Alex Smith Announces Retirement from Football After Completing Comeback for the Ages

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) calls a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Longtime quarterback Alex Smith announced his NFL retirement Monday, capping a 16-year journey that started as a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and ended after his improbable return from a gruesome injury.

Smith, who will turn 37 next month, announced his decision in a two-minute, 12-second video posted to Instagram, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. He was released by the Washington Football Team last month but was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2020 for getting back on the field after an injury two years earlier that nearly cost him his right leg.

“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,” Smith said in the video. “But first, I’ll take a little time to enjoy a few of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what’s coming for them in the backyard.”

After he suffered a compound leg fracture in November 2018, many assumed Smith’s career was over. He required 17 surgeries to stem an infection in his right leg, which was nearly amputated. He needed to wear an external fixator on his leg for eight months and developed drop foot.

His battle to return to action was the subject of an ESPN documentary, Project 11, that aired last spring, and Smith kept fighting, passing numerous tests and milestones along the way to being cleared by doctors.

“Two years ago, I was stuck in a wheelchair staring down at my mangled leg wondering if I’d ever be able to go on a walk with my wife again or play games with my kids in the yard,” said Smith, who has three children. “Putting my helmet back on was the farthest thing from my mind. I kept asking myself, ‘All this for a stupid game?'”

But, Smith said, having a football in his hands again while working out at the Center for the Intrepid allowed him to feel “stronger, more driven and what once seemed impossible began to come into focus.” He had a team of doctors helping him along the way and benefited from his time at the facility, which typically works with wounded military personnel.

Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder and his wife, Tanya, said in a joint statement that Smith “accomplished the greatest comeback in professional sports history and was a huge part of our team’s success this past season.”

“Since the day Alex arrived here in Washington, he has represented this organization with class and dignity both on and off the field,” the Snyders’ statement said. “We witnessed every step of Alex’s comeback first-hand and he personifies perseverance, strength and the will to never give up. The support he received from his family, friends, teammates and club medical staff throughout his comeback journey was truly unmatched.”

Later Monday, Smith told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he recently went snowboarding with his father and children. He had not been snowboarding since he was in college, and the moment stood out to him and helped solidify his decision to retire.

“For me this all started as a father and husband,” Smith said during the interview. “That’s where it began, wondering what — if anything — I would be able to do with my kids again, with my wife again … to do some things with them I thought had been taken away from me forever. I’m so grateful.”

Smith also said on OTL that he visited the Jacksonville Jaguars, and his former college coach Urban Meyer, and debated signing with them. He said he left the meeting excited for what Meyer was building but, he said, he was already weighing retirement.

“I was ready,” Smith said. “I am ready. I’m so excited about what else is out there and to experience it with my family and to have no limitations and take on the challenges that lie ahead.”

Smith told ESPN’s Stephania Bell that overcoming the injury also helped him gain a “better perspective.”

“When I think back to being in the hospital after all the debridements — and then we were heading down the path of limb salvage, the places my mind went as far as what my life would be like, down the dark paths of all the things I would never be able to do again,” Smith told Bell. “I was consumed with all the things I would never be able to do for months and months. I had such a negative perspective on what my life was going to be like. … I think I have so much better perspective because of everything I went through with the injury.”

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