“I love all the rumor mill and all the stuff that circulates out there. Like I said, my focus is to get out there and play again,” Smith said. “I have no aspirations other than getting on the field and playing football again.”
Smith didn’t exactly shoot down a potential executive job for the future, but as change swirled in Ashburn on Monday — including the firing of team president Bruce Allen, who had signed Smith to a lucrative contract after trading for him in 2018 — Smith made his immediate intentions clear in his first meeting with reporters since suffering the injury in November 2018.
While he was adamant about his desire to return to the field, he did not clarify where he’s at with his rehab or when he might be able to play again.
“Still progressing. . . . Haven’t hit a wall yet, and still moving forward,” said Smith, who has three years remaining on the four-year, $94 million extension he signed in 2018. He is set to make $21.4 million next season.
The goal, Smith explained, is to be back on the field in 2020 as Washington embarks on a new era, even though his potential return is also complicated by the team’s investment in Dwayne Haskins, a first-round draft pick who is a favorite of Snyder’s and flashed promise down the stretch during his rookie season.
“For me, that’s the last of my concerns. [Haskins’s] path and trajectory and mine are not conflicting each other at all. Any narrative of that, it’s just not real,” Smith said. “My focus, singularly, is just getting back to where I was, and even better. That doesn’t mean I also can’t be a good teammate. Those things aren’t exclusive from one another.”
Smith’s return to his previous form, when he was a franchise cornerstone and had led the Redskins to a 6-3 start in 2018, would be considered unprecedented given the severity of his injury. But he sounded determined Monday as his teammates cleaned out their lockers after a 3-13 season.
There was a time when Smith wasn’t even medically cleared to stand on the sideline this season, but as his health improved, he began to make more public appearances with Snyder on the sideline and in the owner’s box at FedEx Field. Rumors of Smith potentially joining the front office in some capacity continued to percolate after he was seen tailing Snyder after Sunday’s ugly season-ending loss at Dallas, with both looking on as Allen walked past the group alone.
Yet Smith said Monday that he was “appreciative” of both Snyder and Allen supporting him during his injury, and that he also felt partly responsible for the firing of Allen, who had brought Smith into the fold before Kirk Cousins left for the Minnesota Vikings in 2018. Smith’s injury continued to set the franchise back in 2019, and it was only compounded by the absences of left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed.
“I do feel personal responsibility, a little bit, with my injury. You look at this year, and you take in my situation, Trent’s, Jordan’s — there’s some key guys missing,” he said. “It’s a responsibility. Everybody puts in a lot of time and effort and sacrifice in this. It’s hard to win football games. Everybody, like I said, puts a lot into this. To see someone lose their job, their livelihood over it, it’s hard.”
Smith acknowledged that his path back to the field remains uncertain. For 10 months, his leg was reinforced with a bulky leg stabilizer, and his continued rehab coincided with Haskins’s rise. Smith was cautious not to overwhelm Haskins with advice, and it remains unclear whether the team would want Smith to serve in a mentor’s role next season.
The only thing that seemed clear Monday was this: Smith, who has three years remaining on his contract, said he doesn’t have a blueprint to follow in his recovery over the next six months, no other player he can emulate. But it will not include anything other than a plan to return to the field.
“Without a doubt, still continuing to push this as far as it goes. I still have dreams to getting back to where I was, to getting back out there,” he said. “This has been a crazy ride with a lot of unforeseen turns, but without a doubt that’s still my goal.”