The Washington Football Team Releases Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith


Emma Stark, Co-Editor for Sports

It was September 9, 2018. Alex Smith walked onto the field. The humid Arizona air brushed against his skin. A fire sparked within him. Smith helped the Washington Football team defeat the Arizona Cardinals in his first game as part of the team. Who would have thought that his journey would come to an end three years later after winning the NFC East title just this year.

On Friday, March 5, the Washington Football team released quarterback Alex Smith, freeing up $14.9 million of salary-cap space for the 2021 season. “I had a chance to meet with Alex Smith this week and we had a very honest and real discussion,” Washington head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement released by the team. “We had the chance to reflect on the 2020 season and talk about moving forward into next year. After the conclusion of that meeting, we decided that it would be best for both parties to move on and we will be granting Alex his request to be released.”

After three memorable years with Washington, Smith endured the greatest fear of any quarterback: injury. It all began in January 2018. The Washington Football team decided to part ways with their quarterback Kirk Cousins. The team landed Smith after trading young cornerback Kendell Fuller and a third-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith agreed to a 4-year extension worth up to $94 million. “You have a chance to get an established quarterback,” former Washington head coach Jay Gruden commented. “It was a no-brainer.”

Later that year, in a game against the Houston Texans, Smith was sacked by defensive end J.J. Watt midway through the third quarter, suffering a broken tibia and fibula. From multiple surgeries and infection to a near amputation, Smith left the hospital almost a month later. For eight months, Smith wore an external fixator on his leg to keep the bone in place. Due to the injury’s extent, he worked alongside veterans wounded in war at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. Without their quarterback, Washington went from being 6-4 to finishing 7-9 at the end of the season. 

“I’ve got to conquer some more steps before I get there, but, yeah — learn to run again. I feel like throwing’s not a problem,” Smith said. “The stronger I get every week, the more I do, the more hopeful I am that that’s a real possibility.”

Shortly before the team’s training camp kicked off for the 2020 season, Washington placed Smith on the physically unable to perform list, despite his doctors clearing him three days earlier. Smith convinced his coaches to give him a shot on the field late that summer. On September 5, 2020, Smith made Washington’s 53-man roster. He spent the first four weeks of the season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Kyle Allen. In a Week 5 game against the Los Angeles Rams, Washington put Smith into the game late in the first half. With Haskins benched and Allen out with an injury, Smith completed 9 of 17 passes for a mere 37 yards, facing six sacks by the Rams’ defense. 

A little over a month later, Smith started again against the Detroit Lions. He threw a career-high pass of 390-yards. Although Washinton lost the game (24-3), Smith played well, completing 38 of 55 passes. With Smith starting, Washington won their next four games, including a game on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-0 at the time). However, in the team’s fourth straight win, Smith suffered a bone bruise and was unable to return to the game after the first half. He missed the remaining games left in the season, as well as the Wild Card playoff loss against Tampa Bay. 

Despite the hardships that Smith faced, the impact he had on his team was substantial. According to ESPN’s John Keim, Washington went 5-1 with Smith starting and 2-9 with any other quarterback during the 2020 season. Throughout his three years with Washington, the team went 11-5 with Smith starting and 6-27 without him. The mark he left on his teammates will forever remain a part of the Washington Football Team. Although we do not know what team he will play with next, Smith’s football journey is far from over. This past February, Smith received 49 of 50 votes as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. His story was what made him stand out amongst the other nominees. Chad Pennington won the award twice before and even mentioned that he agreed with the decision to honor Smith.

“The mental grind is harder to overcome,” he said. “For [Smith] to fight through that, knowing what he experienced and went through, is remarkable. My jaw drops to even see him out there. It’s an amazing story.”