And just like that, in the course of one day, the Eagles added a potentially potent 1-2 punch to their wide receiving corps. Free agency opened with a boom on Thursday, as the Eagles served up former 49ers and Ravens wide receiver
Smith, selected by Baltimore in the third round of the 2011 draft when current vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas was a Southeast regional scout, struggled in San Francisco in 2015 and 2016, catching a total of 53 passes in the 49ers’ impotent offense. The Eagles are hopeful that Smith plays like the rising standout who caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards (17.3 yards per catch) in 2014 with the Ravens.
He’s got good size at 6-feet, 205 pounds and he can take the top off a defense. And, yes, Smith has to rebound after some down seasons with the 49ers.
While Smith is here to contend for a starting job, Jeffery comes in with the highest of aspirations. He was the prize of the free agent wide receiver class, NFL.com ranked him as the No. 1 overall free agent, and the Eagles got him. Somehow, with such limited funds heading into free agency – although the release of defensive end Connor Barwin’s contract on Thursday helped the cause – Howie Roseman and the Eagles put together a package to secure Jeffery to an extremely unusual one-year contract.
In essence, it’s a prove-it deal for Jeffery, who has caught at least 50 passes and gained 800 yards in each of the last four seasons. But Jeffery, like Smith, is coming off some tough times. After posting huge seasons in 2013 and 2014, including a ’13 season in which Jeffery caught 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven scores, the talented wide receiver’s numbers have tumbled.
Jeffery played in only nine games in 2015, battling a hamstring injury, and caught 54 passes and scored four touchdowns. Last season, Jeffery missed four games as he served a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was limited, in Chicago’s faltering offense, to 52 catches, 821 yards, and only two touchdowns.
What a crazy, and extremely productive, day for the Eagles, who released the very much loved Barwin in the morning, retained depth linebacker and special teams cog
The wide receivers, clearly, are the big story. The Eagles made it clear that one of the primary offseason goals was to give franchise quarterback
That the Eagles were able to land Jeffery, and do it with a one-year contract, was the stunner of the day. His market was projected to be much more vigorous, with pre-free agency numbers ranging as high as $16 million per season. Whatever happened to that market will be explained in the coming days, but this much is clear: Jeffery has a lot to prove in 2017, and the Eagles’ offense is far better with him on one side, with Smith very possibly on the other side, and with Matthews creating favorable matchups in the slot.
Wentz now has some weapons - big, rangy receivers who have large catch radiuses and who can be effective weapons in the red zone where, don’t forget, the Eagles ranked 24th in the NFL in 2016. The windows will be bigger for Wentz and Jeffery’s size will be tough to minimize on the outside in the passing game.
How much more the Eagles have to do in free agency remains to be seen, but they are limited in their resources. That they were able to pull off what they did on Thursday was, frankly, pretty darn remarkable. Howie Roseman, we’ve seen over the years, knows how to get a deal done.
Maybe the Eagles are done in free agency and maybe they turn their attention toward the draft. There are still a lot of needs on this football team – cornerback, defensive end, running back, linebacker, and what else? The Eagles became a much better team on Thursday, and in one frantic day added playmakers around their star quarterback. In Smith and Jeffery, the Eagles have more experience, more size, and more explosiveness for an offense that ranked 31st in the NFL last season with 18 passing plays of 25-plus yards.
That’s going to change with Smith, assuming his has his legs and his juice back, and with Jeffery, who is the total package at wide receiver and, indeed, could be the most talented receiver the Eagles have had since the days of, gulp, Terrell Owens.
Mark it down: Thursday was a great Eagles day. The team addressed needs and pushed the envelope and were extremely creative in signing some key players and doing it with limited resources.