Among the many questions facing the Raiders this offseason will be what to do with cornerback Sean Smith.
The former Chiefs standout signed a four-year deal worth a potential $38 million before the 2016 season and was supposed to be Oakland’s version of a shutdown corner. Yet after two seasons, Smith has been up and down. He’s been burned on high-profile, game-changing plays and benched. In other games he’s lived up to his billing.
This offseason, the Raiders will need to decide whether to keep him around and pay him the $8.5 million he will count against the salary cap, or cut him loose and look elsewhere.
Over the past several games – especially since John Pagano took over control of the defense – Smith has played very well. Against the Eagles in a Christmas night loss, Smith was one of the five highest-graded Raiders, according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus. Charged with guarding Eagles’ standout receiver Alshon Jeffery, Smith was excellent. Only two passes were aimed at Jeffery. He caught none. Noted Kyle Martin of Raiders.com: “It truly felt like Jeffery wasn’t even on the field.”
The previous week against the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant, Smith allowed just two catches for 59 yards on four targets.
Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com reported Smith has been one of the NFL’s best corners over the past five weeks. Gutierrez noted that Smith ranked 109th among players at his position in passer rating allowed (120.8) under former coordinator Ken Norton Jr., but ranks No. 8 in the league in five games under Pagano (36.3).
“He’s always had the ability, the mindset,” fellow Raiders cornerback David Amerson told Gutierrez. “Everything’s always been there. It’s just clicking for him right now. But I ain’t never questioned his ability. Ever.”
One factor, wrote Gutierrez, is that Smith is now on the field constantly under Pagano. While playing for Norton, Smith often was utilized only in certain coverage packages. Smith told Gutierrez that often left him feeling out of rhythm.
Smith says he just does what he’s asked by his coaching staff.
“I do what they want me to do, man,” he said. “I cover my guy.”
The other factor the Raiders will have to consider is an off-the-field incident from last offseason in which Smith is alleged to have assaulted his sister’s boyfriend. Smith has pleaded not guilty, but a trial is scheduled for the summer of 2018.
Smith and the 6-9 Raiders, meanwhile, will try to go out on a winning note when they close their season this Sunday against the 8-7 Chargers in Carson. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.