May 21, 2007

'What's the deal?' tight end Smith wonders

By GEOFF MOSHER, The News Journal

PHILADELPHIA -- First, Shawn Andrews and Jamaal Jackson got theirs. Then, Mike Patterson got one. Trent Cole and Reggie Brown, too.

When the Eagles embarked on a contract extension spree last season, solidifying their core of young players for the long term, one person looked around the locker room and thought, "What about me?"
Eventually, tight end L.J. Smith stopped waiting around.

"I took it personal at first," Smith said last week. "Because during the season we had [contract] talks and guys were getting deals, young guys were getting extensions for only being here two years, and things like that. So, that's when I took it personal at first.

"But after the season, I was just at a point where I was just like, 'You know what? I just can't control it. It's out of my hands.' So, I'm not worried about that at all."

The marriage between the Eagles and Smith, their second-round pick in 2003, apparently will end when Smith's contract expires at the end of the 2007 season.

Smith and his agent, Brian Mackler, have tried to negotiate a long-term deal despite Smith's claims that he's not asking for the kind of contract he believes he could command on the free-agent market.

Talks, Smith said, have reached a stalemate.

The Eagles don't comment on contract negotiations, but consider that tight end Daniel Graham commanded about $15 million guaranteed from Denver and Minnesota signed Visanthe Shiancoe for $8 million guaranteed.

Neither had more receptions, yards or touchdowns than Smith did last season.

"I don't think they can sit here and say altogether what I've done wrong or what I didn't do," he said. "Every year stands on its own merit, and I just try to improve from year to year. I definitely asked what can I do from last year, and we went over the good points and bad points, and that's what I do."

The Eagles can thank Corey Simon, Terrell Owens and Duce Staley for Smith's participation in the recent minicamp. After watching those three gripe their way out of town, Smith said he never entertained the idea of holding out.

"I've learned holding out doesn't do anything around here," he said. "If anything, it darkens the situation. You may think you're bringing attention to yourself in a good way, but it doesn't help. That's definitely not an option."

The best Smith can do is hope the Eagles open up the pocketbook. If not, the upcoming season is his personal audition for 31 other NFL teams.

With four seasons under his belt, just two as a full-time starter, Smith ranks among the top six tight ends in Eagles history for catches, yards and touchdowns. Since 1992, he has the second-most yards after the catch, behind Chad Lewis, the man he replaced in the starting role.

His numbers dropped slightly from 2005 to 2006 -- by 11 catches, to 50, and 71 yards, to 611 -- but Smith still was among the NFL's top 10 in touchdown catches (five) by a tight end.

Attribute some of that dropoff to his increased blocking role as the Eagles morphed from a pass-first offense to relying more on a Brian Westbrook-powered running game.

Nobody can forecast coach Andy Reid's plan for the offense next season, but Smith has one objective -- to make it impossible for the Eagles not to up the ante.

"If things aren't getting done, or if things are still slow toward the end of the season, I want to make it so that people are saying, 'How come L.J. didn't get signed? He's a great player, how come it didn't [happen]?'

"Or if it does happen, I want them to say, 'Oh, man, I'm glad they kept L.J. He's definitely a good teammate and he's helped our team win ballgames,' and that's it. As a player, you just want respect from your peers, more than anything."

If it doesn't work out, Smith won't cry.

"Honestly, it's not in my nature or character to cry about anything. Just suck it up and move on," he said. "It's like crying about a girl who doesn't want me. You ask her out, and she either says yes or no. I'm in that position. Either the Eagles want to keep me, or they don't, and that's just how it is."
Contact Geoff Mosher at

Talks have reached a stalemate. Terrible news Eagles fans. Looks like L.J. will be the next Eagle to leave. The more he keeps talking, the less likely anything will get done either. Look on the bright side. At least Smith is not going Lance Briggs on us.

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