It is widely believed that the Lions will be much more active in retaining their own free agents than pursuing players who are seeking a new team. Most of the talk has been centered around players like Cliff Avril, Jeff Backus, Stephen Tulloch and even Eric Wright. While those are all guys I would like to see come back, there is another player who I consider important that seems to have been hardly talked about at all.
I’m talking about Kevin Smith.
By the time the 2011 season ended, Kevin Smith was the team’s second leading rusher despite not joining the team until halfway through their schedule. He did it by averaging 4.9 yards per carry, the best of any running back to carry the ball for the Lions last season. Kevin Smith was able to be productive in ways that Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams were not.
The combination of production and age makes bringing back Kevin Smith a smart choice, especially considering the health status of the two players that are ahead of him in the “perfect world depth chart”. Jahvid Best has said he will return from the concussion that knocked him out of the 2011 season but there are no guarantees. Even if he is able to return there is no way to know that the fog will not return. Just ask a Pittsburgh Penguins fan that has followed Sidney Crosby.
Mikel Leshoure should be back to full strength when the Lions start preparing for 2012 in earnest but that doesn’t mean that he or the team couldn’t benefit from having Kevin Smith around. If the Lions were prepared to carve out a role for Maurice Morris even before the rash of injuries set in, they can certainly do the same for Kevin Smith.
There is no indication that Smith is looking to parlay the success he had with the Lions in the second half of 2011 into a deal anywhere else. The Lions gave him his first chance as a third round draft pick and gave him his second chance as a mid-year free agent pick up when no one else seemed to want him. There is no doubt that he considers himself a Lion:
In every interview that I’ve done, even though I’m a free agent, I’ve referred to the team and me as us. I’m on the Lions roster in my opinion until I’m not on the Lions roster. That says it all.
Ensuring that there is not another lapse in Kevin Smith’s time on the Detroit Lions roster solidifies the Lions at running back without having to invest another draft pick in the position. At the very least, keeping Kevin Smith in the fold delays the need to draft a running back by a year with the upside potential of having one of the league’s best three man rotations. That’s a no risk, high reward situtation.