Chris Smith's Ending in Cleveland Not a Happy One, But the Browns Aren't the Bad Guy
There has been an outpouring of reaction to the news that the Cleveland Browns released defensive end Chris Smith. The notion that someone is in effect losing their job when they have experienced a tragedy such as the one Smith did three months ago sounds terrible. Smith, now the sole parent of an infant child after losing his partner and the baby's mother in a car accident by drunk driver, is left to pick up the pieces in his football career in addition to grieving and adjusting to life as the child's only parent.
The problem is that the Browns are competing to win games and this is their only option when it comes to adding talent; their roster is limited to 53 active players and they had to release someone else to bring in another player.
It seems cruel, but these are the rules of the sport. There have been arguments made that other players should've been released instead of Smith in an act of compassion. The solution can't be for someone else to lose their job because of this extenuating circumstance. Smith's situation is awful, but everyone is dealing with something. A player that may have gotten their first shot at an NFL roster could be cut, which would also be tragic.
The NFL doesn't have a bereavement exemption for a player in Smith's situation. Maybe it should. The Browns have said they will continue supporting Smith despite the fact he's no longer a member of the team. Part of the problem is it's not entirely clear what that means, so mentioning it makes it difficult for anyone to understand what it means they're providing for him in lieu of his remaining contract. They understand someone losing their job and that can elicit a visceral reaction from people, which it has.
On the field, Chris Smith simply didn't play well. No doubt in part due to this ongoing life-altering loss in his life, he wasn't able to offer the Browns much this season. He was better last year, but he wasn't really a factor then either.
The Browns could theoretically have just retained Smith the rest of the year, opting not to add anyone else to the roster for the remaining four games this season, short of putting players on injured reserve. Not exactly practical or the actions of a team trying to win, but they could have done it.
Smith would have been released after the season for the same reasons he was released during the season. They weren't getting the production they needed, had moved on to younger players and it provided salary savings for next season.
A player like Justin Zimmer, who was signed and had nothing to do with anything in this situation, doesn't get to contribute on an NFL roster with an opportunity to now earn a normal NFL salary as opposed to a substantially smaller one as a member of the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad. He's not making millions of dollars, will get the NFL minimum the rest of the season, but it's a huge increase for him and the family he is supporting.
There are few happy endings in the NFL. Careers are short, teams are cut throat and any money not guaranteed is potentially money that won't be paid. Most players don't retire. They simply stop getting called and move on with the rest of their lives unceremoniously. Chris Smith's situation is commonplace, unfortunately. That doesn't mean people shouldn't empathize. That doesn't make the move seem any less calculated, heartless
And while no one is going to accuse John Dorsey of being particularly sentimental, this isn't his failing either. This is the NFL. Rosters are limited. Contracts aren't guaranteed. Clearly, they should be, so even though Smith would still lose his roster spot, he wouldn't lose any money in his contract, but making that happen is a different conversation entirely.
The Browns as an organization are supporting Smith in the ways they are allowed, but they aren't willing to sacrifice an ability to compete on the football field to do it, nor should they. The one aspect of this that's completely fair game for criticism is releasing a player like Smith while also bringing in players with the respective off field baggage they have. That goes to the people the Browns have representing their organization.
No one is suggesting people should be happy about the situation with Chris Smith, but the Browns aren't the bad guys here.