In 2016, Vikings GM Rick Spielman praised Harrison Smith as “better safeties” in the NFL. Actually, Smith proved himself to be one of the best in the league at his position but, as Spielman joked, assigning him that label would have driven up the price. Four years ago today, the two sides met in the middle to tie Smith to Minnesota through the 2021 season.
All told, it was a five-year extension worth $51.25MM in new money with $15.278MM fully guaranteed and $28.58MM in total guarantees. At the time, the deal made Smith the highest-paid safety in the league. Smith fell short of Devin McCourty‘s $22MM watermark for full guarantees, but he was the kingpin in terms of average annual value and total value.
The metrics certainly indicated that Smith was one of the best in the league and this contract reflected it. Pro Football Focus positioned the then-27-year-old as the NFL’s No. 1 safety in 2015, despite the fact that he only played 13 games. He ranked in PFF’s top 10 for safeties in pass coverage, run defense, and pass rush grades. And, since 2012, he was the only player to post 300+ tackles (311), 5+ sacks (5.5), 10+ interceptions (12), and a 4+ interception/touchdown ratio.
Sometime after Smith’s big extension, the NFL’s safety market dipped dramatically. In 2018, teams weren’t willing to make major committments to mid-field veterans, leaving notables like Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston in limbo throughout the offseason. Other ill-fated deals ruined the fun for safeties, but Smith’s deal was different.
Smith has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last five seasons and he’s missed only three regular season games in the last four, under the extension. This year, he’s slated to earn $10.75MM, which puts him eighth among all safeties in 2020 comp. The Smith extension was pricey, no doubt, but it’s now an undeniably team-friendly deal. And, if his performance slips for whatever reason this year, the Vikings have an easy escape hatch – his $9.85MM base salary for 2021 is non-guaranteed. However, history suggests that he’ll continue to deliver, and the Vikings will probably start chatting with him about his next contract soon.
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