Smith, a defensive back who played the last four seasons with the New York Jets, spent the first few weeks of the offseason at his New Jersey home, but he’s been back in Ohio these past few months, again living with his parents.
“It got to the point where I thought, ‘I’m going crazy in Jersey,’ ” Smith said. “I’d work out for a couple hours, go home, sit in the house and then what do I do? Walk around the mall? You can only do that for so long.
“Not a whole lot of nightlife around here,” he continued. “But I like it.”
The NFL’s lockout inspires boredom and restlessness, and the uncertainty hasn’t really helped matters. Technically, Smith is unemployed. He has no contract and doesn’t know what his future holds whenever owners and players reach a new labor agreement. He’s among a large group of players whose free agency status has been up in the air this offseason — and who began feeling the impact of the expired collective bargaining agreement in 2010.
Smith should have been able to cash in a year ago, but his free agency was essentially postponed. Because last season was uncapped and the owners and players were headed toward a labor showdown, rules required a player to have six years of service to become an unrestricted free agent, whereas they previously needed just four. That meant any team that signed players with four or five seasons experience, such as Smith, would have to give up draft picks in compensation, a price teams considered too high to pay.
Nearly everyone in the group, including Smith, signed a one-year tender with his team, hoping he’d become unrestricted once a new labor deal was struck. The draft classes of 2005 and ’06 were affected profoundly as about 200 players were unable to enter the open market and sign new long-term deals.
As the owners and players inch closer to a new collective bargaining agreement, Smith soon might finally get a chance to weigh his options. He’s careful not to get his hopes up, though, and tries to enjoy these quiet days around Groveport. He got a puppy a few weeks back. He hangs out at the gym most days, lifting with a couple of friends who are trying to get in beach shape. And he thinks about the future.
If there’s an upside to the lockout, it’s reminded players that football can be taken away at any time.
“It doesn’t last forever,” said Smith, 28. “I know I need to do something else after football, and this has given me time to explore my options.”
‘Eric Smith, FBI’
When Eric Smith was 12 years old, he answered the door one morning and was greeted by an FBI agent, who was tracking a fugitive he thought might’ve been in the area.
“It just seemed like the coolest thing to me,” Smith said.
The youngster’s future was sealed. Smith knew what he wanted to do.
“It’s all he ever talked about,” said his mother, Lori Smith. “He had a little badge, and he’d flip it open: ‘Eric Smith, FBI.’ ”