When the Oakland Raiders cut defensive lineman Antonio Smith on Tuesday, it came as a surprise in NFL circles, considering that General Manager Reggie McKenzie signed Smith to a two-year, $9M deal just a year ago.
What compounded the curiosity was that Smith was a defensive anchor for the Raiders, starting every game in 2014—the only year he played in Oakland. Two days after his release, the Denver Broncos signed Smith to a one-year deal, which reunites him with Gary Kubiak and his defensive assistants, Wade Phillips and Bill Kollar, whom Smith played under in Houston.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, we reached out to Silver and Black Report's Chris McClain to get an insider’s take as to why the Raiders cut him and what Broncos Country can expect from the 12th-year pro.
MHH: Antonio Smith seemed to perform well for Oakland in 2014, starting every game and earning positive pass rushing grades. What precipitated his release? Money?
McClain: It is a move that has a lot of us writers scratching our heads as well. While Antonio Smith did perform well as a pass rusher, he was quite poor when defending the run. Opposing offensive lines would push Smith around and he would struggle to get off the blocks in order to make the tackles.
That said, it seemed he would compliment newly-signed defensive tackle Dan Williams and second-year tackle Justin "Jelly" Ellis nicely, given they are both big-bodied, run-stuffing tackles. The Raiders will likely kick C.J. Wilson inside to the tackle position under Del Rio's new scheme, which may have played a role in the decision. Del Rio seems to enjoy having two bigger defensive tackles on the inside in his scheme.
The Raiders did save about $4 million against the cap with the move, so it was likely a case of Smith not fitting his scheme for as much as the Raiders were going to be paying him.
MHH: What can Broncos fans expect from Smith as a player? What are his strong-suits and weaknesses?
McClain: Broncos fans can expect a hard-working leader that will bring a solid pass rush on the inside. As stated above, his play against the run has diminished but he is still quick off of the line and relentless when trying to get to the quarterback. Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar certainly knows what he is getting in Smith, having been his line coach for four years in Houston.
Off of the field, Broncos fans will be pleased to have another leader in the locker room that the younger guys can look up to. He is a strong leader that commands respect of the locker room. Also, as an added bonus, he provides some great interviews as he is quite an entertaining character.
You can find Chris McClain on Twitter @ChrisMcClain.
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