“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 said. “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’s team of doctors, led by orthopedic surgeon and team physician Robin West, medically cleared him in late July, but the team did not clear him immediately for training camp and he was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Coach Ron Rivera told reporters at the time that he and his staff needed to see how Smith’s leg responded to “football movements” before they felt comfortable clearing him for a return.
“For him, it’s really just a matter of, can he do the movements he needs to do?” Rivera said at the time. “Can he protect himself when he’s on the field more so than anything else? Remember, he’s going to have to hand the ball off, he’s going to have to drop back into the pocket and throw the ball, he’s going to have to escape and we have to make sure he can do those things and protect himself as he plays.”
Smith was activated off the PUP list in mid-August and began to take limited reps behind Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. A week before the initial 53-man roster was finalized, Smith participated in full team drills for the first time in camp.
“I wanted to see if I could play quarterback and play football, and I feel like I hadn’t been given that opportunity yet to find that out,” Smith said in the interview. “It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f--- that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can.
“So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years. Like I said, new coaches, new faces, and I think I definitely surprised a lot of people that never thought I would even be trying it.”
A team spokesman declined to comment on the report. A representative for Smith did not respond to a request for comment.
Smith was listed as the third quarterback on Washington’s initial 53-man roster released in early September.
“We sat down with him — myself, [quarterbacks coach] Kenny Zampese and [offensive coordinator] Scott Turner — and he was very passionate about wanting the opportunity to play again, very passionate about making this football team,” Rivera said at the time. “And that really stood out to me because it really just showed that, mentally, I think he’s passed the hurdle.”
Smith made his return in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, then started his first game almost exactly two years after he suffered his leg injury. After leading Washington to the top of the NFC East and back to the playoffs, he was sidelined again with a bone bruise in his lower right leg — the same leg that was fractured in 2018 — and missed the team’s first-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Voted the NFL’s comeback player of the year, Smith said he surprised even himself with his return, but he has yet to decide how far he’ll take it. As he has mentioned in other recent interviews, Smith told GQ he feels like “there’s stuff for me to get out there and get better” with football, but there are things he wants to do in the offseason before deciding on 2021.
“I really [want to] get in the meat of this offseason and see where I’m at and push it. I want to push my body harder,” he said. “I want to push my leg harder. The harder I push it, it does respond. So I kind of want to go do that. At some point, I’m obviously going to have to sit down with my wife and have a very real conversation and, do we want to do this? She deserves a ton of input. So we’ll see.”
This month, Rivera said the team will “exhaust all avenues” to address its quarterback situation. Washington made a competitive trade offer for former Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford before he was dealt to the Rams in January, according to a person familiar with the situation, a sign that it is considering adding a starter to take over for Smith.
Smith has two years remaining on his contract, with salary cap charges (his nonguaranteed salary, plus bonuses) of $24.4 million and $26.4 million, respectively. Should the team release him, it would save $13.6 million in cap space. It’s possible that Washington looks to retain Smith as a backup, but doing so probably would come with a pay reduction to lower his cap charge.