Two days after doctors removed the wiring from his jaw, Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot broke his two-monthlong vow of silence.
In an interview Friday, Smoot recapped his frustrating end to 2006 and his prospects for 2007, most notably whether he will return to the Vikings.
Despite disagreeing with his benching in late November, Smoot said he would welcome returning to Minnesota for a third season.
"I really don't want change," Smoot said. "I don't want to play under another defensive coordinator and learn another system.
"I want some consistency in my life."
But Smoot knows he doesn't make those decisions, which is why he is looking to get some clarity soon from the Vikings. Smoot said he and coach Brad Childress never had what he described as an "exit meeting," and he looks forward to having that discussion.
"I just want the best for Fred Smoot," Smoot said. "If the Vikings think the best for me is to get out of Dodge, then I have to move on. But a lot of teams need corners, and I know I can still start."
Smoot stressed that starting is mandatory, insisting he's a "third corner to nobody."
Asked whether he would want to move on if the team plans to start Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, he said, "Most definitely.
"There ain't no room for Fred Smoot to be on the bench. I'm prepared to be a third corner at the end of my career, and we're not even close to that," said Smoot, who is 27 and just wrapped up his sixth NFL season. "That ain't what I'm paid to do. I'm one of the highest-paid corners in the NFL. Who wants to pay someone that much (to be a third cornerback)?"
After making $800,000 last season, Smoot's base salary in 2007 jumps to $2.7 million. But his future will be determined in March, when he is due a $2 million roster bonus. If he were released before the bonus is due, the Vikings would save $400,000 in salary cap space â€” the majority of his guaranteed bonuses were paid upfront â€” and nearly $5 million.
And since the league year starts March 2, the Vikings would have roughly one week to execute a trade, an unappealing option for interested clubs because they could negotiate their own deal when Smoot becomes a free agent.
Indications are that Smoot will not be back. He and Griffin are suited for the Tampa 2 defense, and the club will also bring back Dovonte Edwards, who missed the entire season with an elbow injury. Rookie Charles Gordon also showed some flashes toward the end of the season, and the club could add depth â€” albeit cheaper â€” via the draft and free agency.
As for a pay cut, Smoot insists that was not an option, and he isn't worried about the prospect of being traded.
"If somebody out there feels you're a good fit for them, they want you," Smoot said. "And it's not like I can go anywhere colder than here."
Smoot said there is "no question" he still can start in the NFL. In fact, he wondered why Griffin replaced him in late November.
"I couldn't believe it. It caught me off guard," Smoot said. "I felt there was no reason to take me out."
Smoot said he played well against New England, and he felt he had a solid game against San Francisco.
Then, his season unraveled. He learned after the game that his half brother, Matthew Taylor, was killed in a car accident. Then he missed the next game against Green Bay before his benching.
"I got lost in everything," Smoot said. "Things happened so fast."
But Smoot said he refused to be a distraction, which is why he declined interview requests.
"I didn't want to be controversial," Smoot said. "We had enough going on."
During an extended Christmas break after the Thursday night game at Lambeau Field against the Packers, Smoot was involved in a car accident in Jackson, Miss. Smoot said his 2007 Rolls Royce Phantom was in the blind spot of an 18-wheeler. When the truck moved into his lane, Smoot's cousin, who was driving, tried to get out of the way, but he was boxed in by a car behind him.
Driving about 75 mph, Smoot's cousin lost control, and the car slammed into a highway divider. Smoot, who was sitting in the back but not wearing a seatbelt, crashed into the back of the front seat and was knocked unconscious.
Smoot said there was no alcohol or other substances involved, a point corroborated by local authorities.
"He actually saved us," Smoot said of his cousin. "He did a great job. I feel blessed."
Asked about his string of unfortunate incidents, Smoot said, "I wonder. But I take everything slow. You can't keep a good man down."
Smoot was placed on the non-football injured reserve list, and the Vikings were not obligated to pay him his final game check of $47,000. Because he has direct deposit, Smoot said he doesn't know if he was paid or not.
"I don't know," Smoot said. "But knowing (Childress), I probably didn't. Will it upset me? No. I didn't earn it."
Smoot, though, reiterated that he would like to return, noting that he likes his teammates and the "straightforward" approach of the coaching staff.
For now, Smoot plans to go on a vacation, and he wants to return and begin his offseason program. One positive: He already is down 15 pounds because of his broken jaw.
Sean Jensen can be reached at [email protected]