As a disappointing season came to a close, rumors swirled about the future of injured quarterback Alex Smith. Many speculated that Smith, who has been sidelined since suffering a grotesque leg injury last November, was a candidate to join the Washington Redskins' front office. One reporter even asked Smith about it during the team's locker room cleanout at Redskins Park on Dec. 30.
Smith cracked a smile upon hearing the question. He then responded with his own inquiry to shut down any further speculation.
"Has there ever been a GM and a quarterback at the same time?"
Smith's sole focus is to return to the field. It's been his No. 1 goal since being carted off against the Houston Texans on Nov. 18, 2018, and he's been working towards that objective in the 13-plus months since. When asked if he plans to play in 2020, Smith did not hesitate.
"Without a doubt, yeah. Still continuing to push this as far as it goes," Smith said. "I still have dreams of getting back to where I was and getting back out there. This has been, obviously, a crazy ride with a lot of unforeseen turns, but without a doubt that's still my goal."
It also forced him to spend the entire 2019 campaign as a spectator. Once he was healthy enough, Smith joined the other Redskins quarterbacks on the practice field and in the meeting rooms. But during games, he was relegated to the sidelines before receding to the owner's box.
He's embraced this supporting role by doing things like offering advice to fellow first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins, all while taking the necessary steps to eventually join Haskins on the field.
"Progressing. I think that's probably the best way to put that at this point," Smith told reporters during the team's locker cleanout Dec. 30. "Still progressing, which I'm thankful for. Haven't hit a wall yet. Still moving forward."
Smith said it was difficult and different not being out there with his teammates, but he also gained a newfound appreciation for all that goes into being a professional athlete. He was able to guide some of the younger players through a trying season, specifically telling them to cherish success and stay poised amid adversity. Having experienced plenty of both during his 15-year NFL career, Smith aimed to be a "calming influence" for his teammates.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary has been Haskins, who's had the weight of the Redskins on his shoulders since being picked 15th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Smith felt the same pressure when the San Francisco 49ers drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, and it wasn't until his seventh year in the league that he led the 49ers to the playoffs. He then moved on to Kansas City, where he made the postseason in four of his five seasons there from 2013-2017.
"Alex is great," Haskins said in November. "We get together almost every day. He's a really great voice for me because of the experience he's had, trials and tribulations of his career, and just the great person that he is. I really appreciate him since he's been here with me, just trying to help me out and give me some tools and tips for my career."
There has been speculation about Smith and Haskins competing for the starting job should Smith return next season, but Smith basically called that a false narrative when talking to reporters. Smith is singularly focused on his comeback, not if he'd be able to beat out his younger counterpart in a quarterback competition.
"For me, that's the last of my concerns," Smith added. "[Haskins'] path and trajectory and mine are not conflicting each other at all."
As for Smith, the road to recovery remains up in the air given the severity and complexity of his injury. In October, he was seen throwing on the team's practice field. By early November, he began working on various football motions, such as dropping back, moving around and throwing live routes to receivers.
Smith wishes there was a six-month blueprint he could follow, but in the history of the NFL, no quarterback has returned from this sort of setback.
He's dead set on being the first.
"This hasn't really been traveled before, and I kind of embrace this challenge and being able to overcome it," Smith said. "So, no, there isn't a blueprint. We're rolling with everybody that's an expert on this in the country and trying to figure that out and map it out."