Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick made some waves on Monday when he opened his press conference by announcing the team had released veteran cornerback Otis Smith.
The 14th-year veteran had offseason surgery to replace a torn pectoral muscle and had seen very little practice time. It's unclear whether he was still trying to overcome that injury or was dealing with another ailment, but he was limited to just two practices in camp.
Still, the news came as quite a shock given Smith's impeccable standing with the team, which covered two stints (1996, 2000-03) during his long career.
"Otis is a professional team player, a true champion," Belichick said. "It was a difficult roster decision that we made, but with only 10 days and limited reps in practice, we felt we had to make the move."
Smith had been the starter alongside Ty Law at cornerback for most of the past three seasons, including each of the last two. He's had his ups-and-downs at the position, but he's always been known as a playmaker. That was particularly evident in 2001 when he led the team with five interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. He followed that with a strong postseason performance and was at his best during Super Bowl XXXVI.
But Smith's inability to get on the practice field seemed to frustrate Belichick, who expressed some discontent with Smith's situation early last week. When asked of Smith's status, rather than the normal "day-to-day" comments reserved for injured players, the coach said "I really don't know."
Last season he had just two interceptions and his occasional problems in coverage seemed to be more noticeable. Still, he was expected to fight veteran free agent addition Tyrone Poole for the starting job but that battle never materialized.
The play of rookies Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson also played a huge role in Smith's departure. Both have been solid throughout training camp and that no doubt made it easier for Belichick to make his decision.
"Obviously it's somewhat of a factor because with the plays and opportunities coming up, the players who are here will be getting them," Belichick said. "I can't deny it. [Samuel's and Wilson's play] definitely was a factor."
Smith, who turns 38 in October, began his career in 1990 with Philadelphia. He left Philly for the Jets in 1995, made his first stop in New England in 1996, and returned to New York to play for Belichick with the Jets from 1997-99. He signed with the Patriots for the second time during training camp in 2000, Belichick's first as the Patriots head coach.