Now that he's off of the PUP list, Alex Smith's 2020 has really, truly begun.
But how will it end?
That becomes the key question for the quarterback and the Washington Football Team, and it's one that could be solved rather soon or not for quite a while. His road back has been unpredictable so far, and what happens in the future could be as well.
So, here's a breakdown of all the outcomes that could unfold for Smith and the franchise, along with analysis of how likely each one feels.
He wins the starting job
Ron Rivera has stated multiple times that as soon as Smith is able to fully participate, he'll find himself in the mix for the starting job. So, let's take the coach at his word for this scenario.
If you go by past accomplishments, Smith easily — like, as easily as Daron Payne lifts a 10-pound dumbbell — beats out Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. And, if he is comletely healthy, maybe he's the passer who's best-suited to win in Week 1, thanks largely to that experience.
However, with the way Rivera has often described 2020 as an evaluation-focused season (plus the fact that he's in Year 1 of his contract), winning on Sept. 13 isn't the most pressing priority.
In addition to that, who's to say that Smith — at 36 years old and coming off such a traumatic injury — will prove to be better than Haskins as well as Allen?
Because Washington isn't on the verge of contending and because the franchise really needs to see what it has in its young passers (namely Haskins), Smith capturing the starting job feels unlikely.
Still, as he put it Monday, "At some point, I'm going to find out what my limitations are. But I haven't found them yet." Doubting him thus far hasn't worked out, and maybe this'll be his next wild achievement.
He makes the roster but not as starter
As established, this should be Haskins' team to lead. Him having the chance to learn in 2020 and show the staff that he can be a true No. 1 QB would be the best possible thing to come out of the campaign as a whole.
That would then slot Smith in as the backup, or behind Allen as the third man on the depth chart. If he's the latter, he'd be inactive on game days.
Still, finding a role as the second or third option would be a remarkable accomplishment, allow him to continue to work back into form at practice and set him up to have an impact in the locker room, in meetings and all around the facility.
Don't forget, too, that no one is certain how the coronavirus could affect the roster. Keeping Smith around in case something happens to Haskins, Allen or both is logical and could be prudent.
As of now, this appears to be a solid, and the most sensible, path for everyone to follow.
He is traded
Don't get too invested in this one.
Asking for even a seventh-rounder in return for a signal caller as old as Smith, who hasn't demonstrated that he can produce as a pro again, seems like it'd be too much.
Maybe Washington could convince someone to bite if they were willing to foot a lot of the bill on Smith's contract? Even then, any kind of trade is a total longshot right now.
He is released
*Copies and pastes* Don't get too invested in this one.
Should Washington just drop Smith, they'll have more than $20 million in dead cap money this season and nearly $11 million more next season.
If they knew he wasn't going to suit up again, perhaps they would go this route. Now that he's gearing up to try and contribute, though, they might as well see what he has to offer.
Something else unforeseen occurs
The bulk of this section involves something unfortunate, like another injury, that would push Smith to I.R. That's not exactly fun to imagine, but it is possible.
Smith is a strong candidate to be on this squad come September. Yeah. Really.
There are ways to move on from him, of course, but neither avenue — a trade or a release — is that simple or cost effective.
So, with less than a month until the opener, Washington is in a position where they should simply let Smith reacquaint himself with playing and go from there. And as long as he is able to run their offense, well, he's bound to factor in to their short-term future in some respect.