The Case For Cutting Harrison Smith
I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t he just signed to a lucrative extension? Indeed, he was, and yet that was from the former leadership team. The chances are low, but it’s not totally impossible for the team to decide to cut Harrison Smith.
Let’s begin with the dollars and cents.
If everything remains the same, Smith will carry close to a $13.5 million cap hit into the 2022 season. It’s also notable that his deal becomes fully guaranteed on March 18, 2022. In other words, the team could cut him at any point over the next month and receive some financial relief. Doing so would leave behind a $7.66 million dead hit while freeing up just over $5.8 million.
Smith’s contract, according to Over the Cap, is the second-largest for NFL safeties.
He finished as the 11th-best safety on PFF. He has never been below 15th in their rankings since 2017 (it was in 2017 that he finished as the #1 safety). He finished the 2021 season with 114 tackles (a career high) and 3 sacks (tied for his career high). He was brought on a blitz 40 times and generated 6 pressures.
Part of the concern, of course, is that safety is perhaps the least important position on defense. Having top-tier talent at edge rusher and corner is far more important (see Rams, LA). From there, DT is probably the next most important.
Now, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are always exceptions to these rules. Not every player can do what Smith does; in fact, there’s a pretty reasonable case to be made that he’s the best safety of his generation. He is a uniquely gifted player who does far more than a normal safety. In this sense, he can certainly justify an unusually high salary.
The decision to cut or not to cut Harrison Smith will indeed be an important one. The safe money is on him returning, but it’s notable that one can get strong play at safety relatively easily. Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield Jr. is PFF‘s #2 safety and Amani Hooker is #3. Both are on their rookie deals; the former was drafted in the second round and the latter in the fourth.
One factor working in his favor is the fact that Minnesota’s secondary is perhaps the weakest part of the team. The talent is seriously lacking at both corner and safety. For this reason, it would be surprising to see the team move on from one of its all-time greats and lone sure thing in the secondary. Having Smith on the field makes life considerably easier for both the corners and LBs.
Forced to guess, I’d say he gets cut before the 2023 season. Doing so will free up just under $11.5 million. Given the potential 2022 savings, though, don’t be shocked if the new leadership does move on.