You've never been to a party with Jason Smith and I haven't either.
But chances are if we had, he'd have come at exactly the wrong time. Probably busting through the door with a six pack while the cops are getting ready to leave because they can't find the booze.
Jason Smith was the second overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The St. Louis Rams paid the Baylor tackle $33 million dollars before he took a single snap in the NFL. They've paid him another $10.5 million dollars since. Orlando Pace made $75 million dollars his entire 13-year career. Jason Smith, counting this year's re-structured deal, will be around $50 million.
That's not a typo, Jason Smith will have put $50 million dollars in his bank account from checks signed by the St. Louis Rams around the time that you're wondering just how the hell you're going to pay the credit card bill after Christmas.
Jason Smith is the reason there was a lockout last season.
Smith came about in a weird seven-year period in the NFL. From 2003 to 2010, the price to have a Top 3 draft pick moved from expensive to potentially franchise-crippling if the player taken didn't turn into a star. And quickly. The league was gaining so much popularity and re-upping TV deals for so much money it was comical, but not much more. At least in the beginning.
Carson Palmer was the first player to be selected #1 in the NFL draft to crack that mythical $10 million dollar barrier. In the moment it felt like a pretty big deal, but no one could anticipate the sheer force at which salary expectations for rookies would escalate.
By the time Sam Bradford came around, and cracked the $50 million dollar barrier coming off a injured arm a mere 7 years later... everyone took a deep breath, paid him, and vowed that THAT was it. And to a certain extent it was. The rookie scale was put in place after the lockout last season. And this year?
The NFL Draft was FUN.
Trades! More Trades! Surprising Trades! And this is the way it should be.
Those seven years, they'll become the anomaly soon enough. But the Rams had more of those anomalous Top 3 picks than anybody else. And when you're sinking $45 million into a left tackle who can't play left tackle when he does play and can't play anything when he doesn't play, which is often, then that's going to murder a rebuilding project before it starts.
He and the Rams restructured his original contract to allow him to "only" make $4 million dollars in 2012 and then "only" 750K in 2013, with an $11-million-plus singing bonus. Meaning if he isn't at a Pro Bowl level by the end of this season, he's cut. He's played in 26 games his 3 active seasons and only 6 games in 2011.
The ultimate put up or shut up year for Smith.
His story was one we could all get behind. He was a businessman, starting a lawn-mowing company before he was 10, and a lovable lug. A big kid who loved his mom and worked hard for his success. His easy way and southern manners have probably shielded him from what probably should have been even more vitriol from Rams Nation. Sure, the expectations of following a Hall of Fame tackle like Orlando Pace in STL were always going to be a bitch. But through three seasons, it's not apparent that Mr. Smith can even keep his job when healthy.
And, oh, the health.
In another cruel twist of timing, Jason Smith came to the NFL right on the leading edge of concussions becoming the first media flashpoint the NFL hasn't been able to strong-arm and leave in a heap. Every month, it seems, brings another bit of new evidence that not only is playing football bad for your brain, but it's even worse than how bad we thought it was last week. The talks about head-injury prevention are about as loud as anything on a global league scale. And the NFL has made large strides to identify players at risk and make sure they're not on the field.
If you guessed that Jason Smith was susceptible to concussions, you guessed exactly right.
He is. And the latest one was caused by a battle in the trenches. AKA, precisely what this man is paid to do up to 60 times a week for up to 20 weeks.
When the Rams drafted Mr. Smith, concussions were not a concern when evaluating a draft pick and money was everything. They gave him plenty of the latter and not much thought to the former. Now three years later, after collecting a ton of money, it's the concussions that are more important than just about anything when evaluating player health.
Again, Jason Smith.
If he's got something to offer the Rams, it's got to happen in 2012. There aren't any more chances.
If this timing keeps up he'll be an MVP around 2013.