Trades in sports are bundles of fun, whether you're plugging in eight-player blockbusters on an Internet generator or interpreting an athlete's tweet that contains a random lyric to see if they're angling to be shipped out. Perhaps the most entertaining part, though, is grading them, both four seconds after they become official and years later when looking back on them.
Yet when it comes to the 2018 Alex Smith trade, good luck trying to arrive at a fair grade or determining if Washington is ultimately an undoubted winner or a loser of the transaction. The backstory is just too loaded to come to a simple conclusion.
To acquire Smith a little more than 24 months ago, the Burgundy and Gold gave the Chiefs a third-round pick and up-and-coming corner Kendall Fuller. At the time, fans decried the inclusion of Fuller, but the defensive back returned last March in free agency.
Strictly going off of compensation, it would appear that Washington did well for themselves, considering they basically lost Fuller temporarily, if only by pure luck, and merely had to part ways with a single Day 2 selection. That’s much cheaper than what the Rams sacrificed for Matt Stafford and what the Colts paid for Carson Wentz.
The problem is that the franchise immediately inked Smith to a lengthy, pricey extension, one that drew swift criticism considering that the quarterback's best days were almost surely behind him. Once you toss that into the equation, assessing how the organization fared in landing Smith becomes far more muddled.
And that's only the beginning of the complications.
Smith opened up his debut campaign with a 6-3 record (if you ever forget that mark, just ask Bruce Allen; he'll tout it whenever he gets the chance). Then, of course, the season, Smith's career and regular life were all upended in November of 2018 in a matchup with the Texans.
At that point, the focus wasn't on whether Washington got it right or wrong with the veteran. Instead, everyone just wanted that veteran to be able to walk.
From there, a grueling rehab commenced, one that eventually led Smith back on to the field last summer at training camp. Individual drills soon followed, as did work in 7-on-7 situations and then full-squad activities. By the end of camp, the passer found a spot on the roster.
That on its own was worthy of celebration. But there'd also be more feats to come.
Smith's triumphant milestones in 2020 included taking his first real snap since the leg injury, throwing his first touchdown, making his first start and winning his first start. After he checked all of those off, he continued to contribute and soon emerged as one of the key figures in Washington's playoff run. While a calf ailment prevented him from finishing that run, it wouldn't have existed without him.
So, Smith's broken leg is what derailed the 2018 bunch, which was shaping up to be a postseason participant. That said, his valiant comeback from the broken leg sparked the 2020 NFC East title-winning group, which was shaping up to draft near the top of the board.
How the hell do you level with that in an overall evaluation of the Smith swap?
Some, and perhaps even the majority, will still label the decision to grab Smith as a failure, since that catastrophic day a few years ago kept him from solidifying the starting spot and his contract has slowed up Washington's ability to pursue other solutions. Those facts can't really be disputed.
The more positive crowd, on the other hand, will cite the entire story and how Smith motivated millions of people by not retiring, placing that immeasurable impact on top of the way Smith guided the offense during Ron Rivera's first season and set the entire operation up to advance into mid-January. He was a difference-maker with the club, and in more ways than one.
As a whole, maybe the best exercise is to look at the primary takeaway from Smith's stint with Washington — which is expected to come to an end shortly — as opposed to putting a single number or letter on his tenure. With Rivera on the search for an answer under center, much like Allen and Co. were back in 2018, that feels more valuable.
What's the lesson, then?
Yes, so many things can be taken from Smith and Washington's partnership, but the most resounding might just be that an NFL team aiming to fix its QB issue is in control of that objective right up until they aren't.
In Smith, Washington nabbed a proven, known commodity — not necessarily a super-talented thrower or universally-acclaimed option, but still, a respected pro with a track record of winning — and then watched as that proven, known commodity ran right into a collision and adversity that no one could've predicted.
Now, they're on the hunt once again and they almost certainly have identified a quarterback or two that they favor to place in their huddle. Hopefully, they'll be able to get him, too, and then find a way to scheme up a system that fits his skills, surround him with more weapons and further round out the defense. And after that, well, guess only time will tell.
Washington can control who they add. Beyond that, no one’s fully in charge. That lesson, while not exactly helpful, is always worth remembering.