Not many street free agents come along in November with a body of work in the NFL like Brad Smith. The Eagles signed the veteran wide receiver/kick returner/Swiss Army knife on Tuesday morning, a move that could potentially have implications all over the roster.
Now in his eighth season, Smith has been a cog in the New York Jets’ and most recently the Buffalo Bills’ offenses and on special teams. Buffalo placed the receiver on injured reserve after suffering a rib injury during the preseason, but the two sides reached an injury settlement and he was released last week. Smith passed a physical with the Eagles and participated in his first practice on Tuesday.
Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman informed The Inquirer's Zach Berman that it's a two-year deal that runs through 2014. Per Berman, Roseman says the move will shore up all four phases of special teams.
While the league officially lists Smith as a wide receiver, he actually has more rushing attempts (132) than receptions (101) in his pro career, and he’ll even attempt a pass (nine) every once in awhile. Where Smith figures to be able to make the most immediate contribution though is on special teams, perhaps in the return game.
Smith will turn 30 in December, so he may not have the 4.4 speed he came into the league with. He’s still dangerous on kickoffs however. Last season, Smith ranked fifth in yards per return (27.6). He’s also tied for fifth among active players with four touchdowns, all of which occurred since 2009.
Damaris Johnson has been a disappointing return option for the Eagles this year, both because of the lack of big plays and some unfortunate miscues. He’s been active, but went without a return in each of the last two games.
Whether Smith can help out at all on offense on such short notice remains to be seen, but the Birds can’t be blown away by Jason Avant’s production in the slot either. Avant has 27 receptions for 311 yards and a touchdown this season.
Because Avant is reliable, he’s not likely to lose his job completely, plus Smith would have to pick up the playbook quickly. Even then, Smith’s best receiving season—32 receptions, 325 yards, two touchdowns for the Jets in ‘07—still doesn’t stack up to the numbers Avant is on pace for this year.
Yet Smith’s versatility is one reason the Eagles may try to find a role for him in the offense however minimal. Formerly a quarterback at the University of Missouri, the Jets and Bills both used Smith to run their Wildcat package. He’s a potentially explosive runner (7.3 career average) who is a threat to throw the ball too, the threat of which could challenge defenses.
That’s not to say Chip Kelly is going to start trotting out the Wildcat against Washington on Sunday, but there are plenty of innovative ways to get Smith the ball in space with a chance to make a big play. For picking a player off the scrap heap in November, this is a potentially exciting move for the Eagles who seem to be firing on all cylinders in recent weeks.