Alex Smith's improbable comeback ended up being his final act in football.
The 36-year-old quarterback announced his retirement Monday via Instagram.
Smith said earlier this offseason he was interested in pursuing a new opportunity under center once the inevitable -- his release from Washington -- became a reality, and he could have continued his career if he'd wanted to. Multiple teams wanted to sign Smith, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported, but Smith instead decided a couple of weeks ago to walk away from the sport on his terms.
The veteran QB said Monday on ESPN that he visited the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason and was "so excited" about the possibility of playing for his former coach, Urban Meyer, in 2021, but ultimately decided to retire.
"I wanted to do my due diligence even though I was leaning towards retirement," Smith said. "I wanted to marinate in it a little bit. I wanted to see what was out there, and I'm happy I did."
Essentially, there was no better way for Smith to go out than on his own terms, having made it back in nearly unthinkable fashion and leading his team to a playoff berth. Smith acknowledged as much in his retirement video, saying "even though I've got plenty of snaps left in me," he's ready to discover what awaits him in his next step in life, and first beyond football.
Football, though, is what drove Smith to battle through his arduous recovery, to be able to go on long walks with his wife, Elizabeth, and to run around with his kids in the backyard. It powered him back to the field in 2020, where he stepped in as Washington's last resort under center following a benching of Dwayne Haskins and injury to Kyle Allen to post a 5-1 record as Washington's starter and help solidify the position, even if only temporary. With Smith around to do enough to keep Washington competitive, the Football Team went on a run to finish 7-9 and win the league's worst division, while Smith won the 2020 AP Comeback Player of the Year award.
Though he'd be unable to participate in Washington's postseason loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he'd already accomplished more than enough to earn the universal respect of the football world. It would be a fitting final act to a career that had seen about as many high and low points as possible.
Smith entered the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick of the rebuilding San Francisco 49ers, who were desperate to find an answer under center for years after Steve Young's retirement. They landed on the Utah playmaker who had shined in Meyer's spread attack, leading the Utes to a perfect 12-0 record and a victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.
Smith had the weight of the world on his shoulders and struggled to live up to the hype, but not before Jim Harbaugh arrived and turned things around, helping Smith prove his worthiness at the professional level, helping the 49ers to a 13-3 mark and a division title in 2011. In that postseason, Smith authored a signature moment, leading an 85-yard touchdown drive in 1:28 capped by a bullet fired into the chest of Vernon Davis for the game-winning touchdown vs. the Saints.
Two years later, he'd been replaced by electrifying dual-threat star Colin Kaepernick and shipped to Kansas City for a fresh start under Andy Reid. Smith reached his peak with the Chiefs, earning three Pro Bowl trips and posting a 50-26 mark as a starter and helping Kansas City make the playoffs in four of five seasons. He also set the table for the Chiefs' own new heights, helping mentor first-round pick and future NFL and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes in his final season in Kansas City before heading off to Washington.
Sadly, Smith's career in Washington never got off the ground due to his leg injury. But in all, Smith showed he had the fortitude and perseverance to prove the doubters wrong and carve out a 16-year career that is undoubtedly worth remembering.
He finishes with a career record of 99-67-1, a passer rating of 86.9 and a TD-INT ratio of 199-109. His 99 wins are the fifth-most of any quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the common draft era, trailing only Peyton Manning, John Elway, Eli Manning and Terry Bradshaw. Smith also joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to start on three or more teams and have a winning record with each one, proving that while he was never quite a superstar at the position, he was a winner.
He can now smile and reflect on the good times while enjoying a long walk with his wife and kids.