Eagles analysis

Eagles mailbag: Will Eagles pay DeVonta Smith this offseason?

In his latest Eagles mailbag, Dave Zangaro answers questions about contract extensions, team-building philosophy and more.

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We answered a bunch of your questions to start the week but there are plenty more to get to.

As always, thanks for all the responses:

I think there’s a chance they pay both of them this offseason.

Let’s start with Haason Reddick. The 29-year-old is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. Even though his production waned at the end of 2023, he still finished with 11 sacks and has had double digits in each of the last four years, including the last two in Philly.

The Eagles got Reddick at a bargain when they signed him to a three-year, $45 million contract as a free agent in the 2022 offseason. Reddick is tied for the 17th highest-paid edge rusher in the NFL under that deal. Over the last four seasons, Reddick has 50 1/2 sacks. The only players with more sacks during that span are T.J. Watt (62), Myles Garrett (58) and Trey Hendrickson (53). Watt makes $28 million per season, Garrett $25 million and Hendrickson $21 million. So it’s very clear that Reddick is underpaid.

It might be difficult, though, for the Eagles and Reddick to find some common ground on a contract because Reddick is going to want to be well into the $20 millions and he’s pretty far off that. But it’s also worth noting that Reddick is set to have a cap hit of over $21 million in 2024 and reaching a contract extension would really bring that down this next season because the Eagles would back-load a deal and pay out base salary as bonus money. It’s obvious Reddick isn’t thrilled with his contract and there’s a chance this thing could linger into training camp.

As for Smith, this is the first time in his career he’s eligible for a contract extension. The 2021 first-round pick has now played three seasons in the NFL under his rookie contract so the Eagles are able to extend him. They should try because Smith will be eager to get a payday and the Eagles will be eager to get him well before he sniffs free agency. As a reminder, Smith has one more year on his rookie contract but the Eagles will very obviously pick up his fifth-year option before the May 2 deadline. So that means at least two more years of team control with Smith.

But the Eagles have always shown an eagerness to extend their players early and Smith is the kind of guy you want to keep around. He has been very good in his first three seasons and is a culture-setter.

All of these questions are basically a different version of this: Can DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown coexist long-term?

The answer to that question is yes. Yes, they can. But let’s break it down.

- If Smith has more targets than Brown? OK. In 2022, when the Eagles went to the Super Bowl, Brown had 145 targets and Smith had 136. Smith had just nine fewer targets and if he had more than Brown, it wouldn’t have mattered.

- First, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Brown is still the fourth highest-paid receiver in the NFL with a $25 million per season contract. If the Eagles extend Smith this offseason, he’s not getting that deal. Keep an eye on CeeDee Lamb and Justin Jefferson this offseason. Both of the 2020 first-round picks are set to play next season on their fifth-year options and they might reset the market a bit. And if Smith does get more than Brown, so be it. Brown will eventually get paid again.

- That’s not really how it works. When you hear about a player restructuring their contract to make cap room for another player, it’s not like they’re taking a pay cut. What normally happens is that the Eagles (or any team) want to create cap space so they restructure a deal and pay out base salary as a bonus. All that does is put the money in that player’s pocket a little earlier. It’s not some selfless move to save the team. It works for both sides.

I think when we talk about Brown and Smith, we have to realize how close they are. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t each going to want the football and the big money but there’s a really strong mutual respect here. They want each other to succeed because they see the talent in the other. And they realize that the offense is at its best when they’re both getting theirs.

No. I would go back and take Kyle Hamilton. But we can do that for a lot of draft picks. The Eagles went with a position they value more and a prospect that had unique traits. The Eagles really value unique traits. Obviously, Hamilton has been a more successful NFL player. He was one of the best safeties in the NFL this season and safety is a position where the Eagles had a weakness in 2023 so it really stands out.

But all that said, I’m not ready to write off Jordan Davis either. He hasn’t been worthy of that first-round pick yet but we have seen some flashes and he’s far from a bust. I’m not saying this is going to turn into a Brandon Graham vs. Earl Thomas type of situation, but it’s fair to remember that story. For years, everyone agreed that Thomas would have been the better pick over Graham until we saw the full scope of Graham’s career. Davis deserves the chance to get better without the constant shadow of Hamilton over him.

I like going into the hypotheticals. You remember this scene from the 2021 draft. The Eagles traded down and took Milton Williams at No. 73 overall just after the Lions took Alim McNeill at No. 72. Williams and McNeill are both defensive tackles but very different types of players. Williams is more of a pass-rushing 3-technique, while McNeill is a bigger nose tackle. Both have ended up being pretty good players and McNeill really showed some pass rush ability in 2023, picking up five sacks.

I’m not sure having McNeill would have stopped the Eagles from taking Davis, though. We know how much they value the defensive line and McNeill isn’t the type of physical freak Davis was coming out of college. At that point, McNeill would have just had one NFL season under his belt and I’m not sure he would have done enough in that year to stop the Eagles from taking a guy at the same position.

I think the Eagles’ front office and Nick Sirianni agree on the importance of explosive plays. As a reminder, Sirianni considers explosive plays any run of 10+ yards and any pass of 16+ yards.

In 2023, the Eagles had 130 such plays (54 runs, 76 passes). That put them below average in the NFL. The 49ers, meanwhile, had 179 such plays in 2023. The Eagles had a huge drop-off from 2022, when they had 169 explosive plays.

On defense this season, the Eagles gave up 143 explosive plays after giving up just 119 in their Super Bowl year. 

I think it’s pretty clear that the D-line is still going to come first for the Eagles on defense. But I don’t disagree with your premise. Because we’ve seen that linebackers and safeties have been important to Fangio during his time in the NFL and those are the two positions the Eagles haven’t consistently valued in terms of resource allocation. Maybe there needs to be a bit of a compromise but I don’t think the Eagles will ever not be trenches-first under Howie Roseman.

“I feel like we’ve had a long history of success here building the team a certain way,” Roseman said in January.

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