ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith decided long ago that he wanted to push hard during his recovery to see where it could take him. It took him back to the starting lineup. Now he has one more decision to make: Does he want to keep playing?
Smith said he hasn't reached any conclusions yet about his future, saying he will take a few weeks to clear his head and talk over his future with his wife, Elizabeth.
"I had so much fun this year, to be back in the locker room and on the field to play a game I love and to lose yourself in it is one of the great feelings in the world," Smith said. "My wife has been through a lot, my family has been through a lot, but that's for another time and place."
Smith could not play in Washington's 31-23 playoff loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night because of a strained right calf muscle suffered on Dec. 13. After that point, Smith played in one game. He reiterated Sunday what he had said often: His calf injury was unrelated to his 2018 broken fibula and tibia.
"It's not the way you want to finish a season," Smith said. "To even be in this situation is something that if presented to me a year ago, two years ago, I would have jumped at it."
That's because a year ago, few thought Smith would make it back to a roster, let alone start six games as he did this season. He said he let Washington coach Ron Rivera know that he could play if needed. But Smith also said that his calf limited him in the second half of Washington's Week 17 victory over Philadelphia.
Rivera said settling the quarterback position will be an offseason priority. He said he'll meet with owner Dan Snyder to lay out his vision for the future and then they'll meet as a staff Monday to discuss the evaluation process.
But when Smith's future was mentioned, Rivera would simply say they would evaluate the situation. However, Rivera did express admiration for Smith trying to come back from his calf injury, which Smith said was more than just a calf injury, though he did not elaborate.
"He's one of the most unselfish players I've ever been around," Rivera said.
Smith's return from his 2018 injury was doubted almost every step of the way, even by people in the organization, many of whom knew his story -- 17 surgeries; near amputation of his right leg -- and watched his ESPN documentary, "Project 11."
Smith had to lobby Rivera this summer that he belonged on the 53-man roster and not injured reserve. He was inactive for the first four games and then became the backup when Dwayne Haskins was benched and Kyle Allen was the starter. Smith became the starter after Allen broke his ankle.
Smith ended up starting six games, with Washington winning five of them. His stats weren't great: He posted a total QBR of 34.7, well below league average (66.4), and threw six touchdowns to eight interceptions. But players praised his leadership and how he kept them calm on the field.
"There's an intangible that some guys have and possess and Alex has it," Rivera said. "Can it be replaced? You'll have to find a guy that has that same type of intangible, and those guys are special. They only come around once in a while. Alex has that kind of intangible. Part of it is because his experience, the game he played and obviously what he's gone through."
When asked whether that would complicate a decision to move on from Smith, Rivera said, "I don't know. That's something we'll have to look at and talk about, that's for sure."
If Smith still wants to play but Washington cuts him, it would save $13.8 million on the salary cap. Smith has two more years left on his contract and would count $24.4 million against the salary cap if he stayed with Washington.
The franchise obtained Smith in a 2018 trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Since he arrived, Washington went a combined 11-5 with him as a starter and 6-26 with anyone else.
He called missing Saturday's game "really difficult."
"Frustrating in the sense that I felt so good, I felt I had come so far through the Pittsburgh game [on Dec. 7] to limping in a little bit and fighting through this," he said. "That's frustrating to not holding up your end of the bargain."
But if his last game was the Week 17 win, Smith sounded OK with that.
"It was more about the attempt and the journey than the outcome," he said. "If I had come up short trying to come back, I would have slept just fine at night knowing I tried. I'm grateful I'm here right now."
Smith's love for playing hasn't waned, but both he and Washington must decide at what level he can still play.
"That feeling it gives you, when you're away from it, you cannot find it anywhere," he said. "You can't duplicate it. You get away from it and you miss it quick."