Sayonara, Alex.

Dec 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Smith announced on Monday, April 19 after a long career in the NFL. The former first-overall pick announced his retirement in a post on Instagram. The soon-to-be 37-year-old signal-caller said in the video “Even though I’ve got plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I’ve got, I can’t wait to see what else is possible.” 

After suffering a gruesome injury – a compound leg fracture to both his tibia and fibula in his right leg – playing the game of football was the last thing on his mind. Smith required 17 surgeries over nine months, with amputation being on the table. He developed a life-threatening infection but due to transferring muscle from his left quadriceps, his leg was saved. 

Smith suited up for the first time since 2018 this past season and played in eight games, starting six of them. He helped lead WFT to an NFC East division title and earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. He was released by Washington earlier this year. 

Early years 

As a member of the 49ers, he started 75 games over eight years. He was riddled with injuries, starting 16 games only twice. He ended up missing the 2008 season with a shoulder injury. Smith’s best year was 2011, where the 49ers finished 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship game.  

In 2012, after leading the 49ers to a 6-2 record, Smith was injured with a concussion and missed the second half of the game against the Rams. He would miss the following game and would not start the rest of the season. With the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, Smith was traded to the Chiefs after the 2012 season.

Time spent in Kansas City 

Smith enjoyed much more success both in terms of statistics as well as durability while in KC. He passed over 3200 yards in all five seasons in red and white. He earned pro bowl appearances in 2013, 2016, and 2017. Smith enjoyed career highs in both passing yards (4042) and touchdown passes (26) in 2017. He also led the Chiefs to a winning season in each season he was under center. 

With a young QB waiting on the bench, Smith’s time was ending in KC. He was traded to Washington for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Smith signed a four-year, $94 million contract extension shortly after the deal was official.

Trade to Washington and comeback

Smith started the first 10 games of the 2018 season. With Washington at 6-3 before the injury against the Houston Texans, they were in first place in the NFC East. Washington then lost three straight games against divisional opponents in weeks 12 (Cowboys), 13 (Eagles), and 14 (Giants). They finished the season at 7-9. 

Smith made his return to the field in Week 5 after starting quarterback Kyle Allen was injured. He also made an appearance in Week 9 after Allen suffered an ankle injury. Smith would go on to throw for 325 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions in a 23-20 loss against the Giants. He would go on to start the next five games before being pulled against the 49ers in Week 14 due to a bone bruise. 

With a win against the Eagles in Week 17, Washington would clinch the division and a playoff berth. He was 22-32 for 162 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the victory. Smith would not play in the playoff game against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers though due to lingering issues with his bone bruise. He was released on March 5 and finished his career with 35,650 yards, 199 touchdowns, and 109 interceptions.

Inspiration to the sporting world

Alex Smith certainly defied the odds and returned to the gridiron after a life-threatening injury. Calls have been made to rename the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award in his honor. Alex Smith may not go down as a Hall of Famer, but like Jim Valvano’s famous quote, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” Smith persevered. His comeback will no doubt echo in NFL history for years to come.

I’m sure that Smith wanted to play the majority of the season, but starting 6 games in 2020 is nothing to hang his head on. He also was a great teacher to both Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Mahomes. Jim Harbaugh once stated that Smith “coaches Colin now more than I do, and that speaks high of the kind of person and teammate that Alex Smith is.” Patrick Mahomes also chimed in after Smith announced his retirement: “With the injury he had, to lead his team to the playoffs. That shows you the player he is. I’m just grateful for the time I had with him. He really helped me be the quarterback I am today.”