings in the league with their utter lack of talent at wide receiver and tight end. The team will be competitive because of Belichick and a defense that will get some important pieces back in 2021, but competing for a Super Bowl is currently out of the question. If Smith's only priority is a competitive shot at starting, however, the Patriots will be on a short list of teams that can offer that.
The Colts took a big swing by trading for Carson Wentz for a third-round pick and a conditional second-rounder, and will now be dedicating all of their resources to helping him find his game again. But there is no guarantee that will work, nor is there a guarantee Wentz will be 100 percent healthy all year given his laundry list of ailments suffered under center in the NFL. They'll want a reliable backup. They'd likely even be willing to offer a few million more than the veteran minimum for such services. Smith can offer that.
Indy is the best balance of winning and a chance to play that Smith has. If the Wentz experiment works out, the Colts will be legitimate title contenders and a Super Bowl ring is one of the few boxes Smith has yet to check in his lengthy football career. If Wentz gets hurt, it'll be Smith leading the charge. If Wentz stinks from Week 1 on and the Colts have no shot at the playoffs, there's a very good chance they bench Wentz for the final five games of the season to avoid sending Philadelphia a first-round pick instead of a second-round pick next year. Which means playing time for Smith. As close to a win-win Smith could find if he wants the best of both worlds.