How does WR/KR Brad Smith fit in with the Eagles?

How does WR/KR Brad Smith fit in with the Eagles?

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.

>> Eagles sign kick returner Brad Smith [CSN]
>> Brad Smith statistics [PFR]

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

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USA Today Images

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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