Two years after suffering one of the most devastating leg injuries in NFL history, Alex Smith is on the cusp of making an improbable comeback. Not only has Smith been cleared to participate in football activities, but Washington activated him off the physically unable to perform list on Sunday, which means he's now eligible to practice with the team, something he hasn't done since November 2018.
Back in Week 11 of 2018, Smith suffered a compound fracture in his leg that resulted in a broken tibia and fibula. After the injury, Smith underwent what was supposed to be a one-off surgery, but shortly after the operation, Smith's leg became infected with a flesh-eating bacteria. After that happened, Smith had to undergo 16 more surgeries before the problem was under control. According to Smith's wife, Elizabeth, amputation of the leg was considered at one point.
During an interview in February, Alex said he was "lucky to be alive" after the nightmarish ordeal.
When Washington reported for training camp in late July, Smith had actually already been cleared to play by his surgical team. However, the team doctors in Washington weren't quite ready to give him an OK to play, so the quarterback was put on the PUP list to start camp.
In early August, Smith worked out for four consecutive days, which apparently impressed the training staff in Washington, because less than two weeks after that string of workouts, Smith was given the thumbs-up to return.
With Smith now expected to be back on the field, that could throw a wrench into Washington's quarterback competition. Going into training camp, Dwayne Haskins seemed like a shoo-in to win the job, but with Smith now competing for the starting spot, Washington coach Ron Rivera is likely going to have a full-blown quarterback competition on his hands.
Rivera, who admitted in early August that he's been "pleasantly surprised" by Smith's rehab, said he's ready for a QB competition to happen if Smith is cleared to play.
"If Alex is healthy and continues to get healthy and we do activate him, he's going to be in the throes of this competition," Rivera said last week, via NBC Sports Washington. "It's going to unfold very nicely as a football team for us because competition is only going to make you better. It's going to push the young guys as well."
If Smith looks anything like the quarterback he did before his injury, he's going to have a strong chance to win the job. Before suffering the compound fracture, Washington had a 6-3 record with Smith and was sitting in first place in the NFC East after 10 weeks. After Smith went down, the team finished the season 1-6 in the final seven weeks.
Whether he wins the job, the fact that Smith even made it back on the field is a cause for celebration, and that's exactly what his family did on Saturday after they found out that the quarterback had been cleared to return to football.