Alex Smith stunned NFL fans and his family alike when he returned to the field this season two years after sustaining a catastrophic leg injury that nearly cost him said leg. His return was the feel-good story of the 2020 season and resulted in a playoff berth for Washington and a Comeback Player of the Year award for Smith.
According to Smith, however, Washington didn't want to give him that opportunity initially.
In a wide-ranging interview with GQ, which includes Smith indicating he wants to continue playing, Smith said Washington didn't want him to be part of the team heading into the 2020 season and didn't want to give him a chance to prove he was physically fit enough to play football again. It's a stunning revelation considering the support Washington has shown Smith throughout his arduous rehab process, but with new coaches and new executives running the ship, Smith was adamant they didn't want him on the team.
Here are two excepts that stood out on the subject.
Smith on Washington's response to him wanting to play again:
"When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team's plan. 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. 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."
Smith on how he convinced them to give him a chance:
"I mean, they tried to put me on PUP [Physically Unable to Perform] for two weeks, then they tried to IR me. I felt like I still hadn't had my fair shake at that point. I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn't been given that opportunity yet to find that out. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they're telling you that you can't finish the race. It’s like, fuck that. I'm finishing this thing. At least I'm going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn't like open arms coming back after two years. "
In Washington's defense, Smith playing football again was a liability and many wondered whether he should play again. His leg nearly needed to be amputated because of the injury and a subsequent infection. There was no guarantee he would ever walk again. After recovering from that kind of traumatic event, putting yourself back in the same place where you initially suffered the injury doesn't seem wise. Still, Smith was committed to returning to the field and, as he said, was able to work out his issues with the team.
Smith went on to start six games for Washington and went 5-1 in those starts, lifting the team to the playoffs. He was limited in his mobility and didn't put up Pro Bowl numbers (1,582 yards, 6 TD, 8 INT) but his comeback was nevertheless remarkable and he earned the award.
At the end of the GQ interview, Smith was asked about retirement and said "I got more left" and that he was spending this offseason trying to get stronger than he was heading into the 2020 season. After going through additional rehab, he said he would discuss his options with his wife and make a decision about his future from there.
His admission appears to indicate his time in Washington is over and, while he did have a storybook comeback that was impossible to believe, it's almost more shocking to know the team he made the comeback with didn't want him back in the first place.