The massive free-agent right tackle had dinner with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, and reporters on the stakeout at the steakhouse got some reaction from the two.
“We expect to be the best offensive line in football, block for the best running back in football,” Smith told FOX-9. “Keeping Teddy (Bridgewater) clean is most definitely the most important thing.”
The Vikings were far from the best offensive line in the NFL last year. With season-ending injuries to right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan – both missed the entire 2015 season – the Vikings have been on the hunt for upgrades and depth on the offensive line. Head coach Mike Zimmer indicated that upgrading the offensive line was a priority and their actions in free agency backed that.
They signed well-regarded free-agent guard Alex Boone and restructured the contract of Loadholt and re-signed Mike Harris, who filled in for the final five games of 2014 season at right tackle for Loadholt and then started all 16 games at right guard in 2015.
“One of the areas that we wanted to address was the offensive line this year,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “We were able to do that, signing Alex, getting Mike Harris back along with our current group, getting Phil Loadholt hopefully back and John Sullivan back healthy. I think having all those guys in camp, and if we’re able to sign Andre and still potentially get a guy in the draft here or there, we’re going to be much better up front.”
But Smith was ranked 54th among 2015 offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system, only six spots ahead of Vikings rookie T.J. Clemmings, who started for the Vikings at right tackle in 2015 after Loadholt went down.
Smith has always had question marks about his work ethic and his ability to get in shape. He went AWOL from the NFL Scouting Combine in 2009, then played in only 13 games combined in his first two seasons, starting five, after the Cincinnati Bengals made him the No. 6 pick overall.
There is no doubting Smith’s talent. He became the seventh true freshman since 1972 to start his first game at Alabama, playing at left tackle, and went on to earn all kinds of honors playing there. But he was ineligible for the 2009 Sugar Bowl for having direct contact with an agent.
Last year, he started 14 games and in 2014 he played in only nine games.
Smith is listed at 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, but he’s been rumored to weigh as 380 pounds at times in his career and joked with a Cincinnati reporter that he doesn’t have a scale because he breaks them.
Smith is considered a mauler in the running game, but PFF gave him only a 41.0 grade in run blocking last year, easily in the bottom half of the tackles in that category, and the Bengals were far more effective running the ball to the left than to the right last year, according to NFL statistics. They averaged only 3.44 yards running over right tackle (Smith’s position) while averaging 4.38 yards over left tackle.
He was also second on the Bengals with 11 penalties last year, including five false starts and three offensive holding calls.
Smith has the talent to be a quality starter at right tackle, but there are legitimate questions about his consistency, meaning the Vikings, if they do sign him, might need to follow a similar path in how they restructured Loadholt’s contract – no guarantees with a healthy dose of incentives.