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Alex Smith announces retirement from NFL, 1 season after inspiring comeback

Quarterback Alex Smith, who completed an inspiring comeback in 2020 after a devastating leg injury, announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday. The 16-year veteran posted a heartwarming video on Instagram to make it official. 

Smith, 36, narrated the video himself, recalling his journey in the NFL from draft day to his injury and his comeback. He thanked the fans and his fellow players from the three teams he suited up for: the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Football Team. 

Smith's journey in the NFL

Smith, who went to college at Utah, was a Heisman finalist in 2004 and was also the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. The San Francisco 49ers drafted him first overall in 2005, something he said he'd never even dreamed of. He went through six different offensive coordinators in his first seven seasons in San Francisco, and worked with Colin Kaepernick for a few years before being traded to the Chiefs in 2013.

During his five years with the Chiefs, Smith was elected to his first Pro Bowl and consistently turned in above average performances. In 2017, he worked with another up-and-coming quarterback who had been drafted earlier that year: Patrick Mahomes. They were only together for one year, but Smith's mentorship meant a lot to Mahomes. 

The Chiefs traded Smith to Washington before the 2018 season, where he played just ten games before his NFL trajectory changed forever. 

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 26: Alex Smith #11 of the Washington Football Team reacts during the second quarter of a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on November 26, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Quarterback Alex Smith is retiring after 16 years in the NFL. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington via Getty Images

Injury and comeback

Smith would have left his mark on the NFL no matter what, but his injury changed everything. In Week 11 of the 2018 season, Smith's right leg was severely injured while he was being sacked. He had multiple fractures to both his tibia and fibula, and the injury was compared to Joe Theismann's career-ending injury. 

Theismann's injury may have ended his career, but Smith's injury threatened his life. He developed a flesh-eating infection that led to sepsis and threatened his leg and his life. Doctors were able to avoid amputating his leg, but he went on to have 17 surgeries in less than a year. He wore a large metal device around his entire right leg, and Smith didn't know if he'd walk again. Returning to football wasn't on his mind. 

Then, as part of his recovery at the military rehab facility Center for the Intrepid, Smith held a football for the first time since his injury. He went from wondering if he'd walk again to imagining an NFL comeback. 

“In my first trip down to the Center for the Intrepid, that was the first time they put a football in my hands and made it OK for me to even think about that,” Smith said in November. “I couldn’t even walk and they had me start throwing, and I remember how therapeutic it was to get a ball again and start throwing. It really energized me.”

In 2020, Smith made his triumphant comeback on the field. In Week 5 against the Los Angeles Rams, he entered the game for 29 offensive snaps and went 9-for-17. He appeared in seven more games in 2020, and started six of them. The Associated Press, Pro Football Writers of America and Sporting News all named him the 2020 Comeback Player of the Year. 

And that enormous leg brace Smith had to wear? It's been turned into a mini Lombardi Trophy

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