Did the Eagles Court Alex Smith Last Year?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Eagles did not want to go into last season with Michael Vick as their only option at quarterback.

There have already been multiple reports indicating that they looked into signing Peyton Manning. And rumors have surfaced about them trying to trade up to pick Robert Griffin III.

But here’s a new name to add to to that mix: Alex Smith.

“There was a courtship last year, to a certain degree,” ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

If you recall, Smith was a free agent, and the 49ers were in the mix for Manning’s services. Smith even took a visit to Miami to meet with the Dolphins, but ultimately, he went back to San Francisco.

“I don’t know a whole lot,” Dilfer added. “I just know there was a courtship. It was not even an inside source, you know what I mean? It was just kind of the scuttle in the offseason.”

As the piece points out, Dilfer and Smith are close friends and former teammates.

Going forward, the 49ers are likely to deal Smith in the offseason. Andy Reid and the Chiefs could be a suitor. Same with Joe Banner and the Browns. And of course, Chip Kelly, Howie Roseman and the Eagles too.

The class of free-agent quarterbacks is extremely underwhelming. Michael Vick might be the best option on the market (assuming the Eagles let him go). Teams in need of QB help won’t have a lot of options, other than Smith, Vick and potentially Matt Flynn (would also require a trade).

Some have suggested that Smith could be released outright. And while that’s possible, the 49ers seem to be in a great spot here. If they can get multiple teams interested, it will drive the price up. If the Eagles want Smith, they’ll have to compete with other teams and offer up the best package.

Smith was completing 70.2 percent of his passes this season when he got benched for Colin Kaepernick. He’s thrown 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his last 25 starts. The guess here is that the Eagles would be looking at Smith as a “band-aid” option. What I mean is, acquiring Smith would not preclude them from still looking at other QB options (potentially in next year’s draft). If that’s the case, how much would the Eagles really be willing to give up in a trade for him?

That’s one of the questions that needs to be answered in the coming weeks.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Twitter Mailbag: On Alex Smith, Dixon And the 3-4

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @Colaianni: should the eagles get Alex Smith and draft a QB in the 2014 draft since its a better QB class and let him learn from veteran? I am on board with that. There seems to be a good amount of anti-Smith sentiment out there, but I don’t see a ton of downside. He is slated to make $8.5 million this season (his contract runs through 2014). That’s a good chunk of change, but if you’re swapping out Michael Vick‘s $16 million, then you’re talking about a decent savings.

We know that Nick Foles is not a read-option quarterback. Why not give Chip Kelly someone who has experience in that style of offense?  Smith was completing 70 percent of his throws and had a 104.1 quarterback rating before he suffered a concussion and lost his job to Colin Kaepernick. Including playoffs, he has thrown 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over the past two seasons. I view him as the best available option at the moment, so long as the 49ers are reasonable in their trade demands.

From @BonoHitMyCar:  Is there really any chance of Dennis Dixon (if the rumors are true about acquiring him) being our starter next year? Maybe I am just having Steve Spurrier flashbacks, but I would be a little nervous if Dixon went from Baltimore’s practice squad to Eagles’ starter under Kelly. I think it is logical to bring the former Duck in and give him a chance to make the team, but starter? Dixon has been in the NFL since 2008 and has started three games, going 2-1 with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The idea that he will spring to life once reunited with Kelly sounds far-fetched to me, and could be a sign that the coach is putting a little too much faith in his system. But I guess you never know.

From @justin_TPM: With Chip’s love for TEs, does Brent become a centerpiece or does he become a #2 to a yet to be added piece? I have been clamoring  for the Eagles to invest more in the tight end position. I think high-end TE’s (although not easy to come by) can be very valuable in the modern NFL. Clay Harbor just hasn’t cut it. Brent Celek brings something to the table for sure, but it is past time for a complement/eventual replacement to be brought in.

I had heard that the Eagles came away from the Senior Bowl  impressed with Rice tight end Vance McDonald. Whether it is McDonald, Jason Kelce’s brother, Travis, or someone else, I would expect the Eagles to address the position this offseason.

