Cornerback Sean Smith wants to cash in this offseason – it might be the only chance in his life to sign a big contract and set his family up for the future – and we reported back on Jan. 5 that Smith, a four-year veteran and former second-round pick, is seeking a contract similar to the one signed by Tennessee’s Jason McCourty: 6 years and $43.04 million ($7.38 million per year), with two years and $17 million fully guaranteed. The contract shows up in many places as a five-year extension, but technically it was a six-year contract, with 2012 counting as the first season.
Now, is Smith as good a player as McCourty? You’d be hard-pressed to argue yes. McCourty, also a four-year veteran, was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the sixth-best cornerback in the NFL in 2012 out of 113, and he had a breakout season with four interceptions, doubling his career total. Smith, meanwhile, only had two interceptions and was ranked 76th by PFF.
But peel back a few more layers, and look at some of the realities of this year’s free agent market, and it’s not crazy for Smith to seek a contract similar to McCourty’s, or the Dolphins to sign him to one. Here are six reasons why:
1. Smith isn’t asking for “elite” money.
First of all, McCourty’s contract, while large, isn’t considered “elite” for his position. According to the invaluable site overthecap.com, the total value of McCourty’s contract is the 13th-highest among cornerbacks, as is his average salary per year (they average it over five years, not six).
Smith isn’t saying he wants Nnamdi Asomugha ($12 million per year) or Darrelle Revis ($11.5 million) money, just that he wants to be paid similar to a good player like McCourty, who did allow a higher passer rating this year than Smith did (97.4 compared to 85.1).
2. Cornerbacks are valuable, and costly, in free agency.
Cornerback is an elite position in the NFL, and the going rate on the free agent market is more or less $7 million per season. Tampa Bay gave Eric Wright $38 million over five years ($7.6 millon average) before the 2012 season, and he had just one interception in 10 games and was ranked 66th by PFF this year. The Dolphins gave Richard Marshall $16 million over three years last offseason ($5.33 million per year), and while he’s a solid enough veteran, it’s hard to argue that he’s a more valuable player than Smith. Dimitri Patterson also got $16 million over three years from the Browns, and they cut him before he completed the first year of his contract (he’s now on the Dolphins).