Washington releases Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith

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FILE - Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) plays in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, in this Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, file photo. Washington has informed Alex Smith the team is releasing the veteran quarterback, according to a person with direct knowledge of the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday, March 5, 2021, because Smiths release was not yet official. The NFL's Comeback Player of the Year hopes to continue playing next season at age 37. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Washington released AP Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith on Friday, a move that was expected but still provides a cold ending to the veteran quarterback's storybook tenure with the organization.

Smith's release clears just under $15 million in salary cap space for Washington, which is hoping to figure out its long-term QB situation and fill many holes in the aftermath of a 7-9 season, NFC East title and wild-card round loss. Coach Ron Rivera said he met with Smith this week, each side figured it was best to move on, and the organization granted Smith's request to be released.

“I want to thank Alex for his contributions this past year,” Rivera said in a statement. “He made such an impact on our young roster, and his leadership was one of the key factors in our late-season success and in making the playoffs for the first time since 2015.”

Smith made a triumphant return to NFL action last season, two years after breaking two bones in his right leg and requiring 17 surgeries to repair it. His battle against a life-threatening infection and long rehab process to get back on the field became a documentary and an inspirational tale whether he played again or not. And, of course, he did play again.

“To me, it was more about the attempt and the journey than the outcome," Smith said Jan. 10. "If I had come up short trying to come back, I would have slept just fine at night knowing I tried. To me, it was more about that mindset of actually putting myself out there and attempting and really, really attempting this.”

Warm and fuzzy feelings evaporated not long after Smith led Washington to its first playoff berth in five years. Comments by Rivera and new executives Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney and the financial ramifications of releasing Smith now made it clear he wasn't in the plans for next season as the team looks to find a franchise quarterback.

Smith has indicated he plans to continue playing at age 37. He recently told GQ in his most pointed comments yet that Washington didn't want him to come back from his injury — another indication he knew his future would be elsewhere.

Just three years ago, Smith was Washington's present and future at the position. The previous regime, led by president Bruce Allen, agreed to trade a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for Smith and sign him to a $94 million, four-year extension with $71 million guaranteed in February 2018.