Once the stunning news of Will Smith's senseless murder began to settle in, many looked at his outstanding contributions to the New Orleans Saints, as well as the Greater New Orleans community. One of the things that crossed the minds of Saints fans was just how long it would be until Smith would be immortalized in franchise history by becoming enshrined in the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame.
Certainly, Smith would be enshrined by the franchise, but would they wait for time to pass before he would be enshrined or would they make a point to put him in as soon as possible due to his tragic death? Well, the Saints already had an answer to this.
The Saints would have made Smith's election into the franchise Hall of Fame public in just a month's time, which makes a devastating story even more sobering. This coming season, Will Smith would have been taking his place among the other Saints greats currently enshrined, but now his loved ones will have to take the honors in his stead. An honor bestowed with heavy hearts and tears other than those of simple joy and appreciation.
It is likely that this enshrinement will not be the only memorial to Will Smith this season. Some may speculate that the team will wear a patch in his honor, but this would be unlikely, considering the fact that the Saints will already be wearing their 50th anniversary patches for the duration of the 2016 season. It is more likely that the Saints, and possibly other franchises if they opt-in, could wear a black #91 decal on their helmets during the entirety of the season or a portion of it. There is precedence for the decal, as we have seen in the past, with the tragic deaths of Redskins defender Sean Taylor in 2007 and Cardinals defender Pat Tillman in 2004. The NFL is quite strict with uniforms, so we will have to wait and see just what the league will allow and get behind for Smith.
Even without the publicity of his tragic death, Will Smith was a sure-fire Saints Hall of Famer, hence his induction during his first year of eligibility. Finishing his career with 457 tackles and 67.5 sacks, the Saints' 2004 first round pick out of Ohio State had his career season in sacks (13) during the Saints' Super Bowl Championship season of 2009. He wasn't considered the most feared or prolific defensive end in the league during his career, but the Saints knew just how valuable a player and a leader he was.
Perhaps the biggest compliment to Smith came at the time he ultimately reached his end with the Saints. Entering the 2013 season, the Saints shifted their base defense from a 4-3 scheme, which Smith was well-suited for, into a 3-4 base defense which was a poor fit for the veteran defensive end. Sean Payton and the Saints tried to do whatever possible to keep Smith on the field, which meant moving him to outside linebacker. The move made the Saints, and especially Smith, the victim of many jabs and criticisms. A torn ACL suffered in the preseason ended the experiment, as well as Smith's playing career in New Orleans.
Looking back now, it stands to reason that Payton tried to fit Smith in so desperately not because he needed him on the field, but he needed him in the locker room. Smith was one of the very few players that was on the roster before Katrina turned the city and the franchise upside-down. He helped guide the franchise from near ruin into championship glory under Sean Payton, and Payton surely realized his value and appreciated his loyalty, like that of his other core defenders like Scott Shanle, Scott Fujita, and Jonathan Vilma.
Will Smith was a leader in many ways for the Saints, he was a husband, a father, an adopted New Orleanian, and, of course, a champion. Forever, a champion. Next, Will Smith will be a Saints Hall of Famer, and deservedly so.