Alex Smith (QB)

Texans To Consider Alex Smith As Deshaun Watson Replacement?

The Texans have yet to engage in trade talks for Deshaun Watson, but the calls are still coming in — even in the midst of Watson’s off-the-field situation. If the Texans move on from Watson or lose him to league discipline, former Washington quarterback Alex Smith could be considered for the role, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter link). 

[RELATED: 49ers Monitored Deshaun Watson]

Smith suffered his horrific leg injury against the Texans in 2018, but managed to return to the field in 2020. According to the QB, Washington didn’t necessarily want him back. Smith went on to go 5-1 in his starts and help WFT capture the NFC East title. Smith was, understandably, not at his best. Last yar, he threw for six touchdowns against eight interceptions with a 78.5 QB rating.

When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team’s plan,” Smith said earlier this year. “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.”

Ron Rivera & Co. went on to cut Smith, saving $14.7MM against the cap. Although they didn’t want to give Smith a chance – or a 2021 return — the Texans could be willing to give him an opportunity.

Watson is facing upwards of 20 lawsuits alleging a variety of sexual misconduct. The league office could move to place Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would keep him off the field while the legal situation plays out.

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Washington Releases Alex Smith

As expected, the Washington Football Team has released Alex Smith. Even after Smith defied the odds in his comeback return, the WFT was unwilling to keep him and his sizable cap hit.

Smith’s return from a horrific 2018 leg injury was one of 2020 feel-good stories. Washington went 5-1 in his starts and managed to win the NFC East with Smith at the helm. Smith worked tirelessly to get back on the field, but Ron Rivera and the rest of the regime didn’t necessarily want him back.

When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team’s plan,” Smith said recently. “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.”

They tried to put me on PUP for two weeks, then they tried to IR me. 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.”

By releasing Smith, Washington will save $14.7MM this offseason. Meanwhile, they’ll carry $8.6MM in dead money.

In the interest of equal time: Smith’s on-field performance didn’t quite justify his salary. In 2020, he threw for six touchdowns against eight interceptions with a 78.5 QB rating.

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Washington To Cut Alex Smith

The Washington Football Team is expected to release Alex Smith, sources tell Kim Jones and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The quarterback still wants to play and there should be plenty of opportunities for him elsewhere. 

Smith’s return from a horrific injury suffered in November 2018 was one of the 2020 season’s best stories. The Washington Football Team went 5-1 in his starts and managed to win the NFC East with Smith at the helm. But, recently, Smith said that Ron Rivera & Co. didn’t want him back initially.

When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team’s plan,” Smith said in February. “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… “[T]hey tried to put me on PUP for two weeks, then they tried to IR me. 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.”

Smith, 36, found out that he can still play. In 2020, his salary was fully guaranteed, so it would have made little sense for the team to drop him. This time around, his $24.4MM cap charge had only $8.6MM locked in. By releasing Smith, WFT will save $14.7MM on the books.

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WFT Didn’t Want Alex Smith To Return?

Where (and if) Alex Smith will play in 2021 remains an open question. If the 36-year-old QB returns to the Washington Football Team, he will need to do so on a reworked contract. WFT could also release him, thereby clearing nearly $15MM off its books, but the team would need to find a suitable replacement first.

Smith’s return from a horrific injury suffered in November 2018 was one of the best stories of last season, and though he didn’t light the world on fire, Washington did go 5-1 in games that he started. The club finagled a division title thanks to their strong finish with Smith at the helm, and there was no reason to believe that there might be bad blood between WFT and the veteran signal-caller.

But in a recent interview with Clay Skipper of GQ, Smith said the team initially did not want him back. “When I decided to come back, I definitely threw a wrench in the team’s plan,” Smith said. “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.”

He did not mention anyone by name, but he said the “new regime” — led by head coach Ron Rivera, who was hired last January — viewed him as a liability. He continued, “[T]hey tried to put me on PUP for two weeks, then they tried to IR me. 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.”

Ultimately, Smith said he and the team “worked through all that stuff,” but one wonders why WFT was opposed to having him return. After all, his 2020 salary of $16MM was fully guaranteed, so it wouldn’t have made any sense to release him, and his career accomplishments dwarf those of Dwayne Haskins — a player the new regime was also unhappy to inherit — and Rivera import Kyle Allen. Rivera’s presence added immediate legitimacy to an organization that badly needed it in the wake of the Bruce Allen years, but Smith’s comments recall the type of dysfunction that has long plagued Dan Snyder‘s outfit.

