When reporters discovered Marcus Smith wasn't at OTAs, the initial reaction was, "What is he thinking?" One week later, the whispers around the NovaCare Complex have taken on a different tone, turning into gossip that Smith might be trying to force his way off of the Eagles.
To be clear, nobody has spoken to Smith, in large part because we've been unable. Les Bowen of the Daily News says the 25-year-old changed his phone number, while his agent has provided only one-word replies to queries about his client's absence. Obviously, Smith isn’t in the building, either, so we can only speculate as to his motives.
Here is what we do know. Smith is not practicing with his teammates. The only reason supplied by either the Eagles or Smith's agent is the offseason workout programs are voluntary. And Smith will attend mandatory minicamp in June, according to Bowen.
We also know that although OTAs are voluntary, attendance is strongly encouraged. And while there is such a thing as an excused absence -- and established stars like Fletcher Cox or Jason Peters can get away with pretty much whatever they want -- OTAs are considered crucial for players who are on the roster bubble.
Smith isn't merely on the roster bubble with the Eagles. If Smith makes the team, he's likely to be stuck in a role as the fifth defensive end, primarily playing special teams. It's not difficult to figure out why Smith might be unhappy and hoping for a fresh start sooner rather than later.
If true, his displeasure would be understandable, to a degree. A first-round pick out of Louisville in 2014, Smith has never really been given much of a shot with the Eagles, lining up for 413 defensive snaps in three seasons, according to Football Outsiders. Now there's a new regime in place, one that actively tried to replace Smith with Chris Long and Derek Barnett this offseason.
Smith is so much of an afterthought for the Eagles at this point coach Doug Pederson never bothered to mention he was absent in the first place. Then it took reporters over an hour to notice No. 90 wasn’t on the field during practice last week. There’s seeming indifference all around as to whether he attends or not.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles honestly feel that way. Technically, NFL teams aren't supposed to have any recourse against players missing voluntary OTAs -- although, that didn't stop Chip Kelly from cutting Evan Mathis in 2014. Regardless, the club could choose to grant Smith his release, perhaps after minicamp.
It appears unlikely he would complain.
The Eagles could also choose to ignore Smith's absence and hold on to him for insurance. Despite limited opportunities, he actually wasn't completely invisible in 2016, racking up 12 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 4 quarterback hits in 218 defensive snaps. If something should happen to Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Long or Barnett, Smith's playing time may suddenly increase.
Even being sympathetic to Smith's cause, holding out of voluntary workouts may not have been the best course of action. After all, it's not as if there was no path up the depth chart. Long, for example, received a signing bonus worth only $500,000 when he signed in March and is not exactly entrenched in any role. Smith could be at work right now, battling for that spot.
Instead, Smith has chosen the road he wants to go down with the Eagles, and whatever his intentions, they certainly aren't designed to improve perceptions with the team. The only thing he may have accomplished is to expedite his own inevitable exit -- but even that remains to be seen.