A series looking at the players on the Seattle Seahawks who are set to become free agents in March, as well as potential trade and cap casualty candidates.
Player: Marcus Smith
Position: Defensive End/Linebacker
2017 Cap Hit: ~$1 million (OverTheCap.com)
2017 Stats: 14 games, 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles (Pro-Football-Reference)
Early last week a video of Marcus Smith participating in a dunk contest while in high school surfaced on Twitter, and it shows the amazing athleticism that Smith brings to the field. However, of particular note is that it brought to mind athletic comparisons of another former member of the Philadelphia Eagles that found significant success after joining the Seattle Seahawks, Chris Clemons.
After going undrafted, spending time on the practice squad of the Washington Redskins and suffering a knee injury, Clemons had recorded only five sacks entering his age 26 season. Then in 2007, at 26 Clemons exploded for eight sacks while with the Oakland Raiders. Smith has similarly limited production through his age 25 season, with just 6.5 career sacks and 32 career tackles (20 unassisted) through the first four years of his career. Those numbers are acceptable for a backup rotational defensive lineman, but as a former first round pick, those numbers scream bust at a loud volume. Just for comparison, Frank Clark, taken in the second round a year after Smith was a first round pick of the Eagles, has recorded 22 sacks and 95 tackles (59 unassisted) through the first three seasons of his career.
In short, to this point in his career, Smith has not lived up to the first round pick the Eagles originally used on him, which is fine because it was the Eagles that used the pick not the Seahawks. The Hawks signed him for a near minimum contract in 2017, which is completely acceptable for a young rotational defensive lineman that cost no draft capital to acquire.
Clemons, of course, exploded upon arriving in Seattle, recording 40 sacks in 65 starts between 2010 and 2013 when including the playoffs, and that doesn’t take into account a dip in production following the ACL tear he suffered against Washington in the 2012 playoffs. But is there more than just the fact that both Smith and Clemons played for the Eagles that makes the two comparable?
To answer that, all one needs to do is look at the combine results for these two players, which we see here courtesy of screen grabs from NFLdraftscout.com.
In short, add fifteen pounds and a few reps on the bench and Clemons and Smith are basically twins that happen to be born ten and a half years apart. Obviously there is far more than just physical requirements to developing into a standout defensive lineman at the NFL level, but even in a rotational role in 2017 Smith recorded the best season of his career. He likely will not be a high priority free agent for the majority teams this offseason, as even his best season involved largely replicable production for a rotational player, and hopefully that makes him affordable for the cap-strapped Seahawks.
As noted, it was his age 26 season when Clemons put the NFL on notice that he had arrived, and 2018 is slated to be the age 26 season for Smith. It will take far more than just off the charts athleticism, but Smith would bring both relative youth and a reasonable level of experience at a position where standouts often play well into their thirties. Obviously, Smith needs to reach a higher level of play before he can be considered a standout, but the upside potential is there and it is up to Smith to harness it and deliver.
Thus, while he is unlikely to be a high priority free agent for teams in 2018, Smith remains young enough and athletic enough that he could provide upside if everything comes together for him. In addition, his college defensive line coach, Clint Hurtt, is the Seattle defensive line coach, which potentially gives the Hawks an inside track on retaining his services for 2018.
Obviously, if another teams comes offering far more money, then Smith would be expected to take that offer, but it’s unlikely anyone is expecting Smith to be an All Pro in 2018 and he is not likely to garner significant interest on the free agent market. However, another year in Pete Carroll’s system combined with a year of growth and development could potentially put Smith in position for a career year in 2018. Nobody will know until 2018 arrives, but that’s the potential reward on a high upside flier.