Vikings, Bucs favorites to sign free safety Smith
Released by the New Orleans Saints last Thursday, standout free safety Dwight Smith hopes to have a new home by the end of the week, and the five-year veteran began the process of courting suitors on Monday by visiting with Minnesota Vikings coaches and team officials.
The Vikings already have a Pro Bowl free safety in Darren Sharper, the nine-year veteran who registered nine interceptions in 2005, but seem prepared to make accommodations to fit Smith into the lineup. What the Vikings also have is first-year defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, who was Smith's secondary coach at Tampa Bay from 2001-2004, and who is said to be very close to the veteran safety.
Adding the resourceful Smith to the lineup would give Minnesota a pair of ballhawking safeties in the cover two scheme that Tomlin installed in the offseason, and further bolster a secondary that includes standout cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Fred Smoot.
In the cover two scheme, Sharper might move to strong safety, if Smith was acquired, allowing him to play closer to the line of scrimmage on occasion. Minnesota signed former Tennessee starting strong safety Tank Williams as an unrestricted free agent and he and four-year veteran Willie Offord seemed ready to compete for the starting job there. Acquiring Smith, of course, would probably change that.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus has spoken to several teams about Smith since his release, but the front-runners for his services appear to be Minnesota and Tampa Bay. Smith still has several friends on the Buccaneers roster and he knows the defense and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin very well.
Rosenhaus said Monday morning that, while a deal is not imminent, all of the teams that seem serious in pursuing his client will be in camp by the end of the week, and Smith's goal is to be in camp on time with whatever teams signs him.
A former Akron standout, and the third-round pick of the Bucs in the 2001 draft, Smith is the kind of safety many teams want now, an interior defender with cornerback-level coverage skills. In fact, Smith started his career with the Bucs as a standout nickel cornerback and then was moved to safety 2003.
Smith, 27, provides a defense with tremendous flexibility because of his hybrid skills and his ability to move out into the slot and cover wide receivers.
As arguably the Saints' most notable veteran addition in 2005, Smith signed a five-year, $15 million contract as an unrestricted free agent, and the deal included a $3.5 million signing bonus. In his only season with the Saints, Smith appeared in 15 games, all starts, and had 86 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles. While he was arguably New Orleans' steadiest defender in 2005, Smith did not fit into the plans of a new coaching staff that has overhauled the safety position.
The Saints offered Smith on the trade market much of the offseason and released him after concluding that no team was prepared to meet their asking price for him.
For his career, Smith has appeared in 78 games and started 49 of them. He has 306 tackles, one sack, 14 interceptions, 45 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and two recoveries. In Tampa Bay's victory over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
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