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Deadline looms for Smith

By By Richard Dark / EMG staff writer
March 1, 2004
METAIRIE, La. Tuesday will be a watershed day in the young career of New Orleans Saints defensive tackle and Meridian native Kenny Smith.
That's the deadline NFL players eligible for free agency have to re-sign with their old clubs. Smith, a 6-4 295-pound former University of Alabama standout chosen in the third round of the 2001 draft, is a restricted free agent. With three seasons of service behind him, his current deal expires Tuesday. The Saints tendered him a base offer of one-year, $628,000 on Thursday evening, the same deal they offered restricted free agents Sedrick Hodge, Steve Gleason and Roger Knight.
A figure, according to Smith, that is unacceptable. And if Smith is to remain a Saint, time is of the essence.
His agent Jimmy Sexton was unavailable for comment. Because he is not a "true" free agent, if a deal with the Saints is not reached, he can negotiate with any club from Wednesday through April 16. If he accepts an offer sheet from a new club, the Saints can match the offer and retain him because they hold the "right of first refusal." If they choose not to match, New Orleans can receive draft-choice compensation. If no teams seek his services, his rights revert back to the Saints on April 19.
He has played in 30 games for the Saints, starting 10 and getting 69 career tackles and 4.5 sacks in the process. He is considered a versatile lineman, playing both the end and tackle positions. Because the complexion of restricted free agency has changed much over the last year, Smith's chances of remaining less than three hours away from home may be lessening.
The Washington Redskins model of pilfering the roster of the New York Jets' RFAs is becoming a model by which players still a year away from being unrestricted, move to other teams for higher dollars. Other teams are now becoming more willing to pony up draft picks for what they view as quality experience. Because of the recent trend, Sexton might have more leverage with Smith, if in fact, the Saints are intent on keeping Smith as they have indicated to both he and the media.
The other defensive tackles on the roster include, second year men Johnathan Sullivan and Kendrick Allen and veteran Willie Whitehead.
Smith's name has surfaced from national media speculating those who play parts in the restricted free agency pool this week.
For his part, however, Smith, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out his right knee after the season, is still just doing what it takes to improve and prepare for another season. "I'm just working out and trying to stay ready," he said. " Hopefully, I'll be here for (minicamps and offseason workouts) but if not, there won't be any hard feelings on my part. I have to do what's best for me. If I leave and the Saints win next year, I'll be glad for them."