“There are 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,” Washington Football Team Coach Ron Rivera said Monday on a video conference call with reporters. “But I think he proved that he’s back as a player and, again, it’s something that we’re going to most certainly discuss as we go forward.”
Smith’s career resurgence coincides with Washington’s attempt to rebuild with a relatively young offense and a new coaching staff. Though Smith is only one start into his comeback, his play and his effect on the team’s developing talent have raised the question that not too long ago seemed unthinkable: Could he, at 36 and with a rebuilt leg, be Washington’s long-term answer at quarterback?
“Well, possibly,” Rivera said. “Again, you 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.”
A week after leading Washington on a second-half rally against the New York Giants, Smith did the same Sunday against the Detroit Lions, guiding the offense on four scoring drives to close a 21-point deficit and tie the score late.
Washington lost both games in the final minute; Smith’s third interception against New York ended any chance to tie it or win, and Detroit nailed a 59-yard field goal on the final play to seal a victory Sunday.
But the resilience of the offense, which was in many ways a reflection of its quarterback, showed plenty. After the 30-27 loss in Detroit, Rivera cited Smith’s play — his decision-making, his throws, his communication with teammates — as a reason for the noticeable improvement from younger players. Players such as third-year wideout Cam Sims, who was thrown into the starting group because of injuries but has justified his stay with 186 receiving yards over the past three games; rookie running back Antonio Gibson, who rushed for 45 yards and two touchdowns Sunday; and fellow rookie Isaiah Wright, who muffed a punt against New York but bounced back against Detroit to catch all six targets from Smith for 59 yards and three first downs.
During the Fox broadcast Sunday, after Washington tied the score at 27 with 16 seconds left, Smith was shown talking to Wright and Sims as they sat on the bench. It appeared to be another conversation like the many Smith has had with teammates during practices and games. He encourages them, tells them what he’s seeing and provides tips for the future.
“Being a rookie, I overthink sometimes,” Wright said Sunday. “So just, like, little, subtle conversations, or just helping me by telling me exactly what the play is so I don’t have to think. And it’s just, like, the suggestions and the pointers and pulling me aside, it helps to slow everything down because I’m not nervous.”
Smith’s 357.5 passing yards per game over the past two weeks are the most in the league in the span, and his back-to-back 300-yard games are a career first. But he attempted 55 passes Sunday, largely to help Washington play catch-up in the second half.
Such numbers hardly seem sustainable for Smith and Washington’s offense-in-transition. And given his age and lengthy career already, it’s fair to question how much more he has left — in addition to whether he’s the right fit at quarterback beyond this season for a team trying to rebuild.
Smith has two years remaining on his contract with base salaries of $18.75 million and $20.75 million, respectively. According to Spotrac, should the team move on from him after this season, it will eat roughly $10.8 million in dead cap, or money already guaranteed to him that will count against the team’s salary cap whether he is on the roster or not. If he stays on his current deal, his cap hit for 2021 will be $24.4 million.
As Rivera and his staff evaluate their quarterback options, however, they’re also evaluating the development and future of other players. That included first-round pass rusher Chase Young, who impressed Rivera with the way he handled his roughing-the-passer penalty at the end of the loss to Detroit, which helped advance the Lions into field goal range.
Young wanted to talk to reporters after the loss to take ownership of his mistake. He also apologized to Rivera for the costly error.
“He’s an amazingly mature young player,” Rivera said. “He takes ownership, he holds himself accountable, and that I truly appreciate, especially from a young player.”
Kicker Dustin Hopkins is another player being evaluated. Hopkins was on the injury report with a groin issue last week, but he played Sunday. Although he hit two field goals, including one to tie it in the final seconds, he also missed a 43-yard field goal (wide right) in the second quarter. Hopkins has missed five field goal attempts this season, in addition to one extra-point try.
Rivera said Monday that the team is weighing the possibility of adding competition at kicker.
“The hard part is when you bring a guy in you want to make sure you have a guy that’s going to fit you, you have a guy that’s got a lot of experience, because you’re going to replace an experienced guy,” he said. “So, again, that’s something we’re discussing.”