For the first time in his almost 11-year career, defensive end Will Smith will be playing for a team other than the New Orleans Saints. This is because he was released last week as part of a series of cost-cutting moves.
Smith, who will be 33 by the time the 2014 season starts, has essentially been a 4-3 defensive end his entire career. He was going to transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2013 but a season-ending knee injury (an ACL tear, more specifically) in preseason cut that conversion short.
Smith was a first round pick of the Saints back in 2004 and has 67.5 career sacks in his nine seasons on the field. He led the Saints in sacks 4 times in his 9 years with the team.
He has said that he is not interested in retiring and would like to continue playing and has openly stated that his preference would be to continue as a 4-3 DE instead of being a 3-4 OLB, if he can.
Smith is definitely a player the Raiders will be keeping an eye on. Not only is he a 4-3 DE specialist with good size (at 6’3” and 282 lbs), he has history with Raiders head coach Dennis Allen.
Smith achieved 17.5 total sacks, 5 forced fumbles and 116 total tackles over the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the two years that Dennis Allen coached defensive backs for the Saints. Smith played in 30 of the 32 games over that time.
Smith will likely be a lower-cost option at defensive end with whom Allen and his staff can be comfortable. In his last four playing seasons, Allen never dipped below 5.5 sacks on a season. He has twice crossed 10 sacks in a season with his career best sack count coming in 2009, when he achieved 13.
In comparison, the Raiders current best defensive end Lamarr Houston, who will be a free agent if not re-signed by March 11th, had his career high sack count in 2013, getting 6 sacks on the year.
Getting a veteran like Smith along with other players at the defensive end position can only help Oakland, who not only lacks blue chip players on defense but also lacks depth at one of the most important positions in the NFL.
Ideally, the team will sign Smith as well as other players to plug into defensive end, which will allow the defensive line to rotate out players much more than they did in 2013 when many players appeared to wear down over the course of the season due to being on-field more than the team would prefer.
Reggie McKenzie will have a number of options when free agency starts and has more salary cap money to use than any other team. He has said that he won’t simply use the money on “junk” but if Smith can pass a physical and isn’t demanding too high a salary, he would appear to be a good fit for the Raiders rebuilding team.