A longtime friend of mine just sent me a detailed email about Justin Smith's good fortune. Read:
Is Justin Smith the luckiest person on Earth? I think so. Name another big, fast, dumb, white guy who has been given so much for being average (And George W doesn't count, I have seen him run and he's not that fast). In his sophomore and junior years at Missouri, Smith led the team in sacks with 8 and 11. Of those 11 sacks his junior year, 4 came against the vaunted offensive line of Baylor University in a 25 point Missouri win. Smith's Missouri team records were 4-7 and 3-8. He was selected as an All-American his junior year which is understandable given that he was bigger, stronger and faster than the linemen in the Big 12 that year. He deserved recognition as he is an NFL level talent, but he was by no means worthy of a top 4 pick by the Bengals. This brings me to the first point of Smith's luck, his impeccable timing. He came out after his junior year of college, and that year there were 3 defensive ends taken in the first round of the NFL draft- Justin Smith(4th), Andre Carter(7th) and Jamal Reynolds(10th). Justin Smith is clearly better than Reynolds and Carter, which is perhaps why he was seen as a top draft pick. Defensive end is a premium position in the NFL, and when one prospect stands out, he will be a high draft pick. A defensive end has been selected in the top 5 picks in 9 of the last 13 drafts. Suppose Justin stayed at Missouri for his senior year, which defensive ends were in the draft the following year? Julius Peppers(1st), Dwight Freeney(11th), Bryan Thomas(22nd), and Charles Grant(25th), all except Thomas are better than Smith. Had Smith stayed for his senior year, being compared to Peppers and Freeney probably would have dropped him out of the first round and cost him millions of dollars. After a lengthy holdout, Smith finally signed for his big time first pick money and proceeded along his average way.
The second stroke of Justin Smith timing luck came with his DUI arrest. Justin Smith was arrested on a Monday night in October, 2004, and had a Blood Alcohol Content of .152. That is roughly the same as Odell Thurman, and higher than any other Bengal arrested for DUI. Smith's arrest came barely a year before Chris Henry started the string of arrests that labeled the Bengals as criminals. Is Justin Smith ever included in that crowd? No, his arrest missed the cutoff by about 7-8months. So now Smith is considered a veteran leader in a locker room full of knuckleheads. Hell, Smith has the logo for Anheuser Busch tattooed on his arm. Was Smith forced to miss games or punished? No, because by another stroke of timing luck, Paul Tagliabue did not punish DUIs as commissioner. Roger Goodell did not take over and start levying heavy punishment until 2006, right in the middle of the Bengals arrest streak.
Smith's next hit of timing luck occurred this past summer in free agency. Smith's overpaying rookie contract happened to expire in the same season that a new collective bargaining agreement happened between the NFL players and owners. This agreement raised the salary cap for teams about 20% over the previous year. So teams had large amounts of extra money to spend, and Smith was in the first free agent class to get a crack at that extra money. On top of that, the Bengals needed a defensive end because draft pick Frostee Rucker missed the entire season, and up and coming star Robert Geathers has yet to develop into an every down player. The free agent defensive ends this past year were Dwight Freeney, Charles Grant, and Pat Kerney. Grant and Freeney were franchised tagged, so the only real free agent option was Pat Kerney who is basically a Justin Smith clone. So in short, the Bengals did not have an alternative option. Dwight Freeney signed a long term deal for 6 years and $30million guaranteed plus incentives that could bring it to $72million, making him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. This record signing is due to the excess money in the salary cap, but the contract also set a new precedent for the defensive end position. The other free agents also signed high priced deals as Grant and Kerney both signed for 6 or 7 years and about $20million in guaranteed money plus incentives that could go between $40 and $60million. This left the Bengals with the option of signing Smith long term for about $20million guaranteed plus big incentives, or sticking with the one year franchise tag of $8.6million. Being desperate for an end, but not wanting to throw excess bad money at Smith, the Bengals were forced to sign Smith for another high priced year of average. And unless the Bengals can find another option before next season, expect them to franchise Smith again, or bite the bullet and overpay just to lock him up.
Justin Smith is a viable NFL starter at defensive end and the most durable player the Bengals have. However, he is average at best and has not improved at all over his career. His luck of timing is incredible though as he has been the most overpaid Bengal by far, and is seen as a leader instead of a moron.
Just for reference, Smith was drafted the same year as Chad, Rudi and TJ. Here are their total salaries including bonuses, through this year, as Bengals:
Not exact numbers, but taken from NFL salary database
Chad: $28,307, 380
Or All-Pro Willie Anderson during the same period: $27,200,000
I have nothing to add to this. Wait, how about this: I agree.
More stuff to be posted soon. In the meantime, listen to the podcasts.