When Alex Smith suffered a compound fracture to the tibia and fibula in his right leg against the Houston Texans, the former Pro Bowler knew he had a long road to recovery. What the former first overall pick didn’t expect was the infection. Necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating disease, threatened to take Smith’s leg and his life. Seventeen surgeries and endless hours of rehab later, Smith’s medical team cleared him for full football activity last Friday.

Smith expects to report to the Washington Football Team on Monday. According to ESPN’s Stephania Bell, the team will decide what steps Smith makes toward returning to football after taking a physical. The hope is that he’ll participate at some point in training camp, but that’s not a guarantee.

Smith discussed his mindset with Bell in an interview,

“For me, all eyes are on practice,” he said. “That’s the next step. I have to go prove to myself and certainly to everybody else that I can go practice.”

In 2018, Smith suffered a devastating compound fracture in Week 11. After the Kansas City Chiefs let Smith walk in free agency the previous offseason in favor of a young gunslinger named Patrick Mahomes, Smith led Washington to a 6-3 record in the team’s first nine games. Jay Gruden’s squad finished the year 7-9, wilting without Smith’s leadership.

While Smith received clearance from his medical team, the 36-year-old still needs the official “okay” from Washington’s medical staff before returning to the field. On the quarterback’s birthday, Smith’s wife shared a video of him working out in anticipation of an eventual return. Smith is in shape, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to handle a 300-pound defensive lineman pounding him into the ground.

Washington should approach Smith’s return with caution. The team already has two quarterbacks with limited starting experience on the roster. Dwayne Haskins, the 15th overall pick from last year, started seven games in 2019. Washington and new head coach Ron Rivera also traded for Kyle Allen, who started 12 games in Carolina last season.

Smith’s return to football is great news, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for real NFL action. The veteran might not even see playing time this year. It all comes down to how Washington evaluates him and where Rivera wants to take the franchise moving forward. Rivera did not draft Haskins, nor did he sign Smith to a four-year, $94 million deal.

As the Washington Football Team evaluates its precarious position, the team can’t rule out Smith’s return as a starter either late in the 2020 season or in 2021. Smith’s contract doesn’t end until after 2022, but there is a potential out for Washington after this coming year.

Amidst team owner Dan Snyder changing the franchise’s name after significant public criticism and 15 former female staff members alleging several prominent male members of the organization sexually harassed them, Smith’s return is the latest twist in Washington’s hectic offseason. Hopefully, the veteran quarterback makes a complete return to football and finishes his career on his own terms.