After ascending from Washington intern to vice president in 11 seasons, Smith, 36, was considered a rising personnel star and appeared on track to become the team’s next GM. But the recent hirings of Martin Mayhew as general manager and Marty Hurney as executive vice president of football/player personnel made it apparent that Smith’s time in Washington was probably up — and that more changes in the personnel department were ahead.
As free agency and the draft approach, Washington also parted with three scouts this week, according to people with knowledge of the situation: director of pro personnel/advance coordinator Jeff Scott, national scout Cole Spencer and personnel coordinator/pro scout Brian Zeches.
Scott joined the team in 2012 as a salary cap intern and worked closely with Eric Schaffer, the team’s former senior vice president of football operations. Schaffer left the team last year, and Scott was promoted to his current role after serving as director of football strategy/scout.
Spencer joined Washington in 2010 as a scouting intern before landing a full-time spot as an area scout. He was promoted to his role as national scout in 2019. Zeches had been with Washington since 2014 and worked with both the pro and college scouting departments.
Smith’s exit is the most notable, and it caps a bizarre year that began with his promotion to vice president and ended with confusion and speculation about his future in Washington. He was not among the six known candidates to interview for Washington’s general manager job, but Eric Stokes, who reported to Smith as director of pro personnel, was.
Although Coach Ron Rivera had said little publicly about his plans for Washington’s front office or Smith’s future, letting him interview and leave for the same job elsewhere spoke volumes. According to people familiar with the matter, Smith, who had a year left on his contract with Washington, generated interest from multiple teams and interviewed with the Falcons via video conference.
In Atlanta, he will adjust to another regime (his third in the past 14 months) and immediately dive into the team’s college evaluations, a role he grew up around as the son of former NFL executive A.J. Smith and has lived for much of the past decade. His tenure in Washington began in 2010 as an intern, but the following season he landed a full-time role as an area scout.
“You could see at a very young age that Kyle left no stone unturned relative to evaluating somebody both on and off the field,” former Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “He was one of the best I had been around. ... People would always ask me about Kyle, and I’d say there’s no way they would ever let him out of the building — and if they do, they’re complete idiots.”
After six years of scouting, lastly overseeing the southeast region that would produce Washington’s top draft picks in 2017 (Jonathan Allen) and 2018 (Daron Payne), Smith was promoted to director of college personnel in 2017 and began leading the team’s draft meetings. He was an integral voice in building the team’s defensive line, adding star wide receiver Terry McLaurin and selecting future starters in latter rounds.
“Every year that I was there, we had a pretty good draft class, with a couple exceptions,” former coach Jay Gruden said. “[Smith] was really good about listening to the coaches because the coaches also did evaluations. ... When it came our time to pick, we’d always talk about the picks, where we’d like to go, what happens if [the player] is gone, and did all our scenarios. And then [owner Daniel Snyder] would come in off his yacht and make the pick.”
That pick, of course, was quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was selected by Snyder against the wishes of Washington’s personnel department in 2019. Smith, meanwhile, continued to garner the respect of the front office and became the top personnel executive under Rivera last year. His ambition was clear.
“If you’re a scout and you get into this league as a scout, your ultimate goal is to become a GM,” Smith said at last year’s NFL combine. “... If that opportunity comes as a GM, then it comes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. ... I’m not worried about that right now.”
Smith and Rivera worked closely in free agency to land key veterans at bargain rates (tight end Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic among them), then collaborated to draft Pro Bowl pass rusher Chase Young, starting running back Antonio Gibson and a pair of late-round steals in safety Kam Curl and linebacker Khaleke Hudson.
Afterward, Rivera lauded Smith’s efforts, strengthening the assumption that he would one day become the team’s GM.
“He was monitoring things, constantly throwing things out, ideas, thoughts, communicating, which I thought was really important,” Rivera said in April. “When the decisions were made, he was on board or he was pushing for this, and that’s exactly what you need is a guy who’s going to tell you what you need to hear and not necessarily what you want.”
But as the season progressed, Rivera’s comments became vague when asked about Smith. In early December, when questioned about Smith’s future, Rivera said they will “work through the things that we need to work through” and that “we’ve got to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Weeks later, when asked about the team’s offseason acquisitions with Smith running the personnel department, Rivera said: “I think the biggest thing when you look at what’s happened more so than anything else ... is you have to continue to collaborate. People have to work together.”
A person close to the situation said there was never any discord or rift between Rivera and Smith, but Smith’s standing became clear when Washington did not interview him for its GM role. Perhaps noticing the direction Washington was headed, Smith hired agent Trace Armstrong of Athletes First before the season ended.