We recently heard that Smith was unlikely to retire, and while he reiterated in the GQ interview that he has a lot of football left in him, he still needs to “have a very real conversation” with his wife about the matter. So at this point, it seems that retirement remains on the table.

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Latest On Washington’s Quarterback Plans

The Washington Football Team attempted to trade for Matthew Stafford last month, offering a package headlined by the No. 19 overall selection in the 2021 draft in exchange for the longtime Lions passer. Although Detroit opted to take the Rams’ offer instead, there are five other quarterbacks from outside the organization that Washington wants to explore, as John Keim of ESPN.com writes.

Keim’s source did not name those QBs, but it’s safe to assume that WFT is at least kicking the tires on trade candidates like Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold. The club’s interest in Stafford and other signal-callers obviously suggests that it is not entirely sold on having Alex Smith return as the starter next season, but that scenario remains on the table.

If he does return, though, he would need to rework his contract. He is presently scheduled to count $24.4MM against the cap in 2021, and that is simply untenable. The newly-minted Comeback Player of the Year was a remarkable story in 2020, completing his recovery from a devastating leg injury suffered in November 2018 to start six games for WFT (winning five of them) and lead the club to a playoff berth. But he was more of a game manager than anything else, as he threw for six touchdowns against eight interceptions and posted a poor 78.5 QB rating.

Plus, he will be 37 when the 2021 season starts, and he missed three of the team’s final four games — including the wildcard round matchup with the Bucs — due to a bone bruise. So it’s far from a sure thing that he will be able to handle a full 16-game slate at this point, and even if he can, he no longer possesses the type of mobility that had become a key feature of his game.

He could theoretically agree to a pay cut to stay with WFT, or he and Washington could come to terms on an extension that reduces his 2021 cap number. Keim suggests that WFT would be willing to go the extension route, as the club is concerned that forfeiting draft capital for a different quarterback would limit its ability to strengthen the rest of the roster. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that Smith would play to the end of the extension, so Washington could be saddled with substantial dead money in the future.

Of course, Washington could also release Smith, but that would only happen if the team has already acquired or is prepared to acquire another quarterback. A release would save WFT $13.6MM in cap space this year, and it would also allow the team to avoid the possibility of carrying Smith-related charges on its books beyond the 2021 season. Interestingly, multiple NFL execs, coaches, and scouts tell Keim that they view Smith as a backup at this point in his career, which might make Smith more receptive to a pay cut (though that is just my speculation).

Smith could also retire, but he did not seem ready to hang up the cleats in a recent interview. And Keim says retirement is the least likely scenario at this point, so one way or another, Washington will need to be the one to make the call on Smith’s future.

All of this suggests that WFT is not going to entertain the notion of having Taylor Heinicke open the 2021 season as the starter, despite some tongue-in-cheek calls for him to do so. The team did recently hand the near-playoff hero an extension, and while it was originally reported as a two-year, $8.75MM deal, a lot will need to go right for the soon-to-be 28-year-old to max out that contract. Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post has the full breakdown, which includes a $1MM salary in 2021, a $1.5MM salary in 2022, and $1.25MM in per game roster bonuses over the next two seasons (Twitter link). Field Yates of ESPN.com adds that Heinicke will pocket a $1MM signing bonus, so it’s really a two-year deal with a base value of $4.75MM and up to $4MM in incentives (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, Keim says Washington will retain Kyle Allen via an exclusive rights free agent tender. Allen followed head coach Ron Rivera from Carolina to Washington and makes for a solid third-string option if nothing else.

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Extra Points: Smith, Easterby, Ogunjobi

Perhaps the best story of the unprecedented 2020 NFL season was the improbable return of Alex Smith. Not only did Smith shockingly return to the starting lineup for Washington, something nobody in their right mind saw coming, he also went 5-1 as a starter and led them to a playoff berth. He didn’t always look too mobile, and a calf injury to the same leg he had his devastating infections in cut his season short prematurely. But if you were expecting Smith to ride off into the sunset after his incredible triumph, you might be in for a surprise. In a recent interview with the Rachel Ray show, the quarterback certainly didn’t sound like someone dead-set on retiring.

