It wasn't one grievance, but a confluence of them that finally sent Alex Smith over the edge.
As 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen laid out for us here, a combination of poor word choice – intentional or not – from Ron Rivera, along with the Washington Football Team coach's decision to start another quarterback in the playoffs, were the latest in a series of triggers that led Smith to air dirty laundry in GQ magazine.
Smith blabbing to the press is so wholly uncharacteristic of him, it's still hard to fathom it really happened. Which tells you he must have really been steaming.
"I think it's something that was lingering," ESPN reporter John Keim told The Sports Junkies on Wednesday. "And when you look at the comments, I think there was frustration all along with him over this situation."
As Keim tells it, this was all set in motion in training camp, when Smith, after fighting for life and limb through 17 surgeries, first arrived, shocked to even be there but ready to be cleared for return.
Only, Washington wasn't as eager to clear him.
"He had his own doctors who cleared him and then he had to come here and he wasn't cleared right away," said Keim. "One of those doctors involved is one of Washington's team doctors, she was one of the ones who cleared him but here he had to still, he was on PUP. They were gonna take it slower. So I think there was some of that. Whether they're right or wrong in doing that that way, I'm just talking about from his end, that was part of it as well."
"And then you get to the end of training camp," he said. "He had to basically fight to get onto the roster. They were going to put him on IR. And he had two meetings with Rivera — one of which was attended also by Scott Turner — where they basically had to determine: What can he really do? And, what did Scott Turner see that could [determine if Alex] could help them? So there were a couple conversations there, and then also lobbying for a chance to show in practice what he could do. And they gave it to him. He was on the roster."
For Keim, the situation's not simple enough to be reduced to one or two grievances, in a year in which Washington presented Smith with plenty of reasons to feel unwanted. After having to fight for a roster spot, Smith was disrespected again when Rivera went with Kyle Allen as the starter when benching Dwayne Haskins after Week 4.
"And then you go throughout the season and he finally got his chance after Kyle Allen got hurt," said Keim. "I'm sure from his end, he's a competitor. He would have liked to get the job after Dwayne Haskins is benched. But you know, that's a competitor. It doesn't mean he's right in that, it's just that's what a competitor thinks."
"And then I think you can go to the end of the season," he said. "When Ron Rivera basically said that, 'Hey, if Kyle Allen had been healthy, we'd have been in the same spot,' I think that's another one that you would look at, if you're Alex Smith, and maybe that chafes you a little bit. Again, it's not about whether they're doing the right or wrong thing, it's how he's perceiving things, and what we know about Alex Smith is he is an unbelievable competitor and I think this is reflected."
"And if you're hearing that from people, you're gonna be very frustrated," said Keim. "I will also say, it's funny because, you know with Washington that there was a fear and a concern over the leg and that was a fear and a concern that members of Smith's family had as well. Those are the people who know him best; imagine trying to be a coach trying to determine what could happen with his leg if I put him out there. So I think while the frustration, I can understand it, it's kind of hard to blame where Washington was at with this."
"Yeah, I'm not surprised if that's the way they felt," chimed Junkies host Jason Bishop. "And maybe they changed the way they felt over the course of the season once they realized Alex can go out there and, he's not gonna put up huge numbers, but he can win."
"Look at how much grief Mike Shanahan caught for putting Robert Griffin III back in the game," noted Keim. "And certainly in hindsight, he wishes he hadn't done that. That was for a torn ACL. Now he was dealing with a knee injury, but he wasn't coming off of 17 surgeries and out of football, and one of the more gruesome injuries you could see.
"Just imagine being the person ultimately responsible for putting him back out there, because if something happens to Alex Smith, who gets blamed? If Aaron Donald hops on him and that leg snaps, who's the first one that people are gonna say, 'Why'd you put him out there?'"