NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
According to Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports, the Patriots are currently among the suitors reportedly making a push for Miami Dolphins free agent cornerback Sean Smith; other teams Cole reports have shown interest in Smith include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals, while ESPN 980 Washington’s Chris Russell believes that the Redskins are interested as well. All in all, there should be no shortage of teams in pursuit of Smith, a 6’3”, 25 year-old boundary cornerback.
So does the signing make sense for New England? Read on to find out.
According to ProFootballFocus, Smith was on the field for 1,068 snaps in 2012, with reasonably impressive coverage statistics; he limited opposing wide receivers to 62/113 receiving (54.9%) for 732 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions, while defending eight passes for an 85.1 quarterback rating against. He averaged 5.5 coverage snaps between targets, 1.17 yards per coverage snap, and 10.1 coverage snaps between catches allowed, suggesting he is slightly above average in comparison to the rest of the league.
Smith’s coverage statistics are more noteworthy in comparison to Aqib Talib, who, during his tenure with New England, was targeted once every 5.3 coverage snaps, allowed an average of 1.74 yards per coverage snap, and a catch on every eight snaps in coverage. All three of those figures would rank him near the bottom of the league, and his statistics with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are even less attractive. So, given Talib’s durability concerns, off-the-field issues, and level of play, it would make more sense to sign Smith if forced to choose.
However, it’s also important to note that Smith has never played like an elite cornerback, but will likely command a long-term contract which will pay him like one thanks to his reputation and his physical tools. While Pro Football Focus’ new “Performance Based Value” metric suggests that Smith’s play was worth $1.6 million in 2012, he is likely to earn significantly more in free agency. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport claimed that Smith is “maybe the most coveted name” on the market, while ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Smith will eventually earn a contract which will pay him between $7 and $7.5 million per season on the market.
In short, New England will need to outbid Smith’s other suitors (and ultimately overpay him) in order to secure his services. The Patriots are understandably interested in adding to their stable of cornerbacks, but securing a left cornerback during the free agent period should not come at the expense of long-term financial flexibility through sound investments. Free agency is a period in which teams routinely part with too much money in order to sign a player, and are handcuffed financially in following years, which is why successful teams such as the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, and Pittsburgh Steelers have historically refrained from bidding.
It makes some sense for New England to participate this year, as they are a Super Bowl contender with some money to spend and an inadequate amount of draft picks relative to the number of projected holes on their roster. However, the spending spree they are expected to begin as soon as the free agent period commences seems more characteristic of recently unsuccessful teams such as the Washington Redskins or Philadelphia Eagles than it resembles a sound strategy backed by basic principles of financial investments, such as diversification, risk management, and intensive data analysis.
Should the Patriots sign Smith, they would be accepting a substantial financial risk in order to do so, likely a four-year, $28 million deal or more with significant guaranteed money. As he has just one season under his belt in which he played with the consistency expected of a top option (although Vontae Davis was Miami’s left cornerback that season), New England would effectively be tying a large portion of their salary cap to a player whose production has historically failed to meet the amount of money they would be forced to invest in order to sign him.
While Smith would provide an upgrade to New England’s secondary, the Patriots could likely get similar results for significantly less money through the draft or through a less-coveted option on the market.