It's time for Alex Smith to literally walk away from football.
The Washington Football Team quarterback got everything he could have possibly wanted from his comeback from a near-fatal 2018 leg injury. He not only was able to play again, but go 5-1 to lead Washington to the playoffs.
OK, Smith didn't get the Hollywood ending of playing in the postseason for the reason he should retire. The leg injury is a sign that Smith needs to find life after football. Smith has more money than he can ever spend and a young family that needs him to stay healthy. His legacy on the field will be remembered fondly.
Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen now have the watch. The team needed Smith to return to competitiveness, but now wants a young passer to grow into the next segment of being a true contender. While winning the NFC East was nice, Washington was still 7-9. There’s a lot of wood left to be chopped.
Washington's offseason plan is to draft a passer probably in rounds 2-3 and let Heinicke and Allen vie for starter during preseason. (Hopefully, there is a preseason this time.) Coach Ron Rivera really likes Allen, but Heinicke needs to be signed as an unrestricted free agent or the team faces a fan revolt. And, after the first feel-good season since 2012, owner Dan Snyder can't afford to waste it.
It would be easy to anoint Heinicke the starter, but there's a reason he wasn't in the league until recently and defensive coordinators will spend the offseason watching film to find it. And, they always do. That said, Heinicke could be the unlikely solution for now. Kurt Warner was bagging groceries before eventually reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so you never know.
Heinicke's rise makes it easier to say goodbye to Smith, who would be an expensive luxury as a mentor and reserve. His guaranteed money is off the books so Washington can break cleanly.
Smith is like 99 percent of NFL players who leave the game with some regret. The last Washington player who retired with no reservations was probably Darrell Green and he played 20 years. Everybody fears walking away too soon. Football has been their life's focus since elementary school. Most have it ripped away from them in their twenties by injuries. Smith turns 37 years old in May. It has been a great run and time to move on.
Smith said he'll spend a few weeks pondering his future. Making the decision at season's end isn't wise. There's too much adrenaline to think clearly. The team certainly would appreciate a decision before free agency begins on March 17.
Did you see Ryan Kerrigan returning to the field long after the game's end? After 10 years, he knows it's time to move on to another team after spending this season as a reserve. Kerrigan needed the quiet to accept the moment.
Smith is in the same situation. Hopefully, he finds peace in the decision. After all, Smith earned and deserves it.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks.