Patriots sign free agent defensive end Will Smith
The Patriots weren’t quite done adding veteran pieces to the defense.
After signing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner early in free agency, the Patriots made one last move ahead of this week’s NFL Draft, signing defensive end Will Smith Monday.
Terms were not announced, but it’s likely the Patriots got good value for Smith, who is looking to extend his NFL career after missing the entire 2013 season because of a torn ACL suffered in the preseason.
Smith, who turns 33 in July, has spent his entire 10-year career with the New Orleans Saints after being selected in the first round (18th overall) in 2004 out of Ohio State. Listed at 6 feet 3 inches and 282 pounds, Smith has 67
He mostly played 4-3 defensive end, but was switching to outside linebacker in the Saints’ new 3-4 defense last season. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before the Patriots played the Saints in 2009 that he had a lot of interest in Smith before the 2004 draft.
Smith’s best seasons were 2009 (13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and 2006 (10½ sacks, 3 forced fumbles), and in 2008 the Saints rewarded him with a six-year contract worth $70 million ($26 million guaranteed), making him the third-highest paid defensive end at the time.
His production had slowed in recent seasons, with 6½ sacks in 2011 and six in 2012. Smith played in at least 14 games in all 10 seasons before injuring his knee, and in all 16 games six times. The Saints released him in February instead of paying him $11.55 million in salary and bonuses and a $14 million salary cap number due to him in 2014.
If Smith makes the Patriots’ 53-man roster out of training camp — his full salary will become guaranteed if he is on the Week 1 roster — he can give the Patriots much-needed depth at defensive end. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich both played more than 95 percent of the snaps last year and seemed to wear down at the end of the season, combining for just four sacks over the final seven games (only one for Jones).
Smith may take the roster spot held last year by veteran Andre Carter, who had four tackles and two sacks in 11 games.
Smith’s arrival also takes the pressure off the Patriots to select a defensive end high in the draft, which begins Thursday night. But the Patriots still could look to add young players at both defensive end and tackle with some of their eight picks. They now have four players on the defensive line over 30: Vince Wilfork (32), Tommy Kelly (33), Ninkovich (30), and Smith.
Smith also doesn’t come to the Patriots with a clean slate. He was involved in two recent incidents — the StarCaps suspensions in 2008, in which he was one of six players who tested positive for a banned diuretic, and the Bountygate scandal of 2012. He was initially suspended four games for each incident, but upon appeal the suspensions were reduced to two and no games, respectively.
Smith ultimately played all 16 games in 2012.
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The NFL announced the start times for the preseason schedule, and all four Patriots games — at Washington Aug. 7, vs. Philadelphia Aug. 15, vs. Carolina Aug. 22, and at the New York Giants Aug. 28 — will kick off at 7:30 p.m.