Former Washington quarterback Alex Smith, now retired, is teeing off publicly again on how his former team treated his NFL comeback in 2020.
The 36-year-old quarterback tells Greg Bishop for Sports Illustrated that when he arrived at training camp last summer, he believes the Football Team coaching staff wanted to see if it could break him, testing him physically and mentally beyond what it would do with any other player.
Smith found it "patronizing," he tells SI, with his father, Doug, going as far as to say the team "sabotaged" his son's return.
It's Alex Smith's opinion that Washington's coaching staff preferred a cute story, with Smith's comeback story concluding right there at training camp, never intending for him to reach the field in an actual game.
According to the SI article, Smith had told friends at the time he wouldn't complain if Washington released him, told him he wasn't good enough, or deemed him too much of a risk. "I'd rather have somebody right in my face say, What are you thinking?" Smith tells SI. "It pissed me off."
If this all sounds familiar, that's because it should. Smith was similarly critical of the team's handling of him last summer in a February interview with GQ, telling the magazine "they didn't want me there," while adding that he "threw a wrench in the team's plan" with his arrival at camp.
It was later revealed that, among other things, Smith was angered by Ron Rivera downplaying the impact Smith had on Washington making the playoffs last season.
And here we are again.
Smith tells SI he still doesn't understand Washington placing him on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list despite him already being cleared by world-renowned doctors, with Bishop noting that coaches asked Smith to "carry extra weight, push sleds and hurdle bags for drills—tasks he had never done in 15 pro seasons, let alone before his leg had to be rebuilt."
The interview even quotes Washington team physician Dr. Robin West as seemingly being in agreement that the coaching staff was trying to break Smith, with her characterizing their tactics as, "What can he withstand?"
Dr. West says she informed the coaching staff she was ready to clear Smith to return to the field with the disclaimer that she would assess his leg based on her informed medical opinion. "I got very little support," she tells SI. "He almost died. He almost lost his leg. Why would he want to?"
"That's not your decision," Dr. West told the coaches.
In a team-provided statement to SI, Rivera echoed his previous public sentiments on the topic, that he was "scared to death" to put Smith back on the field again. "I was scared to death about putting [Alex] back out there and that is something I struggled with every day," Rivera told SI. "It's unfortunate that he feels we patronized him because I can tell you that was not our intention. At the end of the day, I commend Alex because he proved everyone wrong and exceeded any reasonable expectations that anyone had set for him. He not only made it back onto the field but led us to the playoffs. It was a truly remarkable feat."
Smith did ultimately make it back onto the field, making his season debut midway through Washington's Week 5 loss to the Rams and going 5-1 on the season while leading the Football Team to the playoffs. Rivera elected to go with Taylor Heinicke as his playoff starter, leaving Smith on the bench in sweats. Washington lost to the Buccaneers, 31-23.
Smith announced his retirement from the NFL earlier this week.
The SI cover story encompasses far more about Smith's road to recovery than just his training camp gripes. Read it in full here.