Yes, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is slightly overpaid. Smith is the tenth highest paid corner in the NFL, with an average annual salary in excess of $10 million per season. And yes, Smith is prone to injuries. He has completed a full 16-game schedule twice in six seasons. His absence played a large part in the Ravens losses to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, since Odell Beckham and Dez Bryant dominated the Ravens’ lesser regarded corners.
This in fact proves Jimmy Smith is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Releasing or trading him would make the task of fielding three competent cornerbacks even more difficult. Not to mention that his contract is structured in a way that would cost the Ravens more salary cap space to release him than to keep him, once his hypothetical replacement player’s contract is accounted for.
Everyone wishes Jimmy could avoid injuries, but cornerback is an injury prone position league wide. Marcus Peters missed the Chiefs game on Sunday, contributing to their loss. Darrelle Revis was held out of one game this season, and missed two last year. The Vikings Xavier Rhodes missed the first two contests of 2016. Aqib Talib has missed the last three Broncos games. Vontae Davis was sidelined for Indianapolis’ first two games this season. The Falcons top cover man, Desmond Trufant, missed their last game, a loss to the Eagles. And Joe Haden, who suited up for only five Browns games last season, has missed three more contests this season.
In summary, many teams deal with injuries to their best corners through the course of a season. Depth in the secondary, or lack thereof, is the responsibility of the front office. Blaming Jimmy Smith after he missed one game after starting 25 consecutive is ludicrous.
In the offseason, the Ravens brass gambled that Shareece Wright, Will Davis, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young, Kyle Arrington, Sheldon Price and Maurice Canady, all journeymen or unproven young corners, would be enough to get by in 2016. This was quite the risk considering that corner play has doomed the previous three Ravens seasons. Especially when taking into account the challenging gauntlet of top receivers on the schedule this year.
Time and again, the Ravens cornerbacks have been exposed this season, especially in the red zone. The Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, Giants and Cowboys have all found great success this season when targeting Ravens corners not named Jimmy Smith. Wright has been targeted on many of the touchdowns allowed, and the opponents have been able to isolate him, even when Jimmy was on the field. In today’s NFL, at least three competent cornerbacks are essential for teams that do not field explosive offenses to win shootouts.
Smith’s contract is not ideal, but determining future value of players is not an exact science. Overpays can be balanced out with underpays. Tavon Young’s cost controlled rookie contract provides the Ravens with value from the their starting cornerback combination. The Ravens biggest issue is simply that the front office has overpaid too many players, while not compensating by hitting on enough valuable contributors in the draft, most notably the minimal contributions from the entire 2015 draft class.
In conclusion, kicking Jimmy Smith to the curb would be highly counter productive. The Ravens need to supplement the cornerback position around Jimmy, not move on from the best cover man they have. All the pass rush in the world is not going to help players the caliber of Shareece Wright cover elite receivers in the end zone. Hopefully, the Ravens front office can finally see the light.