I have to admit I have not yet completely wrapped my head around Steve Smith's stunning decision to sign a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles -- a punch to the stomach I am sure the Giants did not see coming. Nonetheless, as my mind spins and the story continues to develop, let me give you some of my initial thoughts.
Let me start with this. The Giants seemingly played a very dangerous game with Smith -- letting him dangle on the free-agent vine figuring there would be no other legitimate offers. After all, despite his protests, Smith does not figure to be ready until well after the season starts. The Eagles, in fact, acknowledge he is unlikely to be in uniform until near mid-season.
The Giants have lost that dangerous game. And right now there is panic -- and anger -- throughout the fan base.
Smith initially did not want, or expect this. The Giants, though, let him dangle even after he visited the team this week and Smith said the "Eagles have been involved pretty diligently for weeks now. We were waiting and waiting (for the Giants)".
On his Facebook page -- where, incidentally, he is getting absolutely killed by crushed Giants fans -- Smith said "the eagles wanted me to be part of their organization MUCH more than the Giants did."
Translation -- the Giants were not about to give a $2 million guarantee to a receiver whose health they weren't sure of. Even if that receiver is a guy who is the only receiver in franchise history to surpass 100 catches. Even if he is a guy whose importance to Giants' quarterback Eli Manning the past three seasons cannot be understated.
So, Smith -- like Kevin Boss days before him -- took the guaranteed money and ran -- or in his current physical condition, jogged -- away from the Giants.
This is a huge PR hit for the Giants. Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger summed up the reaction with this tweet: "How in the world could the Giants let that happen???????? This is incredible."
Without doubt this is a PR nightmare for general manager Jerry Reese, coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants organization. With fans already up in arms over the losses the Giants have suffered, and the gains the Eagles had already made, one of the team's best and most popular players has defected to the enemy.
"Y'all might not like this, but this is the business aspect of football, at the end of the day you gotta take care of your family," Thomas tweeted. "Football ain't guaranteed, and at the end of the day it's a job and about the money! We love this game but it don't love you back."
Trying to get past the emotion of the moment, though, the real question is what impact will this have on the field? At least in 2011 the answer could well be not a whole lot. At least the Giants need to hope that turns out to be the answer.
Face reality with Smith. He likely won't be active until several weeks into the season, probably long after the Giants and Eagles meet in Week 3. When he comes back, he probably won't be the Steve Smith of old right away. Remember Kenny Phillips a year ago, his first after microfracture surgery. Even with a training camp Phillips never approached being the player he looked like he would become before the surgery.
Smith is a possession slot receiver. His game depends on precision cuts and exquisite timing, as well as his excellent hands. Can he make those cuts consistenly and run those routes over the middle as sharply post-surgery? With little or no practice can he develop any rapport with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick? Shoot, with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant already there, how much is Smith actually going to play?
From the Giants side, maybe someone from the group of Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden, Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan and Devin Thomas will step up and give the Giants more than Smith would have this season, anyway.
We won't know until the games begin, of course. Any way you slice this one, however, it is a bitter pill for Giants fans to swallow.