“I can’t comment on that right now,” he said.
In his first interview since signing with the Seahawks in April, the 31-year-old pass-rusher had much more to say about his four seasons away from the NFL and his latest opportunity following last year’s comeback with the Dallas Cowboys.
“Every day I just try to get better, and as long as I keep that mentality and keep learning and keep developing, the sky is still the limit for me,” he said. “I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank and a lot to offer this game.”
Smith is getting his first chance to prove that to the Seahawks. He didn’t take part in the their voluntary offseason program — several of the team’s veteran players skipped the majority of it as well — and received an excused absence from their mandatory minicamp. Coach Pete Carroll said that was so Smith could get in shape, which he has since done.
Wearing the No. 99 he wore when he began his career with the divisional rival San Francisco 49ers, Smith has been on the field for all three of Seattle’s practices since the start of training camp and hasn’t appeared limited. Early in Thursday’s practice, he engaged a tackling sled, lifted it up and nearly flipped it over.
“He’s made a good first impression about learning stuff,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a very bright kid. … He knows what’s going on in the game, brings us experience and background and all of that. He’s having no trouble picking things up. He’s got a real style. He’s always had this marvelous length and reach and hands and hand play, and you can just tell, he’s got a strength and power to him that’s really unusual.”
Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons and has 52.5 sacks in five seasons.
None of that means he is a lock to stick with the Seahawks. He was guaranteed only $137,500 on his one-year, minimum-salary deal. And he’s more of a potential luxury than a necessity, given how loaded the Seahawks are with edge rushers, including veterans Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa and Kerry Hyder as well as promising young players such as Darrell Taylor, Alton Robinson and L.J. Collier.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Carroll said. “I hope you can see it already. It already shows. But once we get into pads, I’m anxious to see where he stands with that.”
Smith’s pending legal case adds to the uncertainty. He faces potential legal and NFL discipline over an alleged second-degree battery in the New Orleans area in April. Smith was arrested after he was accused of choking a man unconscious during an altercation that began inside a coffee shop. According to the police report obtained by WWL-TV, Smith had confronted the man about marital issues the man was having with one of Smith’s relatives.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said later in April that the team would “let the legal process take its course.” Smith is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 24, though that date could be pushed back.
The Louisiana incident was the latest of Smith’s several brushes with the law, which have included multiple DUI arrests and a domestic-violence charge. Those incidents and others led the NFL to suspend Smith for parts of the 2014 and ’15 seasons and from 2016-2019 for violations of its policies on personal conduct and substances of abuse.
Smith was asked what he learned during his time away.
“That football is an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and when you get opportunities in life, you should make the best of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who wish that they could play this game and I’m glad that I just got a chance to be able to do the things that I needed to do to get mentally right, that I could be in a position that when I came back, I could be focused and give it what I need to give it to play.”
Smith had five sacks in 16 games for Dallas, with three coming in one game against Seattle and all of them coming in the first half of the season. He felt he got too heavy and has since worked to get back to his preferred weight, which is around 270 pounds.
“I was kind of fat last year,” he said.
Smith stayed in a sober living home last season in Dallas and is doing so now in Seattle. He said his “tremendous support staff” helps him with his ongoing battle to remain sober.
“For me it was just making myself vulnerable and being willing to trust and lean on [those] people,” he said. “I’ve always had people that were there, but I would always try to carry everything on my shoulders. So letting people help me and accepting that help was a major game-changer.”
Carroll said Seattle felt comfortable signing Smith after “a lot of homework” and several conversations with him. Smith made a positive impression on Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. when both were with the Raiders in 2015, which factored heavily into the decision.
Carroll said Smith has demonstrated the vulnerability he talked about “in that he was very open and very upfront and he said, ‘I need some work right now, I need some help right now and it’s going to take me a while to get this done and that done.’ He was not trying to cover for himself. He didn’t pull any punches on it at all and was very up front, and it was most refreshing.”
Carroll said that while it’s ultimately on Smith to remain sober, the Seahawks will support him “every step of the way.”
“I want him to succeed at this in the worst way and I want him to come through and do what he needs to do, so we’re going to give him every opportunity,” Carroll said. “The level of communication is very clear and he’s been very open with us, and he’s told us when things were harder than others and he’s been upfront in that regard and that’s helped us understand and believe and trust that he’s working at it, and that it isn’t easy and it’s a lifelong commitment that he has to make.
“We really sense that the more we can support him, the more obviously we can be there for him, the stronger it makes him. So that’s really what our intent is here.”