Perception is everything. Right now, the perception that Houston Texans defensive end Antonio Smith has created is that he would love to retire as a Texan and is willing to work with the team on a cap-friendly extension. This story, from the Houston Chronicle and followed up by some dapper young fellow, talks about Houston's cap situation and grabs this quote from the Ninja Assassin, after making note of his mentoring of the Sonic Assassin, Sam Montgomery.
"I told them I wanted to be here and I wanted to spend the rest of my career here," Smith said. "They told me they are open to an extension."
With no clear heir apparent on the roster and a fun personality, Smith's, more than likely, got the fans on his side and has them wondering why the Texans haven't made a move yet with the dependable veteran. Not that the fans have say in a contract negotiation; not with general manager Rick Smith. Still, the Ninja Smith has done things the Texans way, like the Front Office Smith likes. He works hard, is a locker room leader, stays healthy, has shown continued improvement, and doesn't look over-the-hill yet as he approaches 32.
Despite the occasional 15-yard-penalty, Smith had a career year in 2012 with seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and three passes defensed. Given Smith's strength as a gap shooter and surprising strength, he's a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' one-gap 3-4 scheme, so his success is not too surprising.
With the Texans eyeing big extensions for inside linebacker Brian Cushing and defensive end J.J. Watt, I could see why they may not commit future dollars to another defender, but I think this relationship is still mutually beneficial. All it takes is the right price.
The most difficult aspect here is finding a comparative player to Smith. Smith is a 3-4 defensive end. Comparing him directly to 3-4 DEs is not doing him justice as a pass rusher. Still, he's not the team's primary defensive player or pass-rusher, so 4-3 DEs may not be in the same category. Using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value for years between 2007 and 2012, I can find a few defensive ends, 4-3 and 3-4, who may provide some insight into a Smith market value.
Three names that stand out as interesting would be Ray Edwards, Ryan Pickett, and Robert Geathers.
Let's get Edwards out of the way first. Edwards signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract, with $11 million guaranteed, as a 26-year-old sought after by a pass-rush needy team. Of course, he was released in November and is now a boxer, but that was the market value for an up-and-coming pass-rusher who still had room to grow. While I don't see Smith getting five more years, taking him through age 37, I think there's merit in the $5.5M average received by a guy who had averaged 5.9 sacks per season prior to his new deal. Smith, for the record, has averaged 5.5 sacks per season as a Texan.
Pickett, in Dom Capers' 3-4, is not used the same way as Smith is by Phillips, but he's still an important factor to the line. He's not the primary pass rusher or the dominant defensive lineman, but he's still valuable. He helps make life easier for B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews like Smith does for Watt and the outside linebackers. Back in 2010, Pickett signed a four-year, $24.75M contract with $10M guaranteed. That's an average of right around $6.2M per season for a guy who was roughly Smith's age when he signed a new deal.
In Geathers' case, he just signed a three-year, $9.5M deal, including $3.05M guaranteed, with Cincinnati this offseason. Geathers, 29, is slightly younger than Smith, but he's not the pass rusher Smith is. Granted, the deal could mean Geathers is taking a more rotational role in Cincinnati, but he has been a consistent veteran starter who is a good cog in a defense, but not a main player. His deal is a good example of this year's depressed veteran market though.
With all that in mind, I think Antonio is looking at about a three-year extension worth about $4-5M a year. When added with his current owed money, I think he'll see some of this salary converted into a signing bonus to help cap relief now. The extension I'd lock in at is three years for $13M with $5.75M guaranteed. It's not a crazy number, it's a nice show of loyalty to a hard-working veteran, and it doesn't hinder you from making a cap casualty cut if he declines drastically in two or three years. It's a win-win move on both sides.
Thoughts, BRBers? Should the Ninja get his extension? Should the Texans not make a move? Is that price fair? Too high? Too low? Let 'er rip in the comments.