Alex Smith has a point but the Washington coaching staff did too

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JP Finlay
·5 min read
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Alex Smith has a point but the Washington coaching staff did too originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Alex Smith feels like he wasn't part of the Washington Football Team's plan in 2020, and in some ways, he's right. 

Sources close to the situation from the Washington side I spoke with on Tuesday following the splash a recent GQ article made said there's somewhat of an agreement from the team side with Smith's comments in the article. The QB told the magazine that the team had never expected him to play again and he had thrown a wrench into their plans.

But there's also an element that the Football Team was left with little choice, as Smith's life-threatening leg injury and comeback effort were both unprecedented. 

"Nobody knew what would happen," one source said about Smith getting back on an NFL field. "What if it went bad?"

Coaches and staff members inside the Washington Football team were "petrified" about the prospect of putting Smith back on the field, and even early on, the team wasn't sure if his surgically repaired leg could hold up to an NFL game. 

In fact - outside of Smith - it's hard to find many people that thought he even should be in Washington's plans for 2020. 

Here's a sample of similar thoughts on Smith's comeback season from polar opposite corners of the sports world: 

It's important to point out what the mood surrounding the Smith comeback tour is in light of recent comments made in the GQ article where the veteran quarterback felt like "a wrench" in the 2020 plans at quarterback. 

From that story:

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. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I'd been through, I couldn't have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I'm giving this a go at this point.

Smith is right. 

He worked back from a compound fracture, 17 surgeries, a life-threatening infection. There were major changes to the coaching and front office staffs in Washington. He fought impossibly hard to get back on the field and demanded a chance to prove he could it. 

He deserved that chance. 

But for Washington's coaches? For the new front office? For the new medical staff?

Did they really want to be the group that put Smith back on the field when so much was at stake?

This was about way more than wins, way more than losses. Football is a violent game with at times very real consequences. Could the coaches really be expected to risk all of that? Particularly in an offseason with no workouts or preseason games, by putting Smith back on the field? 

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In some ways, the reaction to Smith's comments is a byproduct of what happens when the hyped-up news cycle of today meets an insightful and smart football player.

Alex Smith doesn't really make headlines or provide inflammatory quotes. He's too smart for bulletin board material. He's always classy and always professional. 

But in this interview, Smith opened up. 

Perhaps he wants to tell the full story, which he deserves. Perhaps he wants to start to change the future story, which is likely coming quickly. 

Washington is going to release Smith. That's just reality. He will be 37 years old in May and counts $24 million on the salary cap for the 2021 season. 

Those two numbers don't compute. 

It sure seems like Smith wants to keep playing, and it sure seems like that won't happen in Washington. And that was before the GQ interview. 

Going forward, Smith can set his own narrative, and telling the story of being unwanted and still coming back and producing on the field helps that regard. 

It's important to point out too that when Smith got on the field, Washington won games. The team went 5-1 in his six starts and he was a huge component in the team's 2020 NFC East title. 

 

The flip side of that coin, however, might not be something Smith wants to discuss. 

He did get hurt, and while it was only said to be a minor calf injury that was later revealed to be a bone bruise, the injury was in his surgically repaired leg and it limited Smith's ability late in the season. 

He got pulled out of a Week 14 win against San Francisco because he could barely move behind the line of scrimmage and missed a pair of losses in Week 15 and Week 16 before returning for the division-clinching Week 17 win in Philadelphia. 

In that game, he wasn't particularly impressive, but he gutted out a winning performance. It was incredible in scope if not in statistics. 

Sources within the Washington coaching staff said their gravest concern was putting Smith in a position where he could not protect himself, and in the football team's Wild Card game against Tampa, that scenario obviously unfolded. 

Think about this: Washington started a fourth-stringer that the team only signed about a month earlier in a playoff game because Smith couldn't go. All week, Washington's coaches said they wanted and expected Smith to go, but by week's end, he couldn't.

Alex Smith is probably right that Ron Rivera and the Washington coaching staff didn't expect him to actually come back in 2020. 

Nobody did. 

Alex Smith is probably right that he "threw a wrench" in the Washington quarterback plans last year.

The team planned on going with Dwayne Haskins. It's important to note that when Rivera did bench Haskins after a Week 4 loss, the coach could have kept Smith inactive. That didn't happen, Smith moved up the depth chart, and Haskins moved to third-string.

Here's the thing that gets hard to accept in the pixelated world of binary reaction - Alex Smith can be right, but the Washington Football Team coaching staff can be right too.