Should the Patriots Sign Cornerback Sean Smith?

Is Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith worth his free-agent price tag? (Photo: US Presswire)

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.

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12 Responses to “Should the Patriots Sign Cornerback Sean Smith?”

  1. cc says:

    Man, IMO just cut the crap. The team needs 3 thing’s & it needs 2 just go and get em!
    A top OT drafted 2 respectively replace Vollmer who is on injured borrowed time….
    A brute with a motor/complimentary piece on the line besides Big Vince DT/NT.
    & A real drafted DB added that is actual first round style talent, not second or third rate.

    Between, a 1st. A 2nd. & A 3rd rounder +using a next year pick added in… (esentially making it 2 first rounders OR 2 higher second rounders), and trading combo of Mallet, a Running Back,, Cunningham, and maybe another in for good measure …adding anotherthere is NO REASON for the Pats not too bring in 3 key needed pieces of TOP TIER DRAFTED TALENT.

  2. MaineMan says:

    Actually, I don’t think it makes sense for the Pats to sign Smith. I expect he’ll end up being far more expensive than Talib. I wasn’t thrilled with Talib’s overall play in 2012, but retaining him at the $4M-$5M range (if possible), AND picking up a lower-tier FA with some man-coverage and slot skills, AND drafting a guy like Jamar Taylor seems to make more sense.

    • MatthewJones says:

      I think Talib will make more than $4 or $5 million in free agency. Leodis McKelvin’s deal was for four years, and $20 million (average annual value of $5 million), and you can expect agents to use that contract as a barometer for their own clients. It’s highly unlikely that any of the top free agent cornerbacks will settle for less than McKelvin made, especially considering that he was a reserve cornerback and return specialist last season.

      • td says:

        The Bills must be crazy or they don’t fully trust their young CB’s.
        One thing for sure; our defense got better with Talib and Dennard at CB rather than Arrington and McCourtey. It it costs $5-6mil to get a better defense, they need to do it before 2017.

      • MaineMan says:

        Well, yeah, I expect agents to TRY to use McKelvin’s contract for leverage. But I also expect team personnel guys to respond, “Dude! Really?! You’re using the Bills as an example?!”

        Seriously, though, I think Smith ends up getting not much more than $7.5M per year in this “buyer’s market”, especially with some pretty decent CB talent likely extending well into the 2nd round of the draft. I think that are too many questions about Talib (many of them unjustified, actually) for him to get anywhere near that, even though he may end up being among the top five highest-paid FAs out of this year’s crop.

        I think Talib ends up having to choose between staying with the perennially contending Pats for something like 4yrs/$18M-$22M (with incentives) or getting maybe a couple million more (total) from a non-contender. I really don’t think he sees an offer that blows him away compared to what the Pats offer.

        That said, there’s always a possibility that the Pats dump him anyway in favor of a seemingly “lesser” press-man veteran with their sights set on picking up someone like Poyer in the draft and adding another coverage safety in FA.

    • JV says:

      I have no idea why any Pats fan that has been paying attention would want the Pats to draft a CB over aquiring a FA?? Drafting hasnt gone well at all.

  3. Ron says:

    As a Miami Dolphin fan PLEEEEEESE sign Sean Smith

  4. Joe Blake says:

    Teams generally win in free agency if they are a destination spot for a player who is willing to take a Super Bowl run discount. My guess is these players are those nearing the end of their career and who have already made a bundle of money. Hopefully, the Pats can squeeze a year or two out of a seasoned vet and pull another Roman Pfifer (sp?) type score. This discussion alludes to the importance of drafting well.

    • MatthewJones says:

      I agree, I’m all for trying to add some veterans on one-year deals and trying to get one last run out of them. Sometimes it hasn’t worked in the past (Fred Taylor, Torry Holt, Shawn Springs, etc.) but it’s a low-risk move which should also help the locker room. This is currently a very young team, so bringing in a few veterans should help. I’d especially favor a guy like Charles Woodson on a one-year deal, as many of the young secondary players we’ve brought in recently haven’t developed as expected.

      • Russell Easterbrooks says:

        I like Woodson on a 1 year deal IF the cost is not to high.Woodson missed most of last year, so his body is rested. Not Reed however, who I don’t care for.
        I like Derrick Cox better than Smith, and I think his money would be less, say 3 -4 mil a year.
        Drafting a CB as well to keep young cost effective players coming on board. I like Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Demetrius McCray, as possiblities depending on when we pick.

      • mjp says:

        I’ve seen Chris Houston and Sheldon Brown near the top of the FA list at PFF. Houston in particular had very good coverage numbers despite playing for a terrible pass-defense, makes me wonder what he’d look like with some safety help (McCourty’s impact>Talib’s).

        These big name CB’s didn’t play particularly well (Talib included) so if we can get a guy who fits that big or tough press-man type we should be able to repeat last year’s improvement. I think 2 CB’s, 1 cheaper veteran, and re-signing Arrington is ideal. A strong-safety like Adrian Wilson could be in the mix so 2 new FA CB’s is asking a lot on top of that. The draft is full of SS’s and CB’s so maybe BB can finally figure that out.

        Steven Gregory single handedly (not a word spell-check?) destroyed out D’s chance to stop the Ravens, from the opening drive he was awful and in that lead-losing 3rd qtr drive he was the culprit on almost every play, missed tackles, bad angles, lost in coverage, you name it, he was an abomination back there.

        • McTash says:

          Talib went out – still not sure how he got hurt on that play – and that threw off the balance forcing Arrington back outside and Cole to the slot. You will recall Cole also got burned big time along with Gregory. The Ravens made excellent half time adjustments to take advantage of the pre Talib defense, which wasn’t improved because of Talibs talents but because it allowed others – McCourety, Dennard and Arrington – to play positions better suited for their skills. If Arrington becomes realistic and is brought back as the slot CB and we get a decent veteran CB to replace Talib (or a Healthy Dowling or top rookie CB) then we can maintain the balance that lead to success late last year.

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