We can’t yet say how the trade for Smith — consummated in late January, completed just this week because of the NFL’s odd logistical rules — will work out. Anybody who has drawn conclusions based on news conferences held in Ashburn understands the risks that lie within.
What we can say is that Smith’s arrival kills off the game we have played in these parts since the turn of the century. Pick a year, and follow the timeline. In 2006, Joe Gibbs — version 2.0 — benched veteran quarterback Mark Brunell in favor of rookie Jason Campbell. The position in Washington has been in some measure of flux for what seems like eternity because it was Todd Collins, not Campbell, who took the following year’s team to the playoffs. It was Donovan McNabb, not Campbell, who first took snaps when Mike Shanahan arrived as coach in 2010. It was Rex Grossman who replaced a benched McNabb and John Beck who . . . who cares? At some point, it was just too much.
It never ended. Maybe it has now. It’s March. We can hope.
“I certainly feel like, as a quarterback, I can do a lot,” Smith said in an auditorium at Redskins Park that was filled with the team’s staff and sponsors. “I like that. I like to be kind of the Swiss Army knife.”
One blade that he must pop out — in any NFL city but here in particular — will have to be used as a rudder. He is a 12-year veteran who will begin work in his third market. There’s no question he hasn’t faced — not about his own ability, not about his team’s success, not about anything. That means there’s no controversy around which he hasn’t had to tiptoe. It’s valuable experience. His immediate predecessors didn’t really have it.
The midweek media availabilities of Robert Griffin III, back in 2012, went from insightful, must-watch glimpses into the development of a can’t-miss star to delicate high-wire acts, the circus down below, unrelenting. Griffin had to learn all this as a 22-year-old rookie. Kirk Cousins, who replaced Griffin and will be replaced by Smith, rode shotgun as Griffin became a sideshow, then had to navigate questions about his own future, his commitment to Washington, his intentions in free agency. Their words were incessantly parsed. It was, frankly, tiresome.
Maybe Smith can relieve us all of that. There is a place to debate how a quarterback who turns 34 in May will age over the course of his contract, which doesn’t expire until after the 2022 season. But let’s assign some meaning to a moment where none may exist: Standing at that lectern Thursday, sliding his hand into the pocket of that suit, Smith’s entire demeanor said, “I got this.”
“For quarterbacks, there’s so many different things that happen, that come up in a situation, in a game, over a season, and I think you have to be able to handle all of that,” Smith said. “Some of them are physical, some of them are mental, and some both.”
With that, there is an understanding that when things go wrong, the quarterback will have the most questions to answer. This is not new territory. Nothing’s a surprise.
For now, too, so many questions that have defined recent Washington offseasons are eliminated. Griffin’s health and job security. Cousins’s development and long-term desires. The team’s evaluation of either of them. Killing off those story lines has an impact, from the front office to the fan base.
“You’re not always looking down the road, who’s going to be our quarterback here next year?” Coach Jay Gruden said.
There will be a time for that again. But for now, enjoy the break.
“I don’t think the fans really understand when you talk about stability, when you know the guy that’s going to be leading your team is going to be in your locker room for the next three to four to five years, that’s a good feeling,” said Doug Williams, the team’s senior vice president of player personnel. “Now [Washington’s players] can relax and even during the season don’t have to worry about whether our fearless leader’s going to be here next year.”
We’re just getting to know Smith up close, and a relationship between a city and its quarterback needs time to develop. This is a feeling-out process, and Smith spent his 15-minute media availability Thursday saying the right things. He praised his new team’s commitment to winning “from top to bottom,” even though he has done far more winning than his new team during his previous stops in San Francisco and Kansas City. He talked up aspects of Gruden’s system that he said he would enjoy. He spoke of his desire to win a championship, making it clear that is a team pursuit.
More importantly, though, Smith made it clear that he understands the parameters of his job, that talking means nothing if he doesn’t perform. Thursday was an exercise, a necessary one, because he is now this town’s and this team’s focal point. But he knows his words are just words, that his commitment and character will have to show in other ways.
“There’s nothing I’m going to say, nothing anybody’s going to say that’s going to prove that,” Smith said. “We got to go do it. We’ve got to go win games. We’ve got to play well.”
Over the course of his career, Alex Smith has played well. Last year, he may have played better than he ever has. On his first public day as the quarterback in Washington — a day on which he didn’t take a snap or throw a pass — the way he carried himself showed that, at least for a moment, he brings meaningful experience and reassuring stability to a position that, since the turn of this century, has teetered in this town. Enjoy it while it lasts.