LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Football Team's postgame interview sessions Sunday focused on the feel-good story of quarterback Alex Smith's return to the field in a 30-10 loss in Week 5 against the Los Angeles Rams.
His first game action since suffering a gruesome leg injury two years ago helped obscure a more sobering discussion about the team's quarterback position. After five games, Washington has benched its starter and questions remain about what's left and what's next.
Coach Ron Rivera will stick with Kyle Allen at starter as long as he's healthy and Smith will remain the backup. Dwayne Haskins Jr., who was sent home from the practice facility because of illness on Wednesday, started the first four games and will continue as the third quarterback.
Is Allen more than a backup?
Health will likely be the biggest factor in deciding how long Allen remains the starter. Washington (1-4) traded for him in the offseason because of his knowledge of coordinator Scott Turner's offense, having played in it for two years with Carolina.
Rivera liked how Allen ran the offense in his nearly two quarters of play vs. the Rams. Allen led them on one touchdown drive, capping it with an element the others can't bring right now: mobility. But Rivera also liked his patience on a pivot route by Terry McLaurin, waiting for the receiver to cut inside and then back outside where he could lead him into a 17-yard catch and run.
With upcoming games against the New York Giants (0-5) (twice in three weeks, including 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox), Dallas Cowboys (2-3), Detroit Lions (1-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (1-3-1), Allen has a chance to show he can be more than a backup -- or at least a solid and reliable one. In 12 starts with Carolina last season, he threw 17 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and lost seven fumbles.
"Kyle brought some energy," Turner said. "He did a nice job running the offense. ... Kyle did what we asked him to do. I'm looking forward to seeing him continue to play."
What does Smith have left?
Smith replaced the injured Allen on Sunday, his first time playing in a game since he broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg on Nov. 18, 2018. He had been inactive for the first four games and was understandably rusty; he completed nine of 17 for 37 yards, was sacked six times and under duress countless others.
"It [was] almost unfair," Rivera said of Smith's day. "I thought he stood tall. I thought he did some good things. There are some things we'll work at and he'll improve at and we'll continue to get better."
Before his injury, Smith used his mobility to extend plays or hurt teams with his legs. But he also had been sacked a lot in the past: Sunday was the 10th time he has been sacked six or more times, but the first occurrence since 2016.
"We definitely were kind of licking our chops," Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said, "especially when he came in the game, because we knew we didn't have to run after anybody."
Rivera said Smith moved well, though it was clear the 17 surgeries on his right leg have had an impact.
"I saw him get away a couple times," Rivera said. "It was hard. It was very difficult to have success in that situation."
Smith's value extends beyond the field; indeed, he's always one of the first players, if not the first, to arrive at the facility. That was true before he had made the roster and when he was third string.
But at age 36, and having endured what he did, Smith's future in Washington could be brief. If he's cut after the season, Smith would count $10.8 million vs. the salary cap, but the the move would save Washington $13.6 million.
What's next for Haskins?
A breakup with Haskins appears inevitable as both sides will want to move on. Two coaching staffs have now issued the same concerns about Haskins, centering on the off-field work they say he fails to do during the week to prepare for games and even practices. They want him to be the first one in and last one out, or to stay after practice to work on his game, and not doing so has frustrated coaches as well as some teammates. Several sources say those concerns have been communicated to Haskins by both staffs.
Rivera has told Haskins he hasn't quit on him. The coach also has said multiple times that the unusual offseason, because of the coronavirus pandemic, contributed to Haskins' struggles and prevented the staff from learning more about him.
For now, it'll be about how Haskins handles his situation in the coming weeks. He knows his future likely will be with another organization, not the one that drafted him No. 15 overall in 2019. However, there has been no trade request made and the team has not fielded any calls on his potential availability. The feeling is it'll be tough to trade him even if there's a desire from both parties to seek one by the Nov. 3 deadline.
But another team could take a chance on a 23-year-old quarterback with a good arm and a $1.8 million base salary in 2021, believing that after a couple years sitting behind a veteran could help. If Washington trades or releases Haskins after the season, it would cost the team $8.5 million of dead cap room in 2021.
"As we continue to get into this and we get further down the road, who knows what's going to happen?" Rivera said. "But ... it's no different from the expectation of any other player, and that's to be in the meetings, learning, studying, being at practice, learning and studying, participating. That's what I expect of all of our players."