Starting tight end L.J. Smith, a key receiver in the Philadelphia Eagles' passing game, underwent surgery Thursday to repair a sports hernia and likely will miss the remainder of the team's offseason program.
The Eagles are hopeful that, with nearly two months to recover, Smith will be rehabilitated for the start of training camp, which opens July 30 at Lehigh University.
Smith, 27, is one of the NFL's best receiving tight ends and an excellent fit for the West Coast-style offense that Philadelphia features. In the past two seasons, the former Rutgers player has 111 catches for 1,293 yards and eight touchdowns. Eagles coaches believe that, even in an offense that distributes the ball as evenly as their passing game does, Smith has 70- to 75-catch potential.
The coming season is critical for Smith because he is entering the final year of his original rookie contract that carries a base salary of $920,000. Barring an extension, he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. There have been extension discussions between the team and Smith's agent, Brian Mackler, but the sides have been unable to strike a deal.
Philadelphia does have another proven tight end, five-year veteran Matt Schobel, on the roster, but Smith is clearly the team's best player at the position. Other young tight ends on the roster included former practice squad player Lee Vickers, who is being converted from defensive end, and rookie Brent Celek, a fifth-round draft choice.
A second-round choice in the 2003 draft, Smith has enough speed to split the safeties deep and is a solid route-runner.
In four seasons, Smith has 172 receptions for 1,991 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has played in 63 games, with 44 starts.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.