After the Saints released him in February, defensive end/linebacker Will Smith insisted he wasn’t ready to retire.
But Smith wasn’t given a chance to make another NFL roster until Monday, when he signed with the New England Patriots. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Smith, a first-round pick out of Ohio State by the Saints in 2004, led New Orleans in sacks in 2005, ’06, ’07 and ’09. The Saints won their lone Super Bowl trophy in that last year.
Smith spent most of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, but last year he was asked to become a 3-4 outside linebacker after Rob Ryan took over as defensive coordinator. He tore an ACL in an exhibition game and missed the regular season, when New Orleans’ defense finished ranked fourth.
With Smith set to turn 33 in July and due a base salary of more than $10 million in 2014, the Saints released him in February.
Smith’s 67.5 career sacks trail only Rickey Jackson’s 115, Wayne Martin’s 82.5 and Pat Swilling’s 76.5 in Saints history. Only Jackson (38) and Swilling (24) forced more fumbles than did Smith (20).
A few days after his release, Smith told The Advocate he hadn’t contemplated post-NFL life.
“I definitely want to play until I don’t have the passion,” he said. “I want to play until I can’t at a high level anymore.”
He first visited the Patriots in free agency in early April. At defensive end in New England, Smith will be part of a group that includes Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette. Andre Carter, who spent 2013 with the Patriots, is a free agent.
A few other players who helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV alongside Smith also have landed on the rosters of other teams in recent months. After being released, wide receiver Lance Moore linked up with the Steelers, and safety Roman Harper went to Carolina. Safety Malcolm Jenkins made it to the end of the 2013 league year with the Saints, but he left for the Eagles in free agency.
During the annual NFL owners meeting in late March in Orlando, Florida, coach Sean Payton marveled at how rapidly the Saints roster transformed following the title.
“This is an entirely different team,” Payton said. “It happens quickly.”