Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Monday, May 5, 2014
Analyzing Will Smith's signing with Pats

By Mike Reiss

Thoughts on the Patriots' signing of veteran defensive end Will Smith, formerly of the Saints:

Smith
Addresses area of need. We've had defensive end ranked No. 1 on the team's needs list and this now could alter the picture. The team has to feel good about starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, but it's the drop-off after them that has likely been the concern. Smith, who missed last season with a torn ACL, makes the drop-off less severe if he's healthy. While the Patriots don't lock in roles at this time, our educated guess is that they project Smith as their top nickel pass-rusher who also could spell Jones and Ninkovich on early downs. Other players on the depth chart are Michael Buchanan (seventh round, 2013) and Jake Bequette (third round, 2012).

What does Smith bring? When the Patriots had Smith in for a visit in early April, it led us back to Smith's 2012 tape to get a feel for how he might fit. The things that stood out were size (6-foot-3, 282 pounds), physicality and a power rush. More extended thoughts here. His signing almost certainly means that veteran defensive end Andre Carter won't be back with the club in 2014.

Patriots' history with late-career veterans. When safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Junior Seau were teammates in New England, they sometimes talked about how the organization was the perfect place for late-career veterans, in part because of Bill Belichick's knack for getting the most out of players trying to squeeze a few more years out of their careers. There are some good examples over the years, going back to linebacker Roman Phifer in the Super Bowl championship years. Phifer, like Smith, was 33 when he first signed in New England in 2001. If Smith's tenure winds up mirroring Phifer's, the Patriots would naturally be thrilled. The flip side is what we saw with running back Fred Taylor, who was 33 when he signed in 2009 and his overall Patriots tenure was derailed by injuries.