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Justin Smiley: Damaged Goods?

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In February of 2008, the Dolphins paid $9 million guaranteed to Justin Smiley to accompany a brand new 5 year, $25 million deal. Just a little over 2 years later the Dolphins have traded him away for a 7th round selection and are happy to have received any compensation for the guard before they inevitably would have had to cut him. It's no secret as to what went sour and why just 2 seasons later he was no longer wanted in Miami. Injuries have ravaged Smiley and the Dolphins staff no longer felt that he was going to give them quality play or anywhere near worth the contract he was under.

So did the Jaguars just throw away away a 7th round pick and some money for damaged goods or are they the beneficiaries of a team giving up on a player due to his contract?

The shoulder issues for Smiley began before the Dolphins decided to pay him big money. On the first weekend of November in 2007, Smiley suffered an extensive tear in his right labrum after his shoulder was dislocated. The dislocation was so bad that it required 4 men to pop it back into place. Surgery came shortly thereafter and by some accounts it was a poor one:

"The 2007 surgery apparently didn't go very well. Smiley, according to two sources, has lost strength in the shoulder over the past two years. He often struggles to lift his right arm over his head and has lost some of the punch and explosion generated at the shoulder." - Armando Salguero, The Miami Herald

Nevertheless the Dolphins evaluated the shoulder 3 months after the injury and felt it was worth throwing down a huge contract for. This isn't an article intended to tear apart the Dolphins staff, but it's worth noting that this evaluation came about a year after the Dolphins decided that Drew Brees arm was way too torn apart to invest in. Hmm...

Anyway, the Dolphins weren't entirely wrong as Smiley recovered in time to find the field and be the starting left guard in Miami for the first 13 games of the season. Unfortunately just 4 offensive snaps into his 13th game he broke his right leg and was lost for the remainder of the season. 

Smiley returned for the 2009 season and started the first 9 games before feeling discomfort in his shoulder again. He was withheld from playing in week 10, but returned in a reserve role for the following 3 weeks. He returned to his starting spot in week 14 against the Jaguars, but wasn't used full time as he saw 42 of the Dolphins' 72 snaps. It wasn't until week 17, and ultimately his last game in Miami, that he saw 100% of the snaps again.

This offseason represents the first since he left San Francisco that will not include rehab from a major injury. However, he was withheld from practicing with the Dolphins this offseason because according to Armando Salguero:

"The team is concerned their left guard would blow out his already weakened right shoulder by merely lifting weights." 

The Jaguars are certainly taking a risk in acquiring Smiley knowing that he could blow out the shoulder at any time and be of no use at all. However, considering that the price to acquire Smiley was a conditional 7th round pick, basically the lowest offer a team can make, the risk is extremely low and the reward is potentially very high.

According to the ProFootballFocus ratings in 2009, Smiley was the 21st ranked guard in the NFL among those that played in 25% of their team's snaps and he was easily the best of the Dolphins. Vince Manuwai was the Jaguars' top performing guard, ranking in at 32nd in the NFL.