July 26, 2006

Saints Thin Safety Corp By Releasing Starter Smith

Free agent prize of 2005, Saints couldn't pull trade and released him as courtesy

The new Saints coaching staff tried all offseason to trade what the old Saints coaching staff once held up as a prize. The Saints have released S Dwight Smith the week before training camp as a courtesy to allow him to catch on with another team.

After "stealing Dwight Smith from the Buccaneers" in March 2005, the Saints have now paved the way for the former Akron star and Super Bowl hero to return to Tampa Bay.

Whether the new coaching staff, coming down hard on players that didn't fit the attitude or work ethic criteria, released Smith because of personality conflicts we won't ever truly know.

The concept that the versatile Smith didn't fit into the new defensive scheme will be the team's line. The fact that Smith can play cornerback, either safety position and sometimes linebacker in passing situations begs doubt that it was purely a football move. The fact that the Saints couldn't move via trade a starter from 2005, who played well enough at times, hints at personality conflicts. Why trade for Smith when the league knows well enough that Smith would never play for the new coaching staff, especially after there are doubts as to his work ethic and dedication to the last coaching staff?

Smith also had a pair of gun-related arrests in 2003 and 2005, days before he signed with the Saints. It is speculated that his relationship with new head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs was not agreeable.

The former third round pick from Akron by the Bucs, Smith started 15 games for the Saints in 2005, missing one game in the middle of the season, and was fourth on the team with 72 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. In Tampa Bay's Super Bowl victory over Oakland, Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Published reports speculate that Smith could return to Tampa Bay now that he is back on the open market. In 2005, Smith signed with the Saints shortly after the start of free agency, saying he was very comfortable in New Orleans and "coach Haslett, Mickey, all those guys, seemed like the type of guys I want to play for."

Smith leaves one year into his five-year contract that had a signing bonus of $3.5 million. He will be on the books for $.7 million in accelerated signing bonus this season and $2.1 million in 2007.

The Saints have thinned out what is an overloaded position on the depth chart by releasing incumbent starter Smith. A pair of young second round picks in Josh Bullocks (2005) and Roman Harper (2006) will both compete with veterans Jay Bellamy Omar Stoutmire for starting jobs. In Gibbs' scheme, less emphasis is placed on the roles of the free and strong safety, and both will be assigned interchangeable roles in coverage and run support. Also in the mix is Bryan Scott, who arrived in a trade with Atlanta, and special teams ace Steve Gleason, who doesn't play much defense.

Starting in the last minicamp were Bullocks and Stoutmire at strong and free safety, respectively.

Within days, the Smith signed a new contract with the Minnesota Vikings, who outbid several other teams for his services.

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