ALAMEDA, Calif. — Deciding to go for a game-winning two-point conversion in the final minute might not have been the boldest move Raiders coach Jack Del Rio made in Sunday’s season-opening win over the New Orleans Saints.
Benching $38 million cornerback Sean Smith midway through the third quarter and sitting him for the remainder of the afternoon clearly stood out and raised eyebrows in Oakland’s locker room as well as around the NFL.
Smith was one of the marquee offseason additions made by general manager Reggie McKenzie yet Del Rio didn’t hesitate to pull Smith after he failed to get a hand on Saints wideout Brandin Cooks and was beaten for a 98-yard touchdown.
It’s a move Smith agreed with, even if it came at his expense, and he said he was not surprised when it happened.
“Not at all,” Smith said Tuesday. “I was getting killed, I’m not going to lie to you. It was getting bad out there. I was costing our team points. Coach did what he had to do. Obviously I would have loved to stay in and fight that thing out but coach made a decision on what’s best for the team so I’m going to ride with it.”
The Raiders expected Smith to bring stability to their secondary after nearly a half-decade of constant changes. They inked him to a four-year contract that included a $20 million signing bonus to lure Smith away from Kansas City.
Smith got off to a decent enough start in New Orleans but struggled as the game went on, allowing a 49-yard completion before the Saints’ franchise-record 98-yarder from quarterback Drew Brees to Cooks.
That’s when Del Rio made the decision to bench Smith in favor of former first-round draft pick DJ Hayden. Hayden was flagged for two pass interference penalties that helped sustain touchdown drives by the Saints after Smith was pulled from the game.
“I have to make those kinds of calls and guys have to trust my judgement,” Del Rio said. “I’m going to always do what I think is best for the football team and that’s what it was.”
Smith, who had 41 pass breakups and five interceptions during his three years in Kansas City, had no qualms with the decision.
“Just a bad day overall, bad technique,” Smith said. “That’s pretty much what it was, bad technique. You want to go out there with a game plan and execute and that’s something that I didn’t do.”
An eight-year veteran, Smith said he had never been benched in the middle of a game before Sunday.
“But if you play long enough you’re going to have days like that,” Smith said. “You just have to move on, have a short-term memory and be ready to roll. It’s over. It’s just like any other job. I had a bad day at work. It’s one game. It’s not going to define myself, my career or this season. It was a bad day and I’m ready to roll into Week 2.”