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Bengals roster breakdown, 90-in-90: Chris Smith

The veteran lineman joined the Bengals via a trade this offseason. Will he give the Bengals some much-needed help on the edge?

Tennessee Titans v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Earlier this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals added depth at defensive end in the form of Chris Smith.

It came in April when Cincinnati sent a conditional 2018 seventh round NFL Draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Smith, who has been a backup defensive end for the bulk of his three-year NFL career.

What are his chances of Smith actually making the Bengals’ 53-man roster in 2017?

Chris Smith

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 266

Position: Defensive end

College: Arkansas

Hometown: Mount Ulla, NC

Experience: Fourth-year player.

Cap Status

Smith is on the final year of his rookie contract. He’s set to have a cap hit of $690,000 in 2017. If released, Smith will have no dead cap hit, according to Spotrac.


The Bengals made sure to come out of the offseason with more depth at defensive end after the position became a weakness in 2016. Just about two weeks before the draft began, Cincinnati sent a conditional pick to Jacksonville for Smith. The compensation for Smith can likely be increased or canceled out completely based on whether Smith makes the 53-man roster and how much he plays.

Smith was a fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft, but never quite fit into Jacksonville’s defense as a LEO, essentially a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. The 6’1”, 262-pound Smith isn’t quite big enough to be a true defensive end in the NFL, but he’s not athletic and agile enough to be a linebacker either. That’s part of why Smith has played in just 19 games through his first three years in the NFL and compiled just 4.5 sacks, 16 tackles, and one forced fumble.

However, Smith already has as many sacks as current Bengals defensive end Will Clarke, who needed 35 games to get to 4.5 sacks, whereas Smith played just 19 to accumulate that total. It’s hard to say how good Smith really is since he only played 69 snaps last season and just 154 in 2015.

That said, the Bengals badly needed an experienced end to add to what was a weakness last season. After Pro Bowler Carlos Dunlap, just the aging Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry go along with Clarke.

Perhaps the best thing this move did was help Cincinnati avoid being forced into drafting a defensive end early in the 2017 NFL Draft. We talked extensively about guys like Derek Barnett, Jonathan Allen and Taco Charlton for the No. 9, but the Bengals waited until Round 3 to select a defensive end and went offense in Rounds 1 and 2 with wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon.

Still, the Bengals ended up getting two quality pass-rushers in Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. Those two could actually prevent Smith from making the final roster this year.

Roster Chances

As of now, the Bengals have two entrenched starters in Johnson and Dunlap, leaving only backup spots for which Smith can challenge. He’s battling the likes of Gilberry, Clarke and 2016 practice squad lineman Ryan Brown for those final end spots. Willis and Lawson are locks to make the roster as mid-round rookies, though, Lawson may be counted toward the linebacker group, leaving an extra spot at defensive end.

Even though the Bengals traded for Smith, I think he’s facing less than a 50-50 shot of making the final roster. There’s just too many guys he needs to beat out, and the Bengals prefer to keep established veterans like Smith and Clarke over newcomers.

Odds: 40 percent.