MARCUS SMITH walked off the NovaCare practice field following the first workout of the Eagles' three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday and was greeted by about a dozen reporters, most of them asking him various versions of the same question:

What the hell were you thinking?

Smith, as most of you probably are aware, elected to skip all 10 days of the team's voluntary organized team activities this spring, which is a rather peculiar decision for a guy facing an uphill battle for a roster spot.

Yes, the OTAs were voluntary. But that only means a player can't be fined for missing them.

If you're a nine-time Pro Bowler like Jason Peters, it's no big deal if you stay home. But if you're a fourth-year defensive end like Smith, who has played a total of 418 snaps and has just four sacks in the three seasons since the Eagles mystifyingly selected him with the 26th overall pick in the 2014 draft, you're just making it easier for them to show you the door.

Then again, that's probably what Smith and his agent, Kennard McGuire, had in mind. If they believe he's going to be a training-camp cut this summer anyway, why not encourage them to let him go now and give him a little extra time to find a new employer? But alas, the Eagles didn't budge.

"It was my decision and my agent's decision (to skip OTAs)," Smith said. "We just decided not to come. There wasn't a (specific) reason. It was voluntary. I just stayed home (in Maryland) and trained."

As for the likelihood that skipping the OTAs might have hurt his roster chances, Smith said: "I'm not concerned at all. I just leave it to God. I keep my faith in him. I'm here and I'm doing what I'm told. That's it."

Smith insisted that nothing in particular triggered his decision to skip OTAs. But I don't buy that.

He pointed out that he was at NovaCare for the first two weeks of the Eagles' voluntary offseason workout program in April before deciding to go home and train.

That was just about the time the Eagles selected defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round of the draft.

A month earlier, the team signed veteran defensive end Chris Long.

Smith insisted he was tickled to death with the additions of Long and Barnett. If you believe that, I have a coal mine in Wilkes-Barre you might be interested in.

"I was happy because, first of all, Chris Long has been a great pass rusher since he's been in the league," Smith said. "And I already knew Derek because we train with the same guy, (former Atlanta Falcons defensive end) Chuck Smith. So I was happy they drafted him."

Happy? Really? Weren't you disheartened by the fact that they felt the need to spend a first-round pick on another defensive end?

"You can't look at it that way," he said. "The Eagles did what they felt was best for the organization. You still have to come in and compete every day and love on the (new) guys that do come in."

The additions of Long and Barnett to a defensive-end group that already includes Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry means Smith currently is - at best - the fifth-best edge rusher on the roster right now. And depending on what you think of Steven Means, he might not even be that.

The Eagles likely will keep just five defensive ends on their season-opening roster. Given Smith's $2.4 million salary-cap number - they could save almost a million of that by releasing him - it wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense for the Eagles to keep Smith around as the No. 5 defensive end, unless they believe he can make a significant contribution on special teams.

Smith pinkie-swore that neither he nor his agent have asked the Eagles to release him. In fact, he looked offended that we even brought it up.

"I still want to make this team," he said. "I still want to be a part of the Philadelphia Eagles. I'm expecting to be on the team. I'm expecting to play. I'm expecting to have a great year."

Smith showed some slight improvement last year. Had 21/2 sacks and four hurries in 218 snaps. He has good speed off the corner but isn't a particularly good technician and lacks the ideal temperament of an edge rusher.

That said, I understand why the Eagles don't want to get rid of Smith quite yet. It has little to do with being reluctant to acknowledge they made a mistake by reaching for him in the first round three years ago. That ship sailed a long time ago. Besides, Howie Roseman can just pin that on Chip Kelly, who was sold a bill of goods by Smith's college coach at Louisville, Charlie Strong.

The truth is, the jury still is out on Curry, and we still don't know how much gas the 32-year-old Long has left in his tank. And Barnett, while he has looked very impressive in the spring workouts, still is a rookie.

And there's also the faint chance that the light will finally go on for Smith this summer.

"Marcus is a great teammate," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "We love him to death. He comes here every day to work, and he's going to continue to work.

"We all understand that the NFL is a business. Marcus will show up and he'll be Marcus. He'll come out and be good in practice and execute and do everything the coaches ask him to do."

Cox skipped the voluntary OTAs last year while his agent negotiated his six-year, $102.6 million deal with the Eagles. He acknowledged it "kind of puts you a step back."

"You're in shape, but you're not in top football shape," he said. "You spend the whole training camp and the first part of the season trying to get yourself back into that shape."

The Eagles didn't exercise Smith's fifth-year option, which means that even if he makes the team, he can become an unrestricted free agent next March.

"I knew they weren't going to pick it up," he said. "It was obvious. I hadn't really played that much in three years. So it wouldn't be smart for them to pick it up."

Would Smith prefer a fresh start somewhere else, where the cloud of being a first-round disappointment isn't always hanging over his head?

"I don't think about that," he said. "That's the business side of it. I just try to come out here and play hard and do all of the plays right and do what the coaches tell me to do."

pdomo@aol.com @Pdomo

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog