Alex Smith completed an incredible comeback in 2020 when he simply took an NFL field for a regular-season snap. Then, he became Washington's best option at the quarterback position, leading the Football Team to a playoff berth before sitting it out due to injury.
It was a cruel twist of fate for Smith but far from the worst he's experienced. Smith watched his Washington team come up short against Tampa Bay in a one-score finish, sending him into an offseason he'll likely appreciate more than any other. Smith capped his unlikely return to the NFL, ascended to an important role, and again proved his career tale isn't finished.
Well, unless he and his wife, Elizabeth, want it to be.
"I had so much fun this year, to be back in the locker room and on the field to play a game I love and to lose yourself in it is one of the great feelings in the world," Smith said, via ESPN. "My wife has been through a lot, my family has been through a lot but that's for another time and place."
Smith was unable to suit up for Washington's wild-card loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday because of a calf injury suffered late in the regular season, and coach Ron Rivera cited Smith's belief he'd be unable to escape rushers as the reason he was inactive for the playoff contest. That's an essential ability for any quarterback in the pro game, and though this was a fairly new injury, it speaks to where Smith might see himself in his football timeline.
But Smith sounded more grateful for even having a chance to participate in such a game after everything he's been through.
"It's not the way you want to finish a season," Smith said. "To even be in this situation is something that if presented to me a year ago, two years ago, I would have jumped at it."
Because this is a business, the salary is a factor. Smith's contract made cutting him financially prohibitive through 2020 because of his dead cap numbers, but that changes in 2021, when Smith's cap hit exceeds his dead cap number for the first time in his five-year deal. Washington could save over $13 million by releasing the veteran in the new league year, bringing more sense to a potential parting of ways.
Rivera called Smith a "special" player because of his "intangible," adding players with such a quality "only come around once in a while." Smith's journey, to this point, has undoubtedly provided him with a unique experience that shines through how he carries himself and operates on the field, Rivera said, and it's part of what the organization will consider when deciding on how they'll proceed at the position.
For Smith, the return was enough, but he doesn't seem set on a decision in either direction. He acknowledged missing the euphoric feeling of playing in a football game, the camaraderie of the locker room, and the pursuit of a greater goal. But above all, he's just happy with where he is in his life.
"It was more about the attempt and the journey than the outcome," he said. "If I had come up short trying to come back, I would have slept just fine at night knowing I tried. I'm grateful I'm here right now."