According to Jeff Legwold, the Broncos are interested in signing defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who was waived by Oakland on Tuesday. The Texans are reportedly also interested in a reunion with the man lauded for his leadership and known as the Ninja Assassin.
Smith (6-3, 290) has played five seasons in Arizona, five in Houston (under current Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar), and one in Oakland. He was due to draw $3.2M in salary plus $800K in roster and workout bonuses this season, and his departure saves the Raiders $4M against their cap.
In 156 games (133 starts) over 11 seasons, the Oklahoma State alum has 44.5 sacks, 302 tackles, and 11 forced fumbles to his credit. He was named to the Pro Bowl once, in 2011. With the Raiders, Smith started all 16 games last year, totaling 20 tackles, three sacks, and grading out at minus-3.9 over 791 snaps. PFF credited Smith with four sacks, four QB hits, 35 pressures, and 15 stops.
His yearly PFF grades suggests Smith long been a productive pass rusher but major liability against the run. His 2014 split of plus-18.3 pursuing the quarterback and minus-20.0 versus the run follows that pattern. Those marks were good for third best and dead last in the league among tackles, respectively.
Indeed, the Texans reportedly see Smith as a third-down pass-rush specialist - as they did a year ago - when he instead opted for a chance to start in Oakland. His role with the Raiders also would have been reduced, as the team signed Dan Williams early during free agency and plan to promote second-year tackle Justin Ellis.
The timing of Smith's release - three weeks into free agency - suggests the team might have tried to extract a pay cut out of the 33-year old. Per OTC, Denver currently has $10,589,300 in cap space, $5,915,045 of which would be allocated to signing the team's current allotment of draft choices. That would leave $4,674,255 to work with for now.
They also have several ways to create more cap space - a new contract for Demaryius Thomas, an extension for Von Miller, plus cuts of Manny Ramirez, Britton Colquitt, Chris Clark, and/or Andre Caldwell among them. But there's no reason to release any of those overpaid veterans without a pricey veteran to sign; cutting them now as opposed to during or after training camp provides no other caponomic benefit.
And of course, if John Elway & Co. do at least a halfway decent job with their 10 draft choices, some of these players - if not others - will be displaced and rendered cap casualties.