When Sean Smith signed that 4 year, 38 million dollar contract with the Raiders last March, the Pasadena born cornerback envisioned a perfect homecoming back to California. After 3 solid seasons in Kansas City, there was no reason to believe otherwise. Unfortunately, it was an up and down season for Smith. At times, he played really well against the taller wide receiver and in zone coverage. But other times, Smith was exposed by the quicker receiver on deep patterns. Going into year two, and most of his guaranteed money off the books at seasons end, Smith will have to prove to Head Coach Jack Del Rio and Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr that he’s worth the nine million dollar price tag in 2018.
2017 NFL Free Agency: Taking a look at the best available players remaining in free agency
Remembering Chris Cornell: Reliving Soundgarden’s 2014 NFL Kickoff performance
NFL Past and Present: Comparing the current Miami offense to Dolphins’ offenses of seasons past
Let’s take a look at the ugly part first. On plays where Smith looked bad, it seemed like they always went for a long gain and/or touchdown. These explosive plays overshadowed the good games for Smith. For example, the 98 yard TD from Brandon Cooks to start the season was rough and the 47 yarder against Travis Benjamin in week 15 was too easy. In both cases, the speed of Cooks and Benjamin overmatched the bigger sized cornerback (6’3” 220lbs). Smith struggled in those situations but flourished in others.
To support Smith, Reggie McKenzie went out and drafted Gareon Conley this past April. Conley will play the nickel back early in his career and be responsible for the slot receiver. This will allow Smith to face up against the bigger wide out and lead like he has in years past. For instance, Smith ranked as the 18th best cornerback last season according to Pro Football Focus. Two reasons for the high grade was his ability to make a plays on the ball (11 pass breakups and 2 interceptions) and a penalty free year.
Realistically, the decision will be between Smith and David Amerson in the offseason. Amerson’s contract breaks down like Smith’s, where his cap hit next season disappears. And McKenzie will be in the process of resigning 2016 DYOP Khalil Mack to a lucrative deal. Therefore, Smith will have to deliver a great season to motivate McKenzie to pay him in 2018 (which he has the talent to do so) or restructure his deal to stay with the contending Raiders. We will knew by season’s end with route was selected.