“After this meeting was over, we decided it was best for both parties to move on and we will approve Alex’s request for release,” said Rivera. “I want to thank Alex for his contributions over the past year. He made such an impression on our young squad, and his leadership was one of the key factors in our late season success and the first playoffs since 2015. Everyone here in Washington wishes Alex and his family all the best for the future and treasure all that he gave to our organization. “

The move leaves Washington wages around $ 53 million – the fourth highest in the NFL based on a projection of $ 180.5 million, according to overhecap.com. The team also only has two quarterbacks under contract for 2021: Taylor Heinicke, who signed a two-year deal in February, and Steven Montez, who spent most of last season on the training team and didn’t play an NFL snap.

Kyle Allen, an exclusive legal free agent, is likely to get a $ 850,000 one-year deal for the return, but Washington could pursue a starter in the free agency, through trade, or by draft.

Smith, 36, returned from a broken leg and life-threatening infection in 2018, leading Washington to a 5-1 record in the games he started and the NFC East title last season. His return earned him the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and helped transform a team that started its 1-3 season with a fledgling attack led by sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins .

“Especially when you see what Alex has been through and just his desire and urge to come back and the joy and thrill he gets from playing,” said Rivera in early January. “If you don’t sense that from a man, especially in his age, experience, situation and circumstances, then this is a great example. That’s why you play the game for me. “

But a breakup seemed likely in the past few weeks. Smith had two years left on his $ 23.3 million and $ 25.3 million contract, respectively, and Washington made it clear it was considering departing from him when it made a competitive deal for Matthew Stafford. The Detroit Lions eventually agreed to send him to the Los Angeles Rams instead.

Smith said at the end of the season that it would take him “a few weeks” to decide his future in football, but in later interviews he insisted that he wanted to keep playing. He also spoke openly about Washington’s reception on his return from injury.

“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, in the squad, didn’t want to give me a chance,” Smith said in an interview with the GQ -Magazine. “Mind you, it was a whole new regime. They came in, I’m like the leftovers and I’m injured and I’m that liability. Damn no, they didn’t want me there. At that point, I would have me how You can imagine, with everything I’d been through, couldn’t care less about it. Like it or not, I’ll try it out now. “

Those comments did not fit well with the organization, according to those familiar with the matter.

Smith’s first game in his long recovery was a relief for Allen in Week 5 when he suffered a rain-soaked loss to the Rams at FedEx Field. While his wife and children watched in the stands, Smith scored his first hit since the injury when Aaron Donald, the star defensive tackle, jumped onto his back to retrieve a sack. He took five sacks before the end of the game.

But he returned a month later when Allen suffered an ankle injury at the end of the season, made his debut with a narrow loss to the Lions, and led Washington to a losing season in a four-game winning streak.

Washington ended a fight against the Dallas Cowboys with a Thanksgiving blowout at AT&T Stadium, defeated the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, and then defeated reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in Arizona. Smith suffered a bruise in his surgically repaired right leg that paused him for a two-game playoff spot during Washington’s final push, but returned in week 17 to help the team lift the division with a win at the Philadelphia Eagles to win.

However, he spent his last moments with Washington on the sidelines. Smith’s bruise kept him from playing in the team’s first playoff game in five years, and he could only watch Heinicke Washington lead in a hard-fought loss to eventual Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field.

During the season, Rivera and many of Smith’s team-mates called him an inspiration for successfully returning from an injury that most believed would spell the end of his career, if not worse. Heinicke, who joined Washington’s training team in early December, said Smith’s leadership made his transition easier and was crucial in preparing for his start in the playoffs.

“Last week when I was playing he was waiting to have some of his treatments later in the day to watch a movie with us quarterbacks and prepare for the playoff game which I thought was amazing.” Heinicke said in an interview on Friday. “… Every player in the league has an ego, and I think you have to have an ego to get to that point. He never showed that ego. When another quarterback walked in and started doing well, he was just as excited for the team as if he was playing. That says a lot. “

Now, for the first time since joining the NFL as the No. 1 draft pick in 2005, Smith can choose his next stop as a free agent.

“I know he still wants to play, but if he ever wanted to be a coach or just a mentor to an organization he would think that’s great,” said Heinicke.