With an abundance of cap space also comes many questions that must be answered and with free agency looming those questions are becoming much clearer. One of the main uncertainties that surround the Miami Dolphins is whether or not they will use the franchise tag and if so, on who? The name that continues to enter the discussion is cornerback Sean Smith.
Smith who will be entering his fifth NFL season in 2013 signed a four year contract with the Dolphins that will expire in just under one month's time. Entering the past campaign it seemed that re-signing Smith would be a priority given the lack of depth at the position however as the season progressed this was no longer the case.
In the four years he's spent in Miami, it has become evident that Smith does not have the ability to make game changing plays on a consistent basis. His career totals of five interceptions and one recovered fumble are proof of this. While Smith is usually successful in tracking the football, it often falls to the ground harmlessly instead of turning over possession. Another weakness in Smith's game are his struggles in coverage against smaller and quicker wide recievers. This past season, no cornerback surrendered more first downs and touchdowns than Sean Smith.
The only way I can invision Smith returning to Miami is if he takes a hometown discount which is extremely unlikely. Smith's camp is reportedly looking for a contract in the range of Jason McCourty (5 years, $44 million) and Brandon Carr (5 years, $50.1 million). In 2012, Smith recorded two interceptions and 59 tackles compared to McCourty's four interceptions and 92 tackles and Carr's three interceptions and 53 tackles. It's a steep price to pay for a player who struggled against higher quality opponents.
This year the franchise tag for a cornerback pays roughly $10.7 million which would make Smith one of the highest paid players at his position. For a team such as the Dolphins with several needs to address, this would not be a wise way to spend their allotted cap space. While letting Smith walk leaves the team with very little depth in the secondary, Smith's play over the past few seasons has not warranted the salary that comes with the franchise tag.
The Dolphins would be better suited in signing a cheaper alternative to replace Smith on the free agent market. A name that stands out is Jacksonville's Derrick Cox who is a better fit in Miami's coverage scheme and is expected to be cheaper to sign than other available cornerbacks. As opposed to the more physical Smith, Cox is more agile and uses speed to his advantage resulting in fewer pass interference penalties taken and fewer touchdowns allowed. Cox would benefit from the Dolphins stout defensive line, something that did he could not rely on with his current team.
Without Smith in the fold, cornerback becomes a much higher priority for the Dolphins in the draft. Expect names such as Jonathan Banks and Xavier Rhodes to climb up the team's draft boards as potential first round picks.