What happened to Sean Smith and what to expect for 2017

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 09: Sean Smith
OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 09: Sean Smith /

Last offseason, the Raiders made several big splashes in free agency. One of those signings happened to be from our division rival and was supposed to address a major area of concern. Now, he is the concern.

Sean Smith is a talented cornerback, well… was a talented cornerback. During his days with the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith emerged as a top-end corner in the league and earned himself a large payday that the Chiefs simply couldn’t, and shouldn’t, have matched. Enter the Raiders, who in the offseason before the 2016 season, had nearly $70 million in cap space. To say the Raiders could buy whoever they wanted would be a stretch, but honestly, if a player didn’t come to Oakland, it wasn’t because of the money.

Smith got his payday, signing a 4-year, $40 million contract, with half of that total in guaranteed money. Unfortunately for the Raiders, that puts them in a pickle for this season. Should they cut Smith – which they should not do – the Raiders would take on $10 million in dead money. For his play last season, some have called for him to be relegated to the bench or even be cut, but that is a very surface level approach from the casual fans. Let’s dig a little deeper.

In Kansas City, Smith was able to press at the line of scrimmage and use his big frame to physically dominate opponents. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Smith is a big guy, similar to many receivers nowadays. In addition to being able to bump-and-run, Smith had the luxury of having one of football’s best safeties in Eric Berry over his shoulder. Life is a lot easier when a talented safety can cover for corners when they get beat. In essence, Smith was in a perfect situation with Kansas City, and it masked some of his fatal flaws.

Albeit, I am not an NFL scout. I don’t sit and watch tape on players to determine if they would be valuable additions to the team. But, I do know enough about the game to know when a player just isn’t gonna cut it. Believe me, just like most all of Raider Nation, I was excited about the acquisition, what’s not to love? Taking a player at a key position from a hated division rival, to address one of out positions of need. Sounds perfect, right?

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The honeymoon phase did not last very long. Actually, not even really one quarter. In Week 1 against the Saints, Smith got absolutely burned by Brandin Cooks. I’m talking ankles broken, pick up your pride and leave while you still can, burned. After several more instances of Smith getting beat, he got benched. But really, how much blame is actually his?

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He is a press corner. He is tall and physical, and should never be expected to keep up with a small speedster like Cooks. That falls on the defensive coordinator who is failing to properly utilize his players.

However, Smith continued to struggle throughout the year. He was confined to playing in a Cover 3 system which doesn’t utilize much press coverage, and he had Reggie Nelson over his shoulder, not Berry.

A lot went into his downfall, it wasn’t solely him. He has talked about making up for it this season, mentioning he is ready to regain his form.

The addition of John Pagano may help the secondary, and Smith in particular. Yet for some reason he has been training with the second unit. When you pay a player $10 million a season, you expect them to be a difference maker and easily a first stringer.

For the Raiders defense, the second corner position is very much wide open. David Amerson seems locked in as the primary corner, but first-round draft pick Gareon Conley could easily steal Smith’s role.

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Other possibilities remain, perhaps T.J. Carrie really emerges or even the sleeper Kenneth Durden. Who knows at this point? Smith has lost some weight this offseason, so maybe he bounces back. But there is nothing about Smith’s position that is locked in at this point, and he may have to battle for snaps before he can prove himself again.