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July 28, 2017

Sure, Marcus Smith was terrible, but that's not only reason Eagles decided to release him

Eagles NFL

The Marcus Smith Era in Philadelphia came to an unceremonious conclusion earlier this week when the Eagles decided to release the former first-round pick after three lackluster seasons.

Drafted 26th overall out of Louisville in 2014, Smith was a holdover from Chip Kelly’s tenure and never really made sense once Jim Schwartz was hired to run his 4-3 defense. Smith was better suited for the defense into which he was drafted – Kelly’s 3-4 scheme – but he never reached the level of the first-round pick everyone expected, even with two years playing in the right system. 

So when Schwartz was brought in to implement his wide-nine defensive front, one could argue it was the beginning of the end for Smith, who didn’t have his team option for next season picked up.

Head coach Doug Pederson was brief in his comments about Smith but did slip in a compliment – just not one directed at the now-former Eagle.

“Well, obviously you want all your draft picks to make your squad. But again, every case is different,” Pederson said Thursday. “Again, we're very pleased, very happy with some of the performances of our younger players. It's a great opportunity for Marcus now to get in with a camp and get picked up and continue his career.”

Let’s not sugarcoat it. Marcus Smith was terrible – I would've also accepted "unproductive," "just another guy," or whatever negative phrase you wanted to use there. 

But that wasn’t the only reason he was let go. 

After all, it’s not like the Birds have to look deep into the past to find an example of a guy being drafted into a system that wasn’t the best fit. In fact, they don’t have to look into the past at all; they need only look to the guy starting at the other defensive end position, Brandon Graham. 

Considered a bust by many early on, Graham has flipped the narrative after recording 17.5 sacks over the past three seasons, the most recent being his first as the full-time starter. Smith, who has four sacks and 12 tackles in three years, won’t be given the same opportunity to turn things around. And according to Schwartz, the decision to move on from Smith had just as much to do with a pair of new additions – and some other young talent on the way – as it did with scheme.

“I think the biggest thing in not working out, as far as this year, is the other acquisitions that we made, you know, and where we were,” Schwartz told reporters on Friday. “And it really sort of put us up against, ‘How are we going to get reps for all these guys?’ We do like a good, young player in the pipeline in [DE] Alex McCalister. [We] obviously drafted Derek [Barnett], and brought in Chris [Long]. You know, so that made it difficult. You know, he played some good football last year for us. He got a sack on [Cowboys OT] Tyron Smith on the third play of the Dallas game; that was a good sack. 

“We just, you know, I think it just got to the point that there are only so many reps at practice, so many reps in training camp, and we devoted those to the guys that we brought in, plus the other guys that we've had.

What went unsaid here is fairly obvious: If Smith had performed like a first-round pick, whether the scheme was right or not, they would’ve found a way to get him reps in practice – although he has to show up if he wants to get those reps. That’s how it worked with Graham, who had 9.5 sacks and 58 combined tackles through his first 37 games, the same number as Smith to this point in his career. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because Graham saw more defensive snaps in those games than Smith.

But again, if Smith was good enough, he would’ve played more often.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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