Sean Smith’s Raiders career may be in trouble.
The cornerback, who rebounded from a rough start in 2016 to be a key part of the Oakland defense, has gotten off to a rough start in 2017 training camp.
Smith, due to make $9.5 million in salary this season, has lost his role with the No. 1 unit after a week of camp. In fact, Smith now isn’t even with the first team as a nickel corner — where undrafted rookie Breon Borders is playing — and has been relegated to a linebacker position on the nickel defense, a long fall from grace.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Smith has the size to play that position, but that’s not what the Raiders were looking for when they gave Smith a four-year, $38 million contract — with $20 million guaranteed — before 2016. At the time, Smith was considered one of the NFL’s elite corners.
Now, it seems he’s fighting for a roster spot. T.J. Carrie is starting over Smith, with No. 1 pick Gareon Conley still eager to get into the mix, too.
While Smith hasn’t talked to the media about the developments, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said the veteran defender is handling his new role like a pro.
“Yeah, I think he is,” Del Rio told reporters Sunday. “Obviously everybody wants to be the guy and we love that. We love that about our guys. We also understand there is a certain amount of competition that is going to take place out here. I’m a big believer in you get what you earn.”
The competition at cornerback appears intense, with David Amerson the leading candidate at one spot and Carrie, Smith and Conley at the top of the list for the other starting spot, with Borders, Dexter McDonald, Kenneth Duren and Antonio Hamilton also in the mix.
Of course, things can change quickly in training camp and injuries can shuffle the order of the depth chart, especially once games begin. The Raiders will play their first exhibition game Saturday in Arizona against the Cardinals.
One surprise had been Borders, who’s been very good since spring and now in camp drills. Quarterback Derek Carr says Borders has “really proven himself.”
Said Carr: “Every time I turn the film on it’s like he makes a play. That’s how those guys catch your eye.”