First it was Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso, then it was DeMarco Murray. Howie Roseman has spent the opening weeks of Free Agency cleansing the Eagles of Chip Kelly guys and players who either didn’t fit the teams new direction or simply cost too much money. But there’s one man who has seemingly hidden in the shadows and surprisingly not been spoken about…and that man is Marcus Smith.
The Eagles first round pick in 2014 has had a somewhat disappointing career so far. In 2015 he had just 7 tackles…oh and a sack, it took him two seasons to sack a Quarterback after not making a tackle in 8 games during his rookie season. So why haven’t the Eagles cut him or found a way to trade him?
It could be argued that The Eagles perhaps stunted Smith’s development when indecisively changing him between inside and outside linebacker during his eight games in 2014. Bill Davis has since confirmed he sees him as an outside Linebacker and that with the pressure removed, he has developed..but not enough.
However he could have one more lifeline in the way of Jim Schwartz. The Eagles new Defensive Coordinator likes to attack. Fast, physical guys who can shed blocks and rush the Quarterback are an absolute must if his system is to be successful. When you look back at Smith’s college stats they almost seem too good to be true, 16 sacks in 13 games and 32 tackles?
The problem is that if you’re to watch highlight reels or game tape of the big plays and the sacks..the penny drops. A lot of the big tackles Smith made in his final year at Louisville saw him come storming through totally unblocked..it’s not difficult to hit the Quarterback if there’s nobody in front of you. If he was beating impressive left tackles or showing incredible strength by shedding blocks then the stat line is impressive..but when you get to the NFL and you’re going up against the best tackles and guards in the country..it’s going to be a huge step up and it’s something Smith may not have been entirely prepared for.
If Smith is still on the roster by the time OTA’s and Training Camp starts, he simply has to show something special. He had flashes in that period a year ago..but they were nothing more. One minute he was mid flattening Dennis Kelly, the next he was having rings run around him by Darren Sproles..there was no consistency.
The Eagles linebacker core is definitely a work in progress. Jordan Hicks stole the show last season and is set to be a focal point alongside Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks whilst new signing Nigel Bradham is likely to be the old dog to learn new tricks.
But beyond that, things get murky. With Barwin changing position, the birds definitely need some talented depth which leaves the door wide open for Smith..or some would say a much more deserving and relentless Bryan Braman. (More on his suitability in an article later)
As it stands, Smith may not be the player Schwartz needs and as hard it as it is to suck it up, the Eagles front office may finally have to admit it that they made a mistake in taking him with the first round pick in 2014. But with a new system and a new Defensive Coordinator, he has one more lifeline.
It wouldn’t cost a lot to cut Smith..but if the birds need depth at Linebacker following the change to a 4-3, it may make more sense to retain Smith until the Eagles find a way to replace him, be it through the Draft, Free Agency or even through an improvement in his own ability.
The Eagles linebacker was a Defensive End in a 4-3 system during his time at Louisville and at this point, it could well provide him with enough familiarity to not only make him a Defensive threat, but perhaps even earn him more snaps if he impresses in training camp.
After a spike in playing time towards the end of last season, Smith again showed flashes of improvement but it wasn’t enough to say “that’s one of our starting linebackers”. Smith has been his own worst enemy throughout his NFL career but with the Eagles reshaping their Defense, that quality may turn out to be his saving grace because he’s still such an unknown. Smith will likely have one more shot at proving himself in the NFL, it’s up to him to make it count.