The Eagles will not the exercise the fifth-year option of defensive end Marcus Smith, a league source said Monday.
Smith, 25, was a 2014 first-round pick who has only four sacks in three seasons. The deadline for exercising the option is Tuesday. By declining the option, the Eagles are allowing Smith to become a free agent after the 2017 season — if he even makes the 53-man roster.
Smith will have a salary-cap number of $2.48 million in 2017, although he faces significant competition for playing time. The Eagles will return defensive ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, and they signed veteran Chris Long and drafted Derek Barnett in the first round. So four players are already ahead of him on the depth chart, with Steven Means and Alex McCalister competing for spots and undrafted rookies likely to arrive at the position.
Most fifth-year options are exercised for first-round picks because they are only guaranteed for injury, so teams could still cut the player after the fourth year. However, if the Eagles exercised the option and Smith suffered an injury this season that extended beyond the first day of the 2018 league year, the Eagles would be on hook for his salary. Smith’s 2018 salary would have been the average salary of the third-through-25th highest-paid players at his position. That was why the Minnesota Vikings reportedly did not exercise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s fifth-year option, and why Buffalo might pass on wide receiver Sammy Watkins’ option.
This decision is another bad sign in Smith’s tenure with the Eagles. A controversial pick out of Louisville in 2014 after the Eagles missed out on their initial targets, Smith seesawed between outside linebacker and inside linebacker as a rookie. That stunted his development, and he played only 68 defensive snaps that year.
Smith was exclusively an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense in 2015. He could never earn consistent playing time, and the Eagles hoped a switch to defensive end in the 4-3 defense last year could help his career. Smith improved, but he could not work his way up the depth chart. He played 21 percent of the defensive snaps and totaled 2 1/2 sacks.
Smith will have a chance this summer to try to resuscitate his Eagles career, but the team could find younger, less expensive options to be the fifth or sixth defensive ends. With no commitment to Smith beyond this season, the end could be near for his time in Philadelphia.