If the Washington Football Team was considering bringing Alex Smith back in 2021, the quarterback dumped those plans straight in the garbage with his revelatory interview in GQ Magazine, which dropped on Tuesday.
In the interview, conducted by Clay Skipper, Smith chronicles his improbable return to the NFL in 2020 which, after undergoing 17 surgeries to have his leg completely reconstructed, resulted in the 36-year-old starting six games for Washington in a season that culminated in him winning NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
While many people who witnessed Smith's gruesome Nov. 2018 injury had expressed skepticism about a potential return, the biggest doubters came from inside his own building, Smith says. It's a shocking revelation from the quarterback who did not mince words in saying, "They didn't want me there."
As training camp was set to begin last summer, Smith learned from his own team of doctors that he'd been cleared to return, something he never expected to hear.
"I got this big round of imaging done," Smith recalled to GQ. "And all the doctors—all the military doctors, all my doctors here in DC—were like, 'You're good to go.' I never thought I'd hear those words. They were like, 'If you want to play football again, you can do it.'"
Asked whether the Washington Football Team was surprised to hear he was ready to go, Smith said, "They were. They never thought I was coming back. No one there. I did all my rehab outside of the building. They do ACLs and stuff like that. But walking in with what I had, it's like you got three eyes."
"So there was a very small group of people that actually thought that I could do this," Smith said when asked for the team's response to his return. "I think the rest of the world either doubted me, or they patronized me. 'Yeah, that's really nice that you're trying.' When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team's plan.
"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. 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. [laughs] Whether you like it or not, I'm giving this a go at this point."
Smith was asked whether he then set out to convince his own team he could do it.
"Well yeah. I mean, they tried to put me on PUP [Physically Unable to Perform] for two weeks, then they tried to IR me," he said. "I felt like I still hadn't had my fair shake at that point. 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."
"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," he continued. "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."
For what it's worth, Washington head coach Ron Rivera said multiple times throughout last offseason not to count out Alex Smith, at one point even calling it "a good situation" if Smith could come back and be the player he was before. But Rivera frequently couched those comments by saying Smith would need to prove he can protect himself on the field.
It's a striking tone for the typically diplomatic Smith to take. Saying "they didn't want me there" begs the question as to whether Smith wants to be in Washington, either. For now, he's still under contract for two more years, although it's difficult to imagine Smith returning with a cap hit of $24.4 million.
Frankly, some words can't be unsaid and after this interview, it's difficult to imagine Smith returning to Washington at any price.
Read the full interview in GQ here.