Ron Rivera didn't want blame if Alex Smith reinjured leg: 'I struggled with that every day'

In February, Alex Smith spoke candidly about his return to the football field from a devastating leg injury.

More specifically, he talked about how the Washington Football Team didn't want him back.

"Heck no, they didn't want me there," Smith told GQ. " ... 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, f*** that. I'm finishing this thing. At least I'm going to see if I can."

On Wednesday, Washington head coach Ron Rivera responded to Smith's criticism in a news conference. He didn't exactly contest with Smith had to say. In fact, he pretty much confirmed it.

Rivera: 'I don't disagree' with Smith

"To be quite honest with you, I don’t disagree with a lot of the things that he said," Rivera said, per The Washington Post.

Washington Football Team's Alex Smith walks back to the huddle as head coach Ron Rivera argues a call during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Ron Rivera didn't contest some of Alex Smith's recent critical comments over not being wanted. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Rivera was worried about Smith's leg

Rivera then explained that he didn't want to be the guy responsible if Smith suffered another injury to the leg that suffered compound fractures and led to a life-threatening infection.

"It was always in the back of my head. What if he gets hurt again? What if he hurts that leg, that specific leg?" Rivera continued. "I don’t want to be the guy that put him back on the field to let him get hurt again. I told him: ‘I fought with that, struggled with that every day. Every day.''

Smith convinced Rivera to let him play last year. He made eight appearances including six starts as the franchise bailed on 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Washington went 5-1 in those starts as Smith tallied six touchdowns and eight interceptions while throwing for 197.8 yards per game.

The effort earned Smith NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. The award was more a testament to Smith suiting up at all in the aftermath of his injury than his actual performance.

Smith/WFT split was inevitable

But by the time the season was over, Smith's future in Washington — or lack thereof — was clear. He made sure of it with his comments to GQ, which preceded the team granting his request for a release last week.

It's not hard to see both sides here. Smith is a pro and one of the NFL's most respected players. He worked hard to recover from a life-altering injury and wanted and deserved his fair chance to play again after he did so.

Rivera, meanwhile, wanted to be able to sleep at night. Even if the concerns he expressed for Smith are part and parcel of being an NFL head coach. Every player on the field risks serious injury on every NFL snap.

So the split seems the right move for both sides. Smith is an NFL free agent for the first time, able to choose his next path from whatever options are available. And Washington can move on to address its quarterback situation that can be generously described as a mess.

What will Washington do at QB?

Smith's departure leaves Washington with Kyle Allen and playoff surprise Taylor Heinicke on the depth chart. There's also second-year pro Steven Montez, who hasn't played an NFL snap since joining the team as an undrafted free agent last season.

In other words, Washington has some work to do this offseason. Will that work involve a reunion between Rivera and free agent Cam Newton? Citing tampering concerns, Rivera didn't offer much detail when asked about his former MVP quarterback with the Carolina Panthers. But he also didn't rule a reunion out.

"You never know," Rivera said.

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