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Healthy L.J. Smith gets Eagles' franchise tag

PHILADELPHIA -- Tight end L.J. Smith, who was scheduled to
become a free agent at the end of the month, was given the
franchise tag by the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.

Thursday marked the first day of the offseason that teams could
use the tag. Although Smith can receive offers from other teams,
the tag gives the Eagles seven days to match. A team signing him
would have to give up two first-round picks as compensation.

"Any player wants a long-term deal -- that's what you want, to
feel secure in your job and also your family's position, but I'm OK
with it right now," Smith said. "I definitely would have
preferred a long-term deal but, hey, my agent, he's going to want
to talk with the team, and who knows? I didn't even think I was
going to get this. Maybe they can get something worked out later
on."

If he signs with the Eagles, Smith will receive a one-year deal
worth the average of the top five highest salaries earned by tight
ends.

"L.J. Smith has been a very productive tight end in our
offense," coach Andy Reid said in a statement. "He is healthy and
working his tail off so he can have a very successful 2008
season."

Injuries hampered the 27-year-old, five-year veteran throughout
last season. He underwent surgery for a sports hernia in May,
injured his groin in training camp in August and missed the final
three games of the regular season with a sprained knee.

Smith finished with 22 catches for 236 yards and only one
touchdown in 10 games after a combined 111 receptions for 1,293
yards and eight touchdowns in the previous two seasons.

"Going into the season, I guess they wanted to see me another
full season healthy and they'll make their decision, and I wasn't
healthy," Smith said. "I wasn't able to perform at a high level
for a majority of the season and I didn't even finish the season
healthy."

That isn't the case now, Smith said.

"I feel great right now," he said. "I'm healthy."

Had they let Smith go, the Eagles would have had to acquire
another tight end. The only other tight ends on the roster are
Brent Celek, who had a promising rookie season, and veteran backup
Matt Schobel.

Although Smith still has to sign the contract, he is unlikely to
end up elsewhere because teams aren't likely to part with two
first-round picks to sign him.

"After the season, I said goodbye to my teammates, and I really
thought I wasn't going to be back," Smith said. "So today, I feel
weird -- just them giving me the franchise tag. But I mean, hey,
I've always wanted to be here. I just think it's another
opportunity for me to showcase my stuff."