Alex Smith, the reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year and former San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback, officially retired from professional football on Monday, April 19.
The 16-year-veteran, who the 49ers drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, announced the news in a heartfelt and emotional Instagram video posted to his personal account.
The message highlighted a near career-ending injury Smith suffered two years ago, the painful and uncertain road back to the NFL, and a storybook ending that saw him take the field successfully as a starter multiple times in 2020 for the Washington Football Team.
One of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
Thanks for being an inspiration, Alex Smith. (via @lizbsmith11/IG) pic.twitter.com/HOqggvmJf7
— NFL (@NFL) April 19, 2021
“Even though I’ve got plenty of snaps left in me, after 16 years of giving this game everything I’ve got, I can’t wait to see what else is possible,” Smith said in the video. “But first, I’ll take a little time to enjoy a few of those walks with my wife, and my kids have no idea what’s coming for them in the backyard.”
Gruesome Injury Nearly Ended Smith’s Career Years Ago
On Nov. 18, 2018, Smith dropped back to pass in a game against the Houston Texans. He was hit in the backfield and suffered a compound fracture, breaking both the tibia and fibula in his right leg.
Following his initial surgery, Smith battled an infection of flesh-eating bacteria. The infection, on top of the severity of the break, led to health concerns so severe there was public speculation that Smith may even lose his leg. It would be another 16 surgeries before the quarterback began his rehab in earnest as part of the long road back to an NFL field.
“Two years ago, I was stuck in a wheelchair staring down at my mangled leg wondering if I’d ever be able to go on a walk with my wife again or play games with my kids in the yard,” Smith said. “Putting my helmet back on was the farthest thing from my mind. I kept asking myself, ‘All this for a stupid game?'”
But it was football and a fighting spirit that helped Smith find the strength and will required to make it all the way back to a starting role in 2020.
Smith started six games for the Washington Football Team last season, after which he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. The team went 5-1 in those six starts on its way to a playoff berth.
“No, this isn’t just a game,” Smith continued in the video message he posted Monday. “It’s not just what happens between those white lines on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about the challenges and the commitment they require.”
“It’s about the bond between those 53 guys in the locker room,” he continued. “To everyone out there … I want to say thank you for believing me, for helping me believe in myself and in the impossible.”
NFL, 49ers React to Smith’s Retirement
The quarterback, who split his 16-year career between San Francisco, the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington, was widely congratulated and celebrated Monday.
Jed York, 49ers CEO, released a statement Monday via Twitter. In it, he said that during his time as a 49er “…(Smith) represented our franchise with class both on and off the field, and his contributions to the 49ers organization will be remembered forever.”
"You will always be part of the #49ers family."
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) April 19, 2021
Smith was with the 49ers for a total on nine years, including the 2008 season, which he missed in its entirety due to a shoulder injury. He started 75 games for the franchise, throwing for more than 14,000 yards and 81 touchdown passes.
Former 49ers running back Frank Gore said on Twitter he was “Blessed to start this (NFL) journey with (Smith).”
Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, who played behind Smith during his first season in the league, said he admired the long-time signal caller.
“I’m just grateful for the time I had with him,” Mahomes said. “He really helped me develop into the quarterback I am today.”
The Denver Broncos, a team for which Smith never suited up, also offered an online send off — one that perhaps best captures the league-wide sentiment regarding the long-time veteran who started for three NFL teams and won everywhere he went.
“Nothing but respect, Alex Smith,” the Broncos’ tweet read.