From @tomlindlar: Would a switch to a 3-4 front depend on who we draft? IE, go 3-4 if we draft an OLB or NT, stay with 4-3 if we get an OT or CB? I believe the Eagles will switch to some form of a 3-4 eventually under Kelly, but agree with the premise that personnel will influence whether the transition is immediate or over time. Not necessarily based on who they draft this year, as you laid out. But as the roster takes shape, I think they will evaluate the parts in place and determine whether it is in their best interest to use a 3-4 for the 2013 season. Interestingly enough, it seems like several of the reported defensive coordinator candidates have experience in both schemes.

Casey Matthews described Oregon’s defense as a “hybrid 3-4.” Especially during the transition period, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw elements of both the 4-3 and 3-4.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Is Alex Smith A Fit For Chip?

Expect Alex Smith’s name to come up quite a bit in the coming weeks.

The story is pretty well-known at this point: The former No. 1 overall pick, in the midst of his best season as a pro, lost his job to Colin Kaepernick after suffering a concussion against the Rams back in November. Kaepernick pounced on the opportunity and has the Niners one win away from a Lombardi. Smith is now the odd-man out in San Francisco.

“It sucks, to put it frankly,” Smith told Peter King. “Tough pill to swallow.”

Smith has handled the situation well by all accounts, but the circumstances are such where it makes sense for both parties to move on. The 28-year-old is scheduled to make $8.5 million next season, $7.5 of which is reportedly guaranteed on April 1. According to PFT, Smith is expected to ask for his outright release before the start of free agency. It seems more likely that the 49ers would try to work out a trade. This is a thin quarterback market, and they might be able to get a decent return.

CBS Sports recently put together a list of the top five quarterbacks that could potentially be available in free agency, and it’s not great. Joe Flacco is one, and there’s no chance the Ravens let him walk.  Michael Vick is second, Smith is third, and Brian Hoyer and Kevin Kolb round out the list.

The Eagles have a little more time than first expected to make a decision on Vick (more on that in a second), but a decision will have to be made nonetheless. If Chip Kelly opts to part with No. 7, there is logic to bringing in a veteran to compete with Nick Foles. Smith ran the spread-option under Urban Meyer at Utah, which could be appealing to Kelly. And he would be getting a motivated QB who has thrown 30 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over the past two seasons, helping the Niners to a 19-5-1 record in that time.

In a year with no slam-dunk options at quarterback, Smith may be an option worth exploring.

WHAT YOU MISSED

LeSean McCoy issues an apology after his Twitter spat.

As Kapadia writes, there are some deal-breakers for Kelly when it comes to personnel.

Billy Davis is now in the mix for the Eagles’ DC job.

Mike Mayock breaks down the QB draft class.

Just how young are the Eagles? Sheil takes a look.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

More on Vick:

Jason La Canfora reports that the Eagles are not in a rush to make a decision on Vick.

Much has been made of the fact that $3 million of Mike Vick’s $16.5 million deal with the Eagles becomes guaranteed if he is on their roster come Feb. 6, but sources said that issue is not a concern at this time, and it’s unlikely Vick’s contract will be resolved before then.

New coach Chip Kelly is evaluating the situation and how Vick fits in his spread offense. The Eagles are determining how much they might be willing to pay Vick, if they do ask him to take a pay cut. Vick will not absorb any significant salary cut to remain with the Eagles, sources said, but there could be some wiggle room to work something out.

Jeff McLane explains why the Eagles might not be so concerned about that $3 million guarantee kicking in:

The Eagles quarterback is due that amount on Feb. 6, but the team is likely to buy time until the start of free agency on March 11 because of a provision in Vick’s contract.

The Eagles would only owe him the money if no one else picked him up or if someone signed him for less than $3 million, per an NFL source.

COMING UP

Plenty more on what is turning out to be a busy offseason for the Birds.

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What Will Chip Kelly Do At Quarterback?

Since the middle of last season, the process for figuring out the Eagles’ quarterback situation seemed clear: The new coach would make the call.

Well, now there’s a new coach in place in Chip Kelly. He will be introduced Thursday as the man to lead the Eagles into the post-Andy Reid era.

