Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
Don’t tell that to Alex Smith.
Smith experienced a devastating tibia-fibula (‘tib-fib’) fracture that brought his 1st season in DC to an abrupt end. During a horribly unlucky tackle, Smith’s lower leg was twisted with such violence both bones were broken. The fracture was compound, meaning the sharpened end of one of the bones protruded through his skin. There may have been some damage to other supporting structures in his lower leg. Smith’s career was quickly and understandably pronounced over.
Redskins fans in particular are familiar with career-ending injuries. We all watched the horrific end of Joe Theismann’s career courtesy of Lawrence Taylor. We saw Lavar Arrington end Troy Aikman’s career, and we witnessed the last of a seemingly endless string of violent hits that likely have ended the talented Jordan Reed’s football career.
When a career-ending injury happens, we recognize it. As Smith was carted off the field in agony, it was plain to see. We all pronounced him ‘done’. But I’m going to suggest perhaps we, and most internet experts (aka Twitter posters) were all wrong. Smith isn’t done. And he may shock everyone by not only playing again, but playing again this season. There’s even an outside chance he progresses far enough to beat out an inexperienced (if more physically gifted) Dwayne Haskins for the starting job in 2020.
Yeah. I know. I’m crazy. There’s no way Smith ever plays NFL football again. It’s common knowledge. Someone had better let Alex Smith know – because he thinks he’s coming back.
I can offer up an uneducated opinion on any given topic with the best of them. But in this case, I have some personal expertise. I’m not a world-renowned Orthopedic surgeon. But I have spent 25 years in the healthcare setting, much of that time managing units that care for patients who’ve suffered traumatic injuries. I’ve learned 4 things over my 25 years.
No patient is the same and there is no such thing as a universal prognosis.
Attitude and motivation level are huge factors in any patient’s recovery.
The human body has a remarkable ability to heal, even from the most debilitating of injuries.
Medical staff are smart – but they are also frequently wrong.
Alex Smith didn’t just experience a terrible injury. He experienced complications. While we don’t have access to his medical record, we do know that he suffered at least one major infection (and possibly sepsis – the spread of infection through one’s system that is frequently life-threatening). We know that he experienced numerous surgeries, some of those likely to remove necrotic non-healing skin and tissue, some possibly to insert, remove, reinforce, or replace hardware knitting his broken bones together. On top of the trauma of his injuries, Alex has no doubt weathered a number of complications. One didn’t have to see more than one or two images of Alex trudging around Redskins Park or at public events with an external fixator literally screwed into the bones of his lower extremity to know – Alex was one ****ed up dude.
I have no inside information on Smith’s current status. But I don’t need it to form the opinion I am getting ready to express. Smith not only could return, it’s likely he will return. The questions Redskins fans have been raising about our QB situation are the wrong ones. Who will backup Dwayne Haskins? What vet mentor will the Redskins sign to provide Haskins experience, tutelage, and leadership as he grows as a starter? The better question may turn out to be ‘Can Dwayne Haskins beat out Alex Smith for the starting job?’
I know. You’re saying it again. ‘Are you crazy? Smith is never playing football again. The whole reason we drafted Dwayne Haskins was because we knew he’d never play again.’ I don’t blame you for believing it. Who wouldn’t believe it having watched Smith traverse all of the adversity thrown at him over the past 15 months?
There are a lot of reasons I’m going against conventional wisdom in this case.
Smith’s surgeons and physicians aren’t the ones calling his career over. We can’t know what exactly they are saying to Alex. But I think it’s unlikely had they told him he would never play again, or that it would be unsafe for him to play again, that he’d be aggressively pursuing a return.
Smith has had a long career, but has never achieved the level of success he wanted and likely deserved. After his best NFL season ever, he was thanked for his work and sent on his way. That may have been the right decision, but I guarantee you it left him with a chip on his shoulder and a feeling he had something to prove.
In a league where Alex isn’t even one of the oldest QBs, he’s not ready to retire.
Smith is a determined, tough SOB. If you tell him he can’t, it’s almost a certainty that he will.
Bones, even terribly broken ones, heal, sometimes even stronger than they were pre-injury.
Alex Smith and I may not be the only ones who believe he’s coming back. The Redskins must believe so. Why else continue to carry him on the roster, forking over millions of dollars to a player who will never take the field again? Of course, Smith would get paid regardless –there’s no escaping that reality, nor should there be. But if he had been definitively deemed unable to play going forward, surely they would have come to a retirement and compensation package, hired him on staff, or come to some other accommodation?
The Redskins also believe Alex Smith is coming back.
Finally, I think recent statements by Ron Rivera regarding the fluid state of the Redskins QB competition also speak to his belief that Alex will be competing for the starting role in the 2020 Training Camp and preseason. Some of you will argue, that’s just a tactic to motivate Dwayne Haskins. You could be right. But I don’t think so. There is more conventional wisdom out there, hinting that the worst thing that could ever happen to Haskins is the Redskins not anointing him the 2020 starter outright. If I’m right and Smith makes a shocking return to the active roster in a few months, it’s still quite possible that Haskins proves himself the more able starter. Smith may be quite capable of playing under center, but it would be hard to argue that his mobility will be equal to his pre-injury level. Haskins is a big, strong, smart, accurate QB. But he is still woefully inexperienced. If Alex Smith looks like Alex Smith, is clearly more comfortable under center, and able to run Scott Turner’s offense efficiently, does anyone doubt he would have a legitimate shot at earning the starter’s spot?
I think it could well happen.
Whether that’s a good thing for the development of Dwayne Haskins or whether his young psyche will be bruised forever by the injustice of it all – I can’t tell you.
Then again – maybe it would be the best thing that ever happened to him.