ASHBURN, VA. — When Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera had a chance to talk with quarterback Alex Smith, who questioned the team’s desire in August to have him around, Rivera used one phrase in particular: You were right.
He didn’t say Smith was right about everything, but Rivera admitted that he was scared to play Smith and that he wasn’t sure whether Smith would be able to play — issues that led Smith to tell GQ Magazine that he wasn’t in Washington’s plans upon reporting for training camp.
Smith was released shortly after his conversation with Rivera last week, but Rivera agreed with his sentiment in the article.
“It was always in the back of my head, what if he gets hurt again? What if he hurts that leg again? I’ll be the guy that put him back on the field to get him hurt again,” Rivera said during a video conference call with reporters Wednesday, his first since Smith’s release. “I struggled with that every day. That was tough.”
Smith’s release had been expected and wasn’t impacted by his comments to GQ, according to multiple sources. In the article, Smith said he believed Washington didn’t want him around. It was a new staff that was embarking on a rebuild, and a 36-year-old quarterback coming off 17 surgeries didn’t fit their plan.
“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,” Smith told the magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime, they came in; I’m like the leftovers and I’m hurt and I’m this liability.
“Heck no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, as you can imagine, everything I’d been through, I couldn’t have cared less about all that. Whether you like it or not, I’m giving this a go at this point.”
Eventually Smith persuaded the coaches to give him a chance in late August to show what he could do in a full-speed 11-on-11 session. He also had multiple talks with Rivera before final cuts about not placing him on injured reserve because he was no longer hurt.
“I felt like I still hadn’t had my fair shake at that point,” Smith told GQ. “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. It’s like getting this close to the end line of a marathon and they’re telling you that you can’t finish the race. It’s like, f— that. I’m finishing this thing. At least I’m going to see if I can. So, I’m thankful we worked through all that stuff but no, it wasn’t like open arms coming back after two years.”
Rivera and Smith met for breakfast last week before Smith’s release, and Rivera reacted publicly for the first time to those comments Wednesday.
“It was very positive,” Rivera said of their meeting. “We both had a chance to see the other side and perspective. I don’t disagree with a lot of things he said. They were fair. The biggest thing we talked about, there was no road map to get us to where we were. I told him exactly how I felt and how hard it was for us.”
Rivera also said that on the day he was hired, Smith visited him at owner Dan Snyder’s house. He was the first player to meet with Rivera. After talking to Smith, Rivera told Snyder that he reminded him of Thomas Davis Sr., the only pro athlete to return after tearing the same ACL three times.
“[Snyder] said, ‘If he plays, I’m betting on the old guy,'” Rivera said. “Knowing Alex, he’ll get an opportunity to play again. He’ll do a great job with it.”