File - Wide receiver Steve Smith #12 of the New...

File - Wide receiver Steve Smith #12 of the New York Giants reacts after the Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17-14 during Super Bowl XLII on February 3, 2008 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Credit: Getty Images

Talk about a punch to the gut at the end of a day when it seemed as if things might, just might, be starting to turn around for the Giants.

Just a few hours after Osi Umenyiora took a few tentative steps toward a return to action, the Giants were blindsided by their hated rivals just to the south, as the Eagles swooped in and signed free-agent wide receiver Steve Smith to a one-year deal. This just one day following a sit-down Smith had with team officials about signing a deal to remain with the team that made him a second-round pick the same year they won Super Bowl XLII.

In a word: Ouch.

The Eagles have loaded up on free agents like never before, signing everyone from Nnamdi Asomugha, to Ronnie Brown, to Vince Young, to Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin. And now they deal a decisive blow to their NFC East rivals by swiping away Smith, who may not be ready to play just yet because of a knee injury, but who believes he isn't that far from returning.

The Giants had visited with Smith Tuesday and determined that he was still a long way from returning, which convinced them not to rush into a contract offer. But the Eagles, flush with salary- cap room thanks to the deft maneuverings of team president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman, gambled on Smith, figuring he could help them at some point after his knee problems are resolved.

It was a one-year, $4-million deal, with $2 million guaranteed, and it was enough to convince Smith to don an Eagles' uniform and join what Young had earlier dubbed the "Dream Team."

"Steve Smith [is] a Pro Bowl quality receiver that we will work into our offense as soon as he is ready to go," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement.

Smith is only 26, but is coming off microfracture knee surgery that puts his return in question. The Giants seemed skeptical about Smith's chances for a quick return, with coach Tom Coughlin telling reporters Wednesdaythat Smith was a long way off from coming back. But within a matter of hours, Smith had signed with the Eagles, and told reporters on a conference call that he believed he could return soon.

The Giants' receiver situation thus remains in flux, with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham as the starters, and Domenik Hixon, Michael Clayton, Victor Cruz and Ramses Barden, who is still recovering from an ankle injury, also on the roster.

The Eagles have their own issues at receiver, with DeSean Jackson looking for a new contract and fellow starter Jeremy Maclin not practicing because of an unspecified illness. Thus, it was worth a shot to sign Smith: At best, he can be the kind of prolific slot receiver he was with the Giants; at worst, he either can't play or can only make a marginal contribution.

The Giants? They're left to ponder their alternatives after failing to retain players like Smith and tight end Kevin Boss, who couldn't turn down the Raiders' $16-million offer, including $8 million in guarantees.

No Smith. No Boss