For the first time in over 600 days, Alex Smith has been cleared to play football. In 2018 the Utah alum suffered the most gruesome injury since Joe Theismann in 1985. And while eerie similarities exist between the two men’s gut-wrenching leg breaks, Smith, unlike Theismann, will make an NFL return. But will he ever return to his Pro Bowl form?
Smith plays for the tumultuous Washington Football Team. With an owner who refused to distance the team from racism for decades and an average yearly winning percentage of .375 since 2009, the franchise has been in shambles for longer than most memories can remember.
In 2018, Washington signed Smith to a four-year, $94 million contract. He played just ten games before going down to injury, but prior to that he was Washington’s guy. That year he had the third fewest interceptions among regular starters, and had he played a full season would’ve finished with more passing yards than Cam Newton and Russell Wilson.
In order to replace the injured Smith, Washington drafted Ohio’s Dwayne Haskins with the fifteenth overall pick. Haskins didn’t see his first snap until Week 4, and didn’t become the regular starter until Week 8. In his six games with more than twenty pass attempts, Haskins threw for a total of 1,092 yards on a 57.2% completion percentage.
For this upcoming season, Washington added two additional quarterbacks: Kyle Allen and Steven Monetz.
Allen became a cult hero among Panthers fans last season after he stepped up in the absence of Cam Newton. In just thirteen games he amassed 3,322 yards and seventeen touchdowns, but won just five games. Washington traded a fifth rounder for Allen following after he resigned with Carolina. He resigned with Carolina and was subsequently traded for a Washington fifth rounder. That pick was later flipped in a deal for Seattle’s second rounder; with that selection Carolina chose Jeremy Chinn.
Monetz spent five years at the University of Colorado, where he spent three years as the starter. He finished his time there with his name on the Pac- 12 record boards; Monetz is currently 25th in career touchdowns responsible for, 16th in pass completions, and 22nd in passing yards. He went undrafted in 2020 but signed as a UDFA this offseason.
For Alex Smith, the only real competition for playing time is Haskins. Allen was serviceable as an emergency starter, but nothing more. Monetz was strong in college, but it’s important to remember he went undrafted. Considering that just five active undrafted QBs have thrown for over 2,000 yards in a season, he is likely no more than a practice squad guy.
From a gameplay perspective, there is no wrong answer between Haskins and Smith. Both are fairly mobile, although not quite as HC Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turner would like. For the past nine years, The two are both coming from Carolina (hence the move for Allen), where they had the luxury of Cam Newton. Newton has ran the ball 344 more times than Haskins and Smith despite having played fifty less games. Both Smith and Haskins equally appreciate the medium distance pass, each notching just over eight intended air yards per attempt.
What it comes down to when determining between Haskins and Smith is Future vs Now. Haskins looks to be the guy for Washington moving forward. They intend on him being their franchise QB, and he intends on being such. Smith, on the other hand, is a more win now option. If he can return to even a shell of his former self, you’ve got a shot caller guaranteed to finish in the top half of the league. Not to mention, he is the eleventh highest paid quarterback in the league. His salary surpasses the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and his contract is worth over seven times that of Haskins. To sit Smith would make him the highest paid backup quarterback, making over triple more than second place Justin Herbert.
Wasting away Smith’s cap hit isn’t that big of a deal for a rebuilding team like Washington. Their priority should be cheap young players as opposed to heavy contract vets. Even with Smith’s contract, Washington still have the fifth most room under the cap in the league. It is well within the budget to let Smith sit behind Haskins as a mentor.
Should Washington not want to play Alex Smith nor pay his exorbitant salary, the only option left is to trade him. There a handful of teams still searching for a quarterback, the most notable of which being Las Vegas and Chicago. Both have mediocre-at-best solutions in Derek Carr and Mitch Trubisky respectively, but neither are viable season-long starters. The price for Smith couldn’t be much higher than a small handful of picks, although no price has been officially set.
Smith’s future is unfortunately not in his own hands. It’s frankly entirely up to Washington. No matter how well of a camp he has, if they want him to sit behind Haskins and grow him under Smith’s tutelage, he will. If they want him to lead them to 7-9 seasons for the remainder of his contract, it’s out of his hands. And if they want to move him for other pieces to help for the future, there is little he can do to stop them. The front office has a road map for the team’s next few years, and only they know what role – if any – Alex Smith will play.