Alex Smith has done another interview, and is opening up some old wounds again. Two months ago an interview with GQ was published that aired some frustrations and grievances Smith had with his treatment by the Washington Football Team and their coaches as he made a historic return to the field from a horrific leg injury. His battle through infections and 17 surgeries has been well-documented, and he earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award for his efforts.
Smith had more to say about the team he returned to that had a completely different coaching staff and front office. In a new interview with Sports Illustrated he details what he perceived as a coaching staff that didn’t know how to handle his unprecedented return, and how they reacted to him being cleared to play.
In the article posted on Hogs Haven about his comments to GQ I described that interview as an opening salvo from Smith for something that has bothered him since last offseason. The team released him 10 days after the interview was published, and released a statement saying Smith had requested to be cut. This was a move that would have happened either way due to the cap savings, and the team moving on from a QB who still had big question marks about his surgically-repaired leg.
Smith is telling his story, and airing his frustrations with a situation that was difficult for everyone involved. Washington probably never expected Smith to get as far in his recovery as he did, and no one wanted to be the one to put Smith back on the field only to watch his leg snap again on the field. Smith put the work in and knew the risks so he felt slighted by their reaction.
Smith was weighing retirement which led Washington to pursue veteran QBs like Matthew Stafford via trade. After his release he tested the waters of free agency. He got a contract offer from his old coach Urban Meyer, who was just hired to as the Jacksonville Jaguar Head Coach. They are expected to draft Trevor Lawrence with the #1 overall pick next week, so he would once again be mentoring a young QB. But they wanted to add a lot of conditions related to his leg injury to protect themselves. He also heard from the Texans, Eagles, Patriots, and Colts. Smith announce his retirement earlier this week, ending a 16-year career in the NFL.
Sometimes, Smith saw his coaches flinch when they spied the blood that dripped from underneath his brace. He told friends he would not complain if they released him, told him he wasn’t good enough, or deemed him too much of a risk.
Still, he did not understand the tactics his coaches used to keep him sidelined. First, they placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform list, even though world-renowned doctors had pronounced him physically able to perform. At camp, players wore GPS trackers, and none traversed 4,000 yards a day on average like Smith, whose coaches asked him to carry extra weight, push sleds and hurdle bags for drills—tasks he had never done in 15 pro seasons, let alone before his leg had to be rebuilt. Smith believed the team wanted to see if it could break him, and if that sounds paranoid, the team physician agreed with him. They seemed to be asking, Dr. Robin West says, “What can he withstand?”
“Are you sure you’re clearing him?” the coaches would ask. West would try and explain. The short answer: Yes. The disclaimer: She would assess his leg based on her informed medical opinion. “I got very little support,” she says. “He almost died. He almost lost his leg. Why would he want to?” Reasonable questions. “That’s not your decision,” West told them.
Smith found the coaches “patronizing,” meaning he believed they preferred a cute story, the comeback already at the end. His father, Doug, says he believes the team “sabotaged” the return. None of the Smiths could figure out why. The coaches could worry about the injury and his future, but they were not experts. “I’d rather have somebody right in my face say, What are you thinking?” Smith says. “It pissed me off.”
Rivera responded to SI’s story in a statement issued by the team:
“I was scared to death about putting [Alex] back out there and that is something I struggled with every day. It’s unfortunate that he feels we patronized him because I can tell you that was not our intention. At the end of the day, I commend Alex because he proved everyone wrong and exceeded any reasonable expectations that anyone had set for him. He not only made it back onto the field but led us to the playoffs. It was a truly remarkable feat.”