As veterans reported to the NovaCare Complex for training camp Wednesday, the Eagles bid adieu to two of them. De facto general manager Howie Roseman initially left the door open for one of the vets to return, if that player couldn’t land a better gig. Then the Denver Broncos stepped up and offered a conditional draft pick for the guy, so he ended up getting traded, not released.
The player the Eagles would’ve welcomed back as a reserve, and for whom they were able to salvage at least a 2019 conditional seventh-round pick? It wasn’t 2014 first-round selection Marcus Smith.
There was no Roseman statement on Smith, whose ineptitude helped propel Roseman into personnel limbo for a year, and nearly cost him his job. No, the bouquet-tossing was reserved for steady soldier Allen Barbre, who apparently balked at the coaching staff’s decision to declare Isaac Seumalo the Eagles’ starting left guard, instead of Barbre, without the formality of a training camp competition.
Barbre, 33, had at least a vestige of trade value. Smith, 25, did not.
“Allen Barbre is a pro’s pro. Not only did he help the team with his solid play as a starter at left guard, but his ability to step up and play multiple positions helped us battle through some difficult situations,” Roseman’s statement read. “We had a conversation [Tuesday] and agreed it made sense to allow him to pursue some other opportunities, but the door is open for him to return here as well.”
This was after the Eagles announced their intention to release Barbre, but before it became official, something the trade precluded. Presumably that door remains open, if the Broncos decide Barbre doesn’t fit their needs.
This makes sense, because if you had to pick which departure is most likely to affect the fortunes of the 2017 Eagles, it would likely be losing Barbre. He was versatile, able to play either side at guard or tackle, and he was the team’s most experienced reserve at tackle. Given that left tackle Jason Peters is 35 and right tackle Lane Johnson is a bad test sample away from a two-year ban, that could matter. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Tobin, and maybe somebody else — Dillon Gordon? Taylor Hart? — would seem to be getting a vote of confidence.
Losing Smith won’t matter, with veteran Chris Long and first-round rookie Derek Barnett added to the defensive end mix. In fact, it’s very likely that the player who takes the roster spot Smith has occupied since being drafted 26th overall will contribute more than Smith could have; had Smith (6-foot-3, 251) not been drafted in the first round, he never would have survived to a second training camp, let alone a third or fourth. From the first day, the former quarterback showed no defensive instincts and played and practiced in a befuddled haze that would lift only very slightly during a three-year, 24-game career that has to rank him in the top five all-time Eagles draft busts. And as long-suffering fans know, that is a tough lineup to crack.
Where to place him on the list? Smith has to rank behind 2011 first-rounder Danny Watkins because Smith wanted to play and was willing to watch film, whether he could process what he saw or not. And he has to rank behind 1985 first-round offensive tackle Kevin Allen, because Smith didn’t compound poor play with going to prison for rape.
After that, well, Smith lasted longer than 1997 first-round defensive end reach Jon Harris (37 games and four sacks vs. Harris’s 24 games and two sacks). The Eagles traded up to draft defensive end Jerome McDougle 15th overall in 2003, and McDougle played in only 33 Eagles games, with three sacks, but McDougle also endured being shot in the stomach just before camp started in 2005. So toss Smith in right around there somewhere.
Missing spectacularly with first-round selections such as Watkins and Smith twice in a four-year span (with 2015’s Nelson Agholor waiting in the wings) is how you end up out of the playoffs three years in a row, rebuilding around a No. 2 overall pick like Carson Wentz.
The Eagles entered draft day in 2014 coming off a 10-6 season and a playoff berth in coach Chip Kelly’s first season. They held the 22nd overall pick. Kelly and Roseman had identified six players they would be happy to take at 22. If none of those guys remained on the board, the plan was to trade back into the second round and add a pick or two, since the team possessed just six draft choices.
The six players the Eagles wanted are believed to be linebacker Anthony Barr, who went ninth overall, wideout Odell Beckham Jr. (12th), cornerback Kyle Fuller (14th), linebacker C.J. Mosley (17th), wideout Brandin Cooks (20th) and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21st, after the Packers traded in front of the Eagles to grab him).
Not getting any of those players was enormously disappointing, since two of the six went back-to-back just before the Eagles picked, but Roseman’s trade down made it worse. He acquired the 83rd overall selection, which he later traded for fourth- and fifth-rounders, moving back only to 26th overall in the first. Then he took Smith, a slender Louisville defensive end who was widely regarded as a second- or even third-round talent.
Roseman didn’t seem happy when he explained the mechanics of the situation to reporters that evening, and he didn’t get any happier as time went on. It was clear right away that Smith was a massive project, tall and fast but lacking in even rudimentary pass rush moves. More alarming and telling was that he lacked aggressiveness. Smith was as lost in OTAs and training camp as any Eagles high pick of the last quarter-century. Right away the coaching staff started talking about bringing him along slowly, not looking at him as a first-rounder. He found his way into eight games as a rookie but wasn’t even an asset on special teams.
That offseason, Kelly pulled a power play and got Roseman banished from personnel, only to show himself to be no more astute, drafting Agholor 20th overall and trading away LeSean McCoy for a handful of beans.
In his second season, Smith went from making one tackle to seven, which was improvement, but not on the scale needed. By last season, everyone kind of knew what the deal was, and it was considered progress that Smith finally earned a steady special-teams role.
Smith seemed ready to declare victory at the end of the 2016 preseason, when he asserted he wasn’t worried about his roster spot. He would go on to post 16 tackles and a career-high 2 1/2 sacks in 218 defensive snaps.
This offseason, the Eagles declined to pick up Smith’s fifth-year option, and he skipped voluntary OTAs, against the backdrop of a $594,000 roster bonus due early in training camp, money Smith surely knew he would never see.
Will he get another chance somewhere? At 25, quite possibly, but only to round out a roster. Smith’s agent, Kennard McGuire, did not respond to a request for comment.
My favorite Marcus moment was when Kelly was fired with one game left in the 2015 season. A reporter asked Smith’s reaction, and he declared he was “ecstatic.” This seemed odd, coming from a soft-spoken player who’d never spoken ill of his coach. So someone circled back. Turned out, Marcus thought “ecstatic” meant “surprised.”
It’s unlikely he was ecstatic Wednesday afternoon.