For me, this year was such a crazy rush to be out there, practicing out there every single day. To be able to put on my cleats and helmet. But for me, the crazy thing was how well my body responded to that. I just feel like I continued to get stronger and stronger and better and better,” the Washington signal-caller said. “I still feel like I’m kind of a kid right now headed into the offseason. I’m excited for this offseason to see what I can go do — football and everything else. Skiing, snowboarding — I plan on doing as much as I can. I had such an amazing time playing. I felt so good out there. It was crazy after that first game how comfortable I felt back out on the field.”

If Smith does want to keep playing he might have to do it with a new team, as Washington appears to be looking to upgrade at the position. They reportedly were aggressive in going after Matthew Stafford, offering their first-round pick and then some. Smith is under contract for two more seasons, but Washington can get out of it fairly easily this offseason. No matter what happens next, Smith has already shattered all expectations and can hold his head high.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • If you were a Texans fan hoping that controversial exec Jack Easterby would quietly slink into the background after all the Deshaun Watson drama, you might be disappointed. “Easterby is still making calls to agents on behalf of the team and is very much involved in football side,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com hears (Twitter link). As Zierlein points out, that would conflict with Houston’s stated spin that Easterby is merely a pastor and ‘character coach’ of sorts. He seems to be very much involved in football ops alongside new GM Nick Caserio. For whatever reasons, Easterby seems to be sitting pretty in his role and clearly has a great deal of influence with owner Cal McNair. We haven’t heard the last of him, and this saga has no end in sight.
  • The Browns are coming off an incredibly successful season that saw them make it back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 20 years, but there will still be changes coming in Cleveland. One of the biggest could be the departure of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi will likely be allowed to hit free agency and the Browns “probably won’t want to pay him what he can get on the open market,” Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. Ogunjobi has been a very solid player for Cleveland, starting at least 15 games each of the past three seasons, but with Sheldon Richardson still also manning the middle and fellow defensive tackle Andrew Billings set to return from COVID opt-out in 2021, Kay Cabot thinks he’s expendable.
  • Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy has gotten a lot of attention for getting passed over for head coaching jobs, but Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is similarly upset about the other offensive coordinator coaching in the Super Bowl. “I was very, very pissed that Byron [Leftwich] didn’t at least get an interview this year for the job that he’s done,” Arians said, via Jenna Laine of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done.” Strong words from Arians in support of his OC, the former quarterback who spent 10 years as a player in the league from 2003-12. Leftwich got his coaching start as Arians’ quarterbacks coach with the Cardinals in 2017, and was then hired as his OC when he took the job in Tampa in 2019. If the Bucs have this kind of success again in 2021, Leftwich probably will start to get some serious head coaching buzz next cycle.

NFC East Notes: Wentz, Smith, Cowboys

Carson Wentz‘s status has fluctuated considerably over the past month and change, with the veteran quarterback having gone from starter to backup and then trade candidate to a player around whom the Eagles again want to build. The fifth-year passer’s issues with the since-fired Doug Pederson began well before the December benching, with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane noting the quarterback would randomly audible out of Pederson play calls down the stretch this season. This helped lead to Pederson benching Wentz on his own. During training camp, however, Eagles staffers saw warning signs of a potential decline, per McLane, who adds that some within the organization were concerned about passing-game coordinator Press Taylor‘s promotion. The proposition of a Pederson-Wentz-Taylor offensive power structure returning next season did not sit well with Lurie. The Eagles promoted Taylor last year but brought in Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg to help the offense as well; the latter two will not be back next season.

The Eagles are in the process of hiring Pederson’s replacement. Colts OC Nick Sirianni and Cowboys OC Kellen Moore interviewed Tuesday. Here is the latest from Philly and the other NFC East cities:

