After spending days in the hospital and enduring multiple surgeries on his broken leg, Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith finally has been released -- with an encouraging prognosis, no less -- per league sources.
There is some optimism, but hardly certainty, that Smith will be able to resume his NFL career, though the priority for now is simply recovering from a spiral leg fracture that became infected after multiple surgeries.
Smith's future is at stake, and so is the Redskins'.
If Smith were unable to play, the Redskins would have to eat $20.4 million worth of salary-cap space next season and $21.4 million in 2020 -- essentially about 13 percent of the NFL's projected salary cap.
A financial scenario such as this would catapult the Redskins back to where they were in 2012, when the NFL docked the team $36 million worth of salary-cap space for its approach to illegally structuring contracts in 2010, when there was no salary cap. That penalty essentially amounted to 15 percent of the salary cap back then.
That situation now would be a double whammy for Washington. Not only would the Redskins be losing their quarterback if Smith was unable to return, but the team also would have less money to spend on a new one, putting Washington at a major disadvantage the next two years. The Redskins have only approximately $20 million in salary-cap space this offseason, but they can release several high-priced veterans to create more room.
Smith broke his right leg in the third quarter of Washington's 23-21 home loss to the Houston Texans on Nov. 18. He was quickly transported to a hospital to undergo surgery to repair his tibia and fibula.
Smith's backup, Colt McCoy, broke a leg in a Dec. 3 loss at Philadelphia. But McCoy might return this season and, if nothing else, should be fine for spring workouts.
Because of their cap situation, the Redskins' best option to find another quarterback could be the draft. They could receive four compensatory picks this offseason, which would give them a total of nine selections in April. Neither of Washington's current quarterbacks, Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez, was on the roster before Smith's injury.
Shortly before the Redskins learned of the cap penalty in 2012, they acquired the rights to the second overall pick in the draft. They selected quarterback Robert Griffin III, but it cost them two future first-round picks and, coupled with the cap penalty, made it difficult for them to improve. That history could lead to some caution this time if they need to land another quarterback in the draft.