This is a thought exercise I came up with in Monday's discussion. Here's a little scenario for you to ponder. Read through it, vote, and talk it over. I'm curious to see what the pulse of the community is on this matter.
There are two "specialists" on the Buffalo payroll right now who don't necessarily have a guaranteed spot on this year's roster. They both have very different jobs and salaries, but are also specialized enough that they aren't required to run an NFL team. Those two would be our Wildcat QB Brad Smith and our rookie Kickoff Specialist/Kicker John Potter.
As Buffalo puts together their 53-man roster for the upcoming season, they will be in a much better situation than they were in the last few seasons as far as depth is concerned. Unfortunately, with greater depth and talent, sometimes a specialist might not make the cut when in years past they were useful enough to keep around. The situation may arise where Buffalo wants to keep Rian Lindell on as the main kicker, but they need to decide if they have room to add John Potter for the kickoff specialist role. I think Brad Smith might be someone who has to battle it out with John Potter for one of the last spots, depending on how his training camp goes.
Some people talked about the difference between the 46-man active roster and the 53 man practice roster. I think when it comes to specialists like these, you either have them on the active roster or you don't have them at all. Buffalo, in choosing to keep these players, will have to sacrifice depth players to the inactive list each week.
Contract: Second year of a 4 year, $15 million contract
Brad Smith's primary role on the team is as a Wildcat specialist. He comes in on 3rd and short plays, using his elusiveness to sneak forward and get a first down. He also is a threat to make a trick play, although he never successfully completed a deep pass out of the QB spot last year. In 2011, he was the primary kickoff returner, although he was not very good - the moved-up kickoff spot didn't lend itself well to Smith's long-stride running style. He'll probably be replaced by a more explosive player like Justin Rogers. He also spent some time in the WR position last year after a bunch of injuries hit, picking up 23 receptions.
Reasons to keep Brad Smith on the 53-man roster:
As an experienced Wildcat player, Smith can combine with the Wildcat guru, David Lee, to put together some dangerous packages this year. Rushing out of the Wildcat without being a passing threat, he was still able to convert many 3rd and short plays, which makes him a reliable conversion asset. Smith is versatile and can play WR, Wildcat QB, or be on special teams for coverage or as a returner. For the kind of value you can get in one of your depth players, Smith certainly brings a lot of impact to the game.
Reasons not to keep Brad Smith on the 53-man roster:
The biggest reason not to keep Brad Smith around is his salary. At essentially $4 million per year, Smith only accumulated 327 yards from scrimmage and 609 all-purpose yards. He's a big cap hit who didn't have a large impact on the game. The Wildcat is nice in theory, but it may have been figured out by now - and it definitely has been if Smith can't find a way to read a defense and complete a pass. Some people like to call Smith a "3rd QB" but he really isn't a full-time QB. If Buffalo has to make him play the position full-time, they are screwed. Speaking of QB's, Vince Young was just signed, and he is another excellent athlete who is also a much more natural quarterback. He might be able to do Brad Smith's job in the Wildcat better. Overall, Smith just seems to be getting edged out of the roster. His Wildcat takes snaps away from the regular offense, he'll have to win a crowded battle against a host of talents including Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, and TJ Graham to get reps at the outside WR spot, and his kickoff returning style makes him a liability compared to Justin Rogers or Leodis McKelvin. If this team's talent level keeps improving, they might not have a spot for a high-priced specialist on offense or anywhere.
Contract: Undisclosed 4 year contract. Probably around $390,000 annually.
John Potter's main role on the team in this exercise would be as the kickoff specialist and backup kicker. Potter would perform every kickoff and take on field goal responsibilities only if Rian Lindell were injured (and perhaps a desperation end-of-the-half 60 yarder?). He doesn't get much else to do because he's a true "specialist," but he could be considered valuable enough to Buffalo that he'll be kept around.
Reasons to keep John Potter on the 53-man roster:
Potter has a cannon leg. This we know. Reports from rookie minicamp said that he was simply always kicking through the uprights during practices from the 35. If he is really this ridiculous, he might be hitting touchbacks on 75% or more of kickoffs. This greatly reduces randomness from the game. No more worries about a TD by Hester or Edelman. They just don't get to run it out. Over the course of a season, this might force opponents to gain 500 or 600 extra yards to get to the end zone. This could translate to another 30 or more first downs - a much larger hurdle for opponents and more breathing room for the defense. Injuries also are greatly mitigated - if 75% of plays don't involve real tackling, players keep their health preserved. Keeping Potter around also lets him practice with Lindell to gain knowledge from one of the best kickers in franchise history, and as was mentioned before, gives Buffalo the option to try a super-long field goal if they have no time left in the half.
Reasons not to keep John Potter on the 53-man roster:
He's a kicker. HE'S A KICKER. We already have a kicker on the roster named Lindell and he does fine. Why does this team need two kickers? If Buffalo keeps Potter around, that means we miss out on an extra lineman or cornerback who might be useful as depth during the game. He also probably has very little impact on the overall state of a game. Forcing opponents to start at the 20 yard line versus the 24 yard line probably doesn't make a huge difference. Plus, starting field position doesn't really correlate to points scored when you're distinguishing between positions in the 20-30 yard line range. Also, Potter's injury and randomness protection only applies to kickoffs. He has no impact on the punting game. If Brad Smith gets a few touches, Potter might get even fewer - one kick for each score Buffalo makes. Is that worth it?
So now I ask you, if you were Buffalo, and you had a roster to put together and you couldn't keep both players around, who would you cut? Would Brad Smith and his $4 million contract be taking value away from the offense? Is the idea of having a second kicker just not worth considering? What do you think?