Washington Football Team releases quarterback Alex Smith

Quarterback Alex Smith, who won the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in helping the Washington Football Team win the NFC East title, has been released by the franchise, it was announced Friday.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said in a statement that the team granted Smith's request to be released after the two met this week.

"I had a chance to meet with Alex Smith this week and we had a very honest and real discussion," Rivera said in the statement released by the team. "We had the chance to reflect on the 2020 season and talk about moving forward into next year. After the conclusion of that meeting we decided that it would be best for both parties to move on and we will be granting Alex his request to be released.

"I want to thank Alex for his contributions this past year. He made such an impact on our young roster and his leadership was one of the key factors in our late season success and in making the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Everyone here in Washington wishes Alex and his family the best going forward and appreciates all that he gave to our organization."

Washington, which went 7-9 in 2020, wants to upgrade at quarterback this offseason. With Smith turning 37 years old in May and due to count $24.4 million against the salary cap, a release became inevitable.

The move saves Washington $14.9 million against the cap, and Smith becomes a free agent.

Smith had two years left on a contract he signed after Washington traded for him in 2018. He made it clear to Washington that he wanted to continue playing. 

But his tenure in Washington will be defined by the broken right fibula and tibia he suffered in November 2018 and subsequent comeback with his first game action on Oct. 11, 2020. In between, Smith underwent 17 surgeries to fight an infection and opted not to have his leg amputated.  

Washington kept him on the roster in part because he was too expensive to release. But it also wasn't sure he was done playing. Though many -- inside and outside the organization -- doubted he could pull it off, a number of people with the franchise would often say, "If anyone can do it, Alex can." 

Still, after an ESPN documentary aired last spring, some members of the organization wondered whether a doctor would even clear Smith to play, but he passed all tests and was cleared. With each milestone,  Smith had to prove he could take the next step  -- being on the field for 11-on-11 work, making the roster, playing, starting. 

He did all of that, and after starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins was benched and Kyle Allen was injured, Smith started six games in 2020. Washington went 5-1 in those starts. During Smith's three years there, Washington went 11-5 in games he started and 6-27 with anyone else at quarterback.

Smith, however, told GQ Magazine that his comeback threw a "wrench" into the team's plans and that he didn't feel wanted by the organization this past summer.

"They didn't see it, didn't want me there, didn't want me to be a part of it, didn't want me to be on the team, the roster, didn't want to give me a chance," Smith told the magazine. "Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I'm like the leftovers and I'm hurt and I'm this liability.

"Heck no, they didn't want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I'd been through, I couldn't have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I'm giving this a go at this point."

Smith has not said for certain that he's going to return for the 2021 season, but sources told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler that he wanted to continue playing. 

Smith's value went beyond his stats this past season -- he threw six touchdowns to eight interceptions. His calming manner, experience and leadership proved valuable to his young teammates. Washington started rookie Antonio Gibson at running back, and of its top five wide receivers, only one entered last season with more than 58 career receptions -- journeyman Dontrelle Inman. If Washington wasn't going to get a lot of production, it at least needed someone who could manage the game like Smith. 

Smith suffered a bone bruise in his calf during the first half of a Dec. 13 win against the San Francisco 49ers, preventing him from playing in the second half. He missed the next two games -- both losses -- and struggled in the season finale, in part because of the injury. Smith lobbied to play in Washington's playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he wasn't mobile enough for the coaches' liking and was inactive. 

Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, by the 49ers, has started 167 career games. His team's record in those games is 99-67-1. He spent seven years with the 49ers, who traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith spent five years with the Chiefs; they were 1-4 in the playoffs with him. Kansas City drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round in 2017 and, after that season, traded Smith to Washington in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.  

Washington recently extended quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a two-year deal with incentives that make it worth up to $8.75 million. Allen is an exclusive rights free agent and is expected to return. The team also has Steven Montez, who signed last offseason as an undrafted free agent.