Kelly’s first order of business will be getting his staff in place. But after that, attention will quickly shift to the quarterback position. The Eagles have decisions to make – beginning with the players currently on their roster.

At the end of last season, it looked like Michael Vick had played his final game as an Eagle in the team’s Week 17 loss to the Giants. There were some reports that Vick was anxiously awaiting to see where Kelly landed this offseason, but Tim asked him about the reports, and the veteran QB seemed to have no idea who Chip Kelly was.

“Who’s that, the Notre Dame coach?” he asked.

Vick turns 33 this offseason. His body took a pounding in 2012 – even before then, really. He’s not the same runner he was earlier in his career, although Vick can still flash his athleticism at times. If Kelly plans on running a lot of read-option, expecting Vick’s body to stay in one piece would seem like quite a leap of faith.

“I look for a quarterback who can run and not a running back who can throw,” Kelly once said, per Chris Brown of Grantland. “I want a quarterback who can beat you with his arm. We are not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team. I am not going to run my quarterback 20 times on power runs.”

At the end of the year, Vick might have been ready to move on. But the guess is he’s got to be curious about what Kelly and the Eagles now have planned. Remember, the team has to make a decision on Vick by Feb. 6. If he’s still on the roster by that date, they owe him $3 million.

The other quarterback on the roster whose role remains up in the air is Nick Foles. At the end of the season, Foles was asked about potentially playing for Kelly.

“I think you know the answer — I have never ran the zone read; I’m more of a dropback [QB], but I’ve been under center, I’ve been in the gun,” Foles said. “If I can adapt I want to, but I’m not a zone read quarterback. Some people are gifted with different things, that’s just not one of my skill sets. I mean I can work on my speed in the offseason and get better at that, but I’ve always been a dropback in the pocket, been able to make plays on my feet, throwing the ball or running for a first down.”

It would be a mistake to think that Kelly is just going to take his college offense and run the exact same version of it in the NFL. One key in determining his success will be how he adapts and tweaks his methods to take advantage of defenses at this level. From an overall perspective, we know Kelly likes Foles. He coached against the quarterback three times in college.

“I’ll tell you what; I’m glad Nick Foles is graduating,” Kelly said after the 2011 meeting between the two teams, per Anthony Gimino of the Tucson Citizen. “I catch myself watching him in awe sometimes. … Nick is a hell of a football player. That kid’s a warrior. He’s as good as anyone in the country.”

Foles’ Arizona teams went 0-3 against the Ducks from 2009-2011. But the quarterback performed quite well in those games, averaging 386.7 yards passing and tossing 10 touchdowns, compared to two interceptions.

Still, some, like Ron Jaworski, think Vick would be a better fit.

“Nick Foles will not run a Chip Kelly offense if he decided to come here, rest assured of that,” Jaws said on 97.5 The Fanatic back in December. “If a coach like Chip Kelly…that runs this up-tempo, spread, speed-style option, these guys come here, there might be a future for Michael Vick. I know he’s [32], I know he’s been beat up, but I’ll tell you, some of the things I’m seeing, Michael Vick can do the same things these guys are doing in the spread option.”

And finally, there is a door No. 3 in this scenario. Perhaps a trade for someone like Alex Smith. Or a first- or second-round pick spent on a quarterback. Many assume West Virginia’s Geno Smith could catch the Eagles’ eye, but remember, he did not show much as a runner in college. Smith had just 117 rushing yards in the last two seasons combined and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in college. That’s not to say he can’t run effectively, but he did not use his legs a lot in college.

One major decision has been made. Kelly will be the new coach. But life in the NFL usually means there’s another decision right around the corner. And for the Eagles, that means the focus will soon shift to quarterback.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Alex Smith Could Be An Option For Eagles

Alex Smith and Michael Vick sustained concussions on the same day, November 11. Smith’s came in the first half against the Rams following a hard hit by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar; Vick’s in the first half against the Cowboys after being thrown down by linebacker Ernie Sims.

Neither has seen the field since. Vick because he has yet to get medical clearance, Smith because head coach Jim Harbaugh has decided to roll the bones with second-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick.

