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Alex Smith made a remarkable recovery from a gruesome leg injury and led Washington to the playoffs this past season, but he’s now looking for a new team after being released Friday. Chris Szagola/Associated Press

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, and each side figured it was best to move on.

“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 action last season, two years after breaking two bones in his right leg and requiring 17 surgeries to repair the damage. 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 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 team 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.

Smith had Washington off to a 6-3 start that season before breaking his right fibula and tibia in a home game Nov. 18 against Houston. He was hospitalized for almost a month and had a stabilizer on his leg after he was released.

After an arduous rehab, Smith was back in playing shape by last summer but started training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The 2005 No. 1 pick was third on the depth chart behind Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen.

It took Rivera benching and demoting Haskins and Allen getting injured for Smith to get on the field. He made his first appearance since the injury Oct. 11 against the Rams and struggled in poor weather conditions before returning to a backup role.

After Allen injured his right ankle, Smith started at Detroit on Nov. 15 and threw for 390 yards in a 30-27 loss. He won his next four starts before injuring the calf muscle in the same right leg he broke two years earlier, but he was just healthy enough to lead Washington to a victory in the regular-season finale at Philadelphia to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.

With Smith unable to play against Tampa Bay in the wild-card round, Taylor Heinicke impressed but fell short in a loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers.

“Obviously, it’s not the way you want to finish the season, so in that sense, it’s frustrating,” Smith said. “But, bigger picture, to be back playing a role and even being in this situation is something that if had you presented that to me a year ago, two years ago, obviously, I would’ve jumped at.”

Washington went 11-5 in games Smith started and 5-26 in games he didn’t. He could draw interest around the league by teams looking for a mentor figure who could play in a pinch.

BILLS: Buffalo signed veteran safety Micah Hyde to a two-year contract extension.

A person with direct knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press that it averages close to $9.6 million a year. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team did not reveal the value of the deal.

Hyde, 30, had one season remaining on a five-year contract he signed upon joining the Bills in free agency in 2017, and is now locked up through 2023. He is entering his ninth NFL season after spending his first four with the Green Bay Packers.

THE NFL HAS HIRED Maia Chaka as the first Black female official in league history. She will work games during the 2021 season.

“I am honored to be selected as an NFL official,” Chaka said. “But this moment is bigger than a personal accomplishment. It is an accomplishment for all women, my community, and my culture.”

Chaka enters the NFL after working in the Pac-12 and Conference USA. She was selected in 2014 for the NFL’s Officiating Development Program, which identifies college officiating talent with the goal of showing them some of the same experiences as NFL officials before determining if they have the ability to succeed as an NFL official.

A graduate of Norfolk State, Chaka earned her bachelor’s in education in 2006. She is a health and physical education teacher in the Virginia Beach public school system.


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