  • Alex Smith said at season’s end he would take a few weeks before deciding if he wanted to play a 17th season. He is under contract through 2022. But the Washington quarterback indicated during a 60 Minutes interview (via CBSNews.com) that the 2020 comeback season “has only emboldened for me that I can, you know, play at this level.” After cutting Dwayne Haskins, Washington has Smith and Kyle Allen under contract for next season. Though, Taylor Heinicke is a restricted free agent. Washington cutting Smith — an onerous proposition in 2019 and ’20 — would save the franchise $14.7MM in cap space, however, creating a complex situation for the QB-needy team.
  • Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper recently underwent ankle surgery, but Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram described it as a cleanup procedure (Twitter link). The Cowboys are not concerned about their top wideout missing much offseason time.
  • On that note, Giants left tackle Andrew Thomas also went under the knife recently. Last year’s No. 4 overall pick also underwent ankle surgery. Thomas played through ankle pain for much of the season, per Dan Duggan of The Athletic, who adds (via Twitter) the Giants expect Thomas to be ready for their offseason program.
  • The Eagles will have a new linebackers coach next season. Ken Flajole will not be back, according to Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio (on Twitter). The 66-year-old assistant joined the Eagles as part of Pederson’s first staff in 2016. After spending most of the 1980s and ’90s as a college coach, Flajole has been an NFL assistant for 22 seasons.

Washington To Start Taylor Heinicke

Hours after John Wolford‘s initial playoff start, Washington will opt to use its young backup in its postseason opener.

Taylor Heinicke will start for Washington in its home game against Tampa Bay tonight. Alex Smith will be inactive. Heinicke will be the fourth quarterback to start for Washington this season, following Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and Smith.

With tonight’s game featuring a Heinicke-Tom Brady matchup, it will mark the biggest postseason experience disparity in NFL history. Brady has made 41 playoff starts; Heinicke has made one career regular-season start, doing so for the 2018 Panthers. He replaced an ineffective Haskins in Washington’s Week 16 loss to Carolina, completing 12 of 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Although Smith returned from a calf injury to start in Washington’s Week 17 game, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes the 16th-year veteran struggled to loosen up the injured muscle this week in practice and did not make much progress (Twitter link). Not that anyone would question Smith’s desire to play after what he’s overcome to return to action, but Rapoport describes this as a functionality issue — rather than a pain-tolerance matter — that will keep Smith out tonight (Twitter link).

Smith is essentially a lock to earn Comeback Player of the Year honors. The 36-year-old passer is signed through 2022, though Washington can entertain the notion of moving on from the former No. 1 overall pick without significant cap implications for the first time this coming offseason.

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Alex Smith Expected To Start In Week 17

Washington’s prospects of securing its first playoff berth since 2015 are set to improve. The team is planning to start Alex Smith on Sunday night, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Smith managed two limited practices this week, but Rapoport notes the 16th-year quarterback is feeling fine going into Washington’s win-and-in Week 17 assignment. Ron Rivera said Smith was close to playing last week. That not coming to pass ended up inducing an organizational shakeup.

Dwayne Haskins is no longer with the franchise, with Washington dropping its Week 16 starter and 2019 first-round pick the morning after he was benched. Haskins is now a free agent. A Washington roster that housed Haskins, Case Keenum and an injured Smith last year is down to just Smith, who underwent 17 surgeries to repair a broken right leg and is attempting to surmount a right calf injury. Taylor Heinicke, who replaced Haskins last week, stands to be Smith’s backup Sunday.

Nearly a lock for Comeback Player of the Year acclaim, Smith has started five games this season. Washington is 4-1 in those contests and 2-8 with Haskins or Kyle Allen starting. Smith, 36, has thrown four touchdown passes and six interceptions while averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. He will, however, face an Eagles defense that will be missing Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett. Now-eliminated Philly also ruled out Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert and DeSean Jackson.

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WFT Bumps Dwayne Haskins For Taylor Heinicke

Washington head coach Ron Rivera says Taylor Heinicke will start at quarterback on Sunday against the Eagles if Alex Smith can’t play. That leaves former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins as the QB3 on the depth chart and possibly inactive for the team’s critical Week 17 game.

[RELATED: Latest On Washington’s Ownership Turmoil]

Haskins couldn’t deliver on Sunday when he started in place of Smith. Heinicke — who hadn’t taken an NFL snap since 2018, replaced him in the fourth quarter. Washington went on to lose 20-13, capping Haskins’ day with 14-of-28 throws completed for 154 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. Heinicke, meanwhile, went 12-for-19 for 137 passing yards and one TD.

Heinicke has been on the fringes of the NFL since going undrafted out of Old Dominion. After a brief stop in the XFL, he’s supplanted the once-ballyhooed Haskins on WFT’s depth chart. And, if Smith can’t go, he’ll have a chance to lead them to the playoffs.

Washington can clinch the division with a win over the Eagles on Sunday night. A loss would turn the NFC East race over to the winner of the afternoon Cowboys-Giants tilt.

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