The more things change in Washington, the more, it seems, they stay the same. In what seems to be a growing annual tradition, we find ourselves a few weeks into the season, staring a quarterback change dead in the eye. Yet again, the owner’s handpicked QB, delivered to a head coach and personnel team that didn’t really want him, has been delivered into the reluctant arms of a new head coach who put on a brave face, but seemingly didn’t really want him either. He’s now riding the pine. Where have I heard this story before? Oh, right, Washington....several times in the past couple decades.
So, Dwayne Haskins is out - way out - consigned to scrubbing Stephen Montez’s cleats for the foreseeable future, and Kyle Allen, a carefree gunslinger with more moxie than a west Texas rattlesnake (read: Colt McCoy 2.0), is the next man up. Allen’s prospects here deserve their own exploration, but I’ll rely on other Hogs Haven contributors to take up that mantle. For the time being, I’m more interested in looking past Allen.
With Allen’s elevation, Alex Smith has been moved into the on-deck slot, placing him one unfortunate injury or poor performance from trotting out to the field. Smith’s injury, and remarkable recovery, are now legendary, and no one would have blamed Alex at all if he had ridden off into the sunset with his $71 million in Danny bucks and enjoyed a long, happy retirement with his beautiful family.
That appears unlikely to happen, and we should all - not just fans of the WFT - be terrified of the potential outcomes.
Haskins will be inactive. This is the next step for Alex Smith returning. This staff believes Smith is ready to play. #WashingtonFootball— Julie Donaldson (@juliedonaldson_) October 7, 2020
The Prospect of Re-Injury
I recognize that public relations staff are paid good money to try to convince us that even the darkest cloud has a silver lining (See: The WFT re-branding effort), but no one, not Julie Donaldson, not even golden boy Jason Wright will be able to spin doctor the flaming debacle that will occur if Alex Smith goes down again with injury.
As most know, Alex nearly lost his leg, and then his life, after suffering horrific infections of his broken leg two years ago. It’s nothing short of a miracle that he can walk and run again, much less try to play in an NFL game. Doctors have apparently cleared him, and by all accounts, he’s comfortable taking the risk. I still don’t think the WFT should let him take that risk on their watch.
Heaven forbid he should re-injure his leg. It becomes just one more volume in the Library of Congress-scale shitshow that Dan Snyder has amassed with this team over the past 20 years. Whether Alex pushed for it or not, whether the doctors blessed it or not, it becomes another piece of evidence that this organization is hopelessly dysfunctional, if not outright cursed.
I recognize that things have been brutal for this organization for the last two decades, but if the marketers in charge think it is more likely to have a Disney ending than a Texas Chainsaw Massacre one, I’d say they’re - at best - incredibly naive. I hope Alex doesn’t play again, I hope he doesn’t get injured, and I hope that Alex doesn’t become a martyr for well-intentioned bravado enabled by a craven desire to sell an inspirational story.
Even Before Injury, Alex Was Painful to Watch
On the one hand, Alex Smith and the WFT were 6-3 before his injury in 2018. On the other hand, it was just about the most painful 6-3 to watch that many fans had ever witnessed. In his six wins, he averaged 190 yards passing and 1.5 TDs per game. Whenever the team played an opponent with even the slightest hint of an offense, it promptly got its doors blown off. Smith had the comeback capacity of a lobotomized homing pigeon.
A decent defense and relatively few turnovers led to a marginally winning record, and likely would have resulted in a team stuck in the purgatory of mediocrity, had Smith not gotten injured against the Texans. Four weeks into the 2018 season, at 2-2, I wrote the following:
To begin the season, I was fine having Alex behind center for a few years, drafting a young QB in 2019 or 2020, and having him groomed by Alex. I now feel like the prospect of having Alex check down to running backs and tight ends, while passing up wide open receivers, unable to overcome any substantial lead, will suck the very last bit of fandom I have for this team out of my body. I can’t endure 3 years of .500 ball while our aging talent burns off the end of their careers and while our young studs have their passion for the game sapped from them, led by an offense good enough to beat bad teams but nowhere close to compete against the best of the league.
I still stand by every word of that piece. I don’t want to root for a team helmed by Alex Smith, even if he gets us to 8-8, sitting atop the NFC Least for the next couple of years. Andy Reid knew Alex was never going to bring his team to the promised land, even with a supremely talented roster around him, and he drafted his replacement, taking a brief interlude to fleece Bruce Allen for Kendall Fuller and a third round draft pick. I hope Reid’s conclusion is apparent to Ron Rivera and Scott Turner as well.
Alex Smith is due $16 million fully guaranteed in 2020, so he'd get paid either way. By keeping him on the roster, Washington gives Smith an opportunity to keep working his way back, and helping its young starter, Dwayne Haskins. https://t.co/IqUvidLPZJ— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) September 5, 2020
If Alex Gets Injured Again, and the Team Cuts Him, What Happens?
When Bruce Allen originally traded for Alex, in his eternal wisdom, he extended his contract at the same time, ostensibly signing him through age 38. With $71M in guaranteed money on a $94M contract, as soon as Alex went down in 2018, he was essentially assured of that initial tranche. The saving grace was that, potentially, he could be cut after the 2020 season and the team could re-coup back about $40M in salary cap spread over 2021 and 2022. There was no cap benefit to releasing Smith this season, and, in fact, there would have been an acceleration of the dead cap hit, costing the WFT around $32M.
However, if Alex plays, and gets injured severely enough at some point this year that he can’t play again, it appears that his future contract years are not guaranteed. That doesn’t mean there won’t be pressure on the team to potentially honor it. Imagine, Alex Smith suffers a career-ending injury this season, after attempting his valiant comeback. The team unceremoniously dumps him with $40M remaining on his contract. Best case scenario, it’s another level of the PR disaster. Worst case scenario, the team sinks even more dead cap into a player who will never see the field again.
I genuinely wish Alex Smith and his family well, I just don’t want him to set foot on the field for the WFT, for all the reasons listed above. If he does, and he goes down with injury, it will represent a catastrophic failure of Ron Rivera’s coach-centered approach. If he does, and he plaqys well, and the team finishes somewhere from 7-9 to 9-7, we’ve learned very little about our young QBs and simultaneously hampered our ability to draft a replacement QB next year. The Alex Smith experiment should be over, and hopefully Kyle Allen will play well enough that it is. If he falters, heaven help us all.
Mike Florio says Washington will eventually turn to Alex Smith to be the starting QB https://t.co/v6SCRkQebG— NBC Sports Washington Football (@NBCSWASFootball) October 8, 2020
Do you think Alex Smith should be allowed to play again for the WFT?
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