To err is human, and I certainly erred last week when I neglected to include Antonio Smith in my post about Rick Smith's free agent history. Honestly, I just plumb forgot about him. Predictably, the readers were there to correct my regretful omission with their usual scathing sarcasm:
Antonio Smith - DE / Ninja
One of the few hidden gems to emerge from the Frank Bush era was the signing of former Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith. Bush, an assistant coach in Arizona at the time, coached and helped developed Antonio after he was drafted in 2004. He was very thankful for his time with Bush:
"From the beginning of my career, he always kept me grounded," Antonio Smith said. "He always kept me hungry, making me work. He raised my level of play, even as a practice squad player, teaching me just how to practice and how to always go hard and how to always give it my all."
Antonio's reunion with Bush in Houston was good, but his performance under Bush here was not any better than it was in Arizona. He unlocked his true potential under Wade Phillips' 3-4 (or 5-2, depending on whom you ask) defense. After posting 8.5 sacks in two years under Bush, Antonio went on to notch 13.5 in his next two under Phillips while maintaining his dependability against the run.
There's also a mysterious side to Antonio. Somewhere between the release of the movie Ninja Assassin (2009) and the 2010 season, he developed a deep fascination with the ways of the ninja and came up with one of the more unique sack celebrations in the league. He hilariously explains his alter ego here on NFL Network and again here in On the Nose with Shaun Cody.
"I was born into an old, ancient black ninja tribe, and later in my life I studied it on the internet... accelerated class of Ninjitsu."
- Antonio Smith
He's so fluid in his movements that he doesn't even have to sheathe his pantomime sword; he just goes right to the ninja stars like any true ninja would.
But where did this alter ego come from? Perhaps his little spat with teammate Brian Cushing during a game in 2010 triggered the mental schism and birthed the ninja. Getting into a shouting match with a man who isn't afraid to head-butt a helmet with no protection should be enough to break any man. Whatever the origin, Antonio's ninja training has certainly helped cut back on those frustrating personal foul calls he had been known for.
Getting back to the numbers, Antonio is entering the final year of his contract and is due to count for $9.5 million in cap dollars. Many predicted that Smith would be offered an extension to lessen that cap hit and secure the Ninja's services for a few more years, but that has yet to happen. Texans fans will get one more year to watch him slice up unsuspecting quarterbacks. Enjoy it while you can, folks, because the Ninja might be moving on. Regardless, Antonio is undoubtedly one of the shiniest free agent gems in Rick Smith's repertoire.
Antonio may or may not be the ninja from Ninja Gaiden II, the Hardest Game Ever.