The New York Jets suffered their first significant free-agent defection of 2011, with all-purpose star Brad Smith agreeing to a four-year, $15 million contract Thursday with the Buffalo Bills, according to a league source.
Free agents can start signing contracts Friday.
Surprisingly, the Jets didn't make an offer to Smith, a source said. The Jets' interest in free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha may have indirectly cost them a chance to make a serious bid for him.
Because of salary-cap considerations and the huge offer on the table for Asomugha, the Jets wanted to play the waiting game, and Smith didn't want to wait.
"Everything with the Jets was contingent on whether they got Nnamdi," Smith said in an e-mail to ESPNNewYork.com. "(I'm) very excited about the opportunity to join the Bills and play for Coach (Chan) Gailey."
The new kickoff rules, which will minimize the impact of elite returners, probably factored into the Jets' decision as well.
It still is a tough blow, especially having Smith bolt to a division rival.
Smith did just about everything for the Jets -- he returned kickoffs (two touchdowns last season), covered kickoffs and orchestrated the wildcat offense. In fact, he rushed for a career-high 299 yards last season.
Smith's signature game came last Thanksgiving, when he compiled 200 all-purpose yards in a win over the Bengals. He scored on a 53-yard run and a 89-yard kickoff return, becoming only the third player in NFL history to score on a rush and a kickoff return of at least 50 and 80 yards, respectively, in the same game.
In five seasons with the Jets, Smith compiled more than 3,300 yards as a rusher, receiver and returner.
Late last season, special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said of Smith, "The day he goes, I go."
As much as they valued Smith, the Jets apparently considered him an unaffordable luxury. They have a gaping hole at wide receiver -- Braylon Edwards is a free agent -- yet they still let Smith walk out the door. The former college quarterback didn't contribute much as a receiver -- only 64 catches in five seasons.
Smith's fate may have been sealed on draft day, when the Jets traded up in the fifth round to select wide receiver Jeremy Kerley of TCU. He is a versatile player who also can return kicks and run the wildcat.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.