“I mean, it sucks,” Smith said. “I don’t know what else to say.

“You state your case with your play, and I felt I did that. I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion.”

Through nine games, Smith was completing a career-best 70 percent of his throws while averaging a career high in yards per attempt (8.0). The 49ers were 6-2-1 with him as the starter.

Last season, San Francisco went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship game, where they lost to the Giants 20-17 in overtime following a special teams fumble.  Smith completed just 53 percent of his throws in two postseason games last season but threw five touchdowns to no interceptions and also had a memorable rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Saints in a divisional-round victory.

Including those two playoff outings, Smith has thrown 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over the last two seasons. Not coincidentally, both seasons have been played under Harbaugh.

The knock against the 28-year-old is that he is an unspectacular game-manager who is a product of both the system he plays in and the beneficiary of a stout defense and effective ground game. His supporters will point to the playoff game against the Saints in particular as evidence that he is able to lead the charge when called upon.

Smith signed a three-year, $24 million deal this offseason and is slated to make around $8 million next year. If he continues to sit on the bench, chances are he will ask out of San Francisco. Philadelphia could be a logical landing spot, depending on how the front office and the head coach are looking at things.

The Eagles have the ability to get out of Vick’s hefty contract if they cut ties this offseason. But then what are they left with? Nick Foles could be the answer but has not shown that he is as of yet. Do you keep Vick (perhaps convincing him to restructure his contract), put your faith in Foles or go with a third option via the draft, free agency or trade?

With no clear-cut stud in the draft and the free-agent market pretty barren, going the trade route makes sense.  And if you believe the Eagles should rely on a ground-and-pound, turnover-light offensive philosophy as they transition into a new era, then Smith could be an attractive option.

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Mornhinweg May Be Gambling More Than Ever With Solid ‘D’

Some in the NFL subscribe to the philosophy that if your defense is dominant, your offensive approach should be more on the conservative side.  Marty Mornhinweg is decidedly not among them.

“Now why would you ever do that?” an animated Mornhinweg asked.

“No, really. You have to score points in this league to win. We’re playing just the way I expect us to play with the exception of the turnovers. I think we’d be pretty good if we’d get the turnover thing fixed.”

No one will dispute that. But should the play-calling be adjusted to help in that effort?

The 49ers are the model right now for the approach described above. Jim Harbaugh‘s club was tops in the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio in 2011. They were third overall in rushing attempts, quarterback Alex Smith threw just five interceptions, the offense yielded 10 turnovers overall and San Francisco rode their defense and ground attack to a 13-3 mark. The Eagles were a minus-14 in that category last year and ended 8-8.

This season, the Eagles are minus-three and Michael Vick has six interceptions through two games. Smith has zero picks and the 49ers are a plus-1. Smith has 57 pass attempts so far. Vick (88) nearly matched that output in one week.

Both teams are undefeated through two games, but it’s a matter of which model is more sustainable.

There are all sorts of variables in play, granted, not the least of which is the styles of the respective quarterbacks. Vick is a gunslinger, Smith more a game-manager. But it’s not all about the cards that you are dealt. It’s also about mindset.

“It’s just philosophical — some teams go about it different,” said Mornhinweg. “But look, if your defense is really good you can take more calculated risks because they are going to cover it up. That’s the way I think.

“Certainly when you turn the ball over three times down in or near the red zone, you’ve got to fight that conservative approach. You’ve got to trust the players. It’s just that simple. You can’t get anywhere if you’re concerned about doing the right thing, or not being able to do this, or turnovers, these types of things. You’ve got to trust the players, and your expectation is they will get it done and that they will correct any mistakes they have made in the past.”

Mornhinweg put that trust in Vick 32 times a game last season, and the QB has dropped back an average of 44 times per outing this year through two games. (Smith averaged 27 attempts a game in 2011.) Last year the Eagles’ defense was leaky and the team needed Vick and the offense to carry them.  Not this time around. They have the running game, they appear to have the defense. But the offensive approach will stay the same, unless it gets even bolder.