When the Eagles went shopping to add free-agent receiving targets for Carson Wentz, they brought in two reasonable names in veterans Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery. The two are similar in that they find themselves at mid-career, taking contracts that wouldn't have interested them a couple of years ago in the hope of altering what appears to be a downward trend.
"Time and place is the key to anybody's career, whether at the beginning or the end," Smith said. "You see guys get written off and then they go to a new situation and all of a sudden are playing out of their minds. People think it's rocket science. No, it just the situation."
Jeffery came at a higher price than Smith. The 27-year-old took a strict one-year deal for $9.5 million, figuring his big free agent score, which didn't happen with Chicago, might arrive after a season with Wentz. Jeffery caught 89 balls in his second NFL season, but his reception total has declined in each of the three years since.
As for Smith, who is 28, he did get a contract score after four seasons with Baltimore, signing a five-year, $40 million contract with San Francisco, of which $22 million was guaranteed. The 49ers released him after two years, and after a season in which he caught just 20 passes and had the second-lowest catch rate per target among all regular NFL receivers. The Eagles signed Smith to what is also essentially a one-year contract for $5 million. There are two additional years at the same salary, but both are at the option of the club with no financial penalty if he is released.
So, yes, the Eagles had to go out and find receivers and that's what they did. Jeffery will likely be gone after this season, no matter what, but it is Smith who could stick around and, if the blending of the veteran receiver and the kid quarterback works out, this might end up being home even after football.
"My wife's from Conshohocken and I've been here a lot over the years," Smith said. "It's kind of weird living here now. It's good that our kids get to see their grandparents more and you have baby-sitters, so that's nice. I knew this is the best place for me football-wise, and I knew that for my family this was the best spot for her. That definitely made the decision a lot easier."
Smith and the former Chanel Williams, who had graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, met at the University of Maryland, where he was on the football team and she was a hurdler on the track team. After he reached the NFL, they always joked over the years about the possibility he would play some day in Philadelphia. Her family would regularly seek out a bar or restaurant on game days where they could watch the Ravens and later the 49ers.
"Now if I drop a pass, they'll probably boo me," Smith said.
Smith was popular with both Baltimore and San Francisco and incredibly generous with his time and money for community outreach projects. He has been nominated three times for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award and plans to be involved with programs in the Philadelphia area as well.
Of course, he does have to also catches passes or it won't be just his in-laws booing. Smith can still run fast and provide a deep threat. Since he broke in for the 2011 season, only DeSean Jackson has a higher yards per catch average, (17.4 yards to 17.0). The consistency on other routes and mid-range passes is what he needs to re-establish here. After catching just those 20 balls on 49 targets, he has things to prove.
"I know I can still play. I can still do everything," Smith said. "I understand that the NFL is like a roller coaster, a lot of highs and lows. You don't let your lows define you, and you don't let your highs get you so excited that you get complacent. I've been in the position where I won the game for us and I've been in the position where I didn't make the play, so I know both sides. Thankfully for me, I've made the play way more than I haven't, so you get that confidence."
Whether the Eagles brass shares that confidence or views Smith as an economic one-year shot doesn't really matter. Torrey Smith – with a lot of help from Wentz – can extend his own career while helping build the quarterback's.
"I'm going into my seventh year and I don't take it for granted. It's special," Smith said. "I see other guys who [retire and] try to adapt without it, and I'm not ready for that yet."
Unfortunately, the game usually gets to decide when that happens. For now, though, as time and place conspire to bring him home to a place he's never lived before, Smith has a chance to write an ending that won't arrive for quite a while.