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Were I John Dorsey, cornerback Sean Smith would be the next player I locked up. That’s probably a poor choice of words given his highly-publicized DUI citation last summer, but I still think he warrants the most consideration. Beyond this isolated off-the-field incident, Smith’s been a model player and teammate since coming to Kansas City. I’m sure some of you will have your reservations, but give me five minutes and I’ll make my case.
1. The cupboard’s full, but largely untested.
Over the past two years, the Kansas City Chiefs have invested three draft picks, on Days 1 and 2 of the annual draft, into the cornerback position. Phillip Gaines was the 87th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Rookie Marcus Peters was the 18th pick of this year’s draft class. Why should the Chiefs re-sign Smith after spending two high picks on Gaines and Peters? I’m glad you asked.
Allowing Smith to walk in free agency demands considerable progress from both young players over the next 12 months. It’s not unreasonable to think Gaines will continue to mature in his second season. He has the physical tools to be an above-average cornerback in the NFL, but so does Marcus Cooper, and his sophomore slump should give the front office reason for pause (with Gaines). Peters will have only one season to prepare himself for a starting job and he’ll have to do it with limited snaps.
I’m fairly confident one of them will be ready for the big stage come 2016. I have little faith that the both of them will be. Smith’s a known quantity that gives them additional time to develop their young talent at the position. While he figures to be an expensive insurance policy, it’ll be money well spent.
2. A favorable 2015 cap situation.
Even if none of the $8 million currently available under the cap is rolled into the 2016 league year, the Chiefs are still expected to have roughly $27 million of cap space. That might be the most compelling reason to make Smith a priority to re-sign either in season or when the spring rolls around.
Looking at an average of the five highest-paid cornerbacks in the league, I think it’s likely that Smith will be looking for a deal in the $55-65 million range (total value). According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was the fourth highest-rated corner in the NFL last season. Another performance like the one from 2014 will cement his case as a marquee free agent at his position.
Sure, the Chiefs have two players in Peters and Gaines who’ll still be playing on their rookie deals in 2016 season. Good cap management demands smaller salaries at certain positions, but that’s not a sufficient reason to allow elite performers to walk away when you have the space to re-sign them.
Byron Maxwell’s six-year, $63 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles has cap hits of less than $10 million in each of the first two years of the deal ($8.7 and $9.7 million, respectively). Using that contract as a model, the Chiefs will have plenty of room to get Smith re-signed and to make other moves either inside or outside of the organization.
Next: The third bulletpoint...