Alex Smith nearly led Washington to an improbable comeback win Sunday, and while his team didn't leave as the victors, the organization experienced a bit of a revelation.
Washington coach Ron Rivera told reporters Monday he thinks Smith has completed his journey from gruesome leg injury, complications from surgery that nearly cost him his limb, grueling rehab and finally, a return to an NFL field as a starting quarterback. Smith's performance in Washington's Week 10 loss to Detroit -- in which the quarterback completed 38 of 55 passes for 390 yards -- proved it to the veteran coach.
"That he's pretty much back," Rivera said. "There's still some things that he still has to work on, and he knows that, and he'll continue to work on them, but this really was his first full week of work. But I think that he's proven that he's back as the player, and again, that's something that we're going to most certainly discuss going forward."
The discussions Rivera mentioned will center on Smith's viability as Washington's starter in the years ahead. At 36 years old, Smith has two years remaining on his contract after 2020, with the dead cap money on it dropping by more than $20 million from 2020 to 2021. Releasing Smith is financially feasible next year.
But Smith's play has made Washington give it a second thought. Presumed future of the franchise Dwayne Haskins has been benched since early this season, and Rivera recently intimated the youngster needs to learn how to better prepare as an NFL quarterback, a skill Smith developed many moons ago in San Francisco and Kansas City. Kyle Allen's injury essentially forced Rivera to turn to Smith, and it might end up being an incredibly timed blessing in disguise.
Instead of commending Smith for simply taking the field, we're now looking at him critically -- and he's passing the test. The questions will soon turn to what each of the interested parties wants in the years ahead.
"Possibly," Rivera said when asked if Smith could be Washington's man for the relative future. "You've got to look at how much longer do you think he can play? How much longer does he want to play? And if so, is he part of your plan? That's something that we as a coaching staff and as an organization have to talk about, most certainly if this continues, if he continues to play at this high level."
Rivera said he doesn't evaluate Smith with his leg injury in mind, but as any other quarterback. As the coach expressed Monday, he's liking what he's seeing. And if Rivera hasn't given up hope on Haskins' future, there might be an added long-term benefit of quarterbacks room osmosis, in which Haskins can learn how to better prepare as a pro by simply watching and working alongside Smith. It worked out pretty well for Patrick Mahomes, after all.
Come January and beyond, we'll learn whether that means Smith will get a chance to be the franchise signal-caller he signed up to become back in 2018.