Now is definitely a good time to be a cornerback in the NFL, especially one with a lot of talent. Corners are emerging as the next “valuable” chess piece, mostly due to the popularity of passing in the modern day NFL. Big, physical press corners are all the rage as they can jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt their routes and timing. They have the size and ability to match up with #1 receivers and freakishly athletic tight ends.
And like any position that is in high demand, the best cornerbacks are being paid massive premiums for their services. This offseason alone, the Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman became the highest paid corner in NFL history with a four year, $57.4 million dollar contract. An astounding $40 million is guaranteed, which blows away the previous record of $26 million present in Aqib Talib’s contract with the Broncos. The annual average is $14.35 million, besting Brandon Carr’s $10.02 million with the Chiefs.
It only took a little less than two months to beat those historic numbers, however, when the Cardinals signed Patrick Peterson to five year, $70 million dollar contract extension with $48 million guaranteed. Peterson’s deal comes in slightly less than Sherman’s in regards to annual average at $14 million.
With teams playing contractual leap frog when it comes to locking up their elite cover corners, what does this mean for emerging talents like Jimmy Smith? Ozzie Newsome made it publicly known that Smith was one of the players he was trying to extend this preseason, but Smith has expressed doubt that a deal will get done. He even told reporters that he has two years left on his current deal, hinting that he would play out his contract if he isn’t satisfied with an offer.
And who can blame him? Despite his minor off field incident this offseason, Smith as done everything right. He had a quietly dominant year last season and is prime for a breakout this season. He is the same age as Richard Sherman (26) and two years older than Patrick Peterson (24). And all three boast similar size – Sherman is 6’3″ 195 lbs, Peterson is 6’1″ 219 lbs, and Smith is 6’2″ 209 lbs.
All three have three seasons under their belt. Smith has played in 39 games over that span, while Peterson and Sherman have both played in 48. Peterson has racked up 161 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, and 12 interceptions in that time. Sherman has 167 tackles, 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 20 interceptions. Smith has 112 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions.
Smith hasn’t garnered the reputation as a playmaker yet, but that isn’t the only important gauge for cornerbacks. Great cover corners are rarely seen on the field because the ball is rarely thrown in their direction. Nnamdi Asomugha was widely regarded as the best corner in the NFL for a while, yet only had 15 interceptions in his 11 year career. Teams just didn’t throw to his side of the field because nobody was open.
So Smith has a right to be hesitant about an extension, especially following his arrest, which would surely hurt his leverage right now. He has nothing to lose by playing the next two years and seeking out a major payday, other than the possibility of injury. We can only hope that Ozzie works his magic and convinces the emerging talent to sign a team friendly deal. But we wouldn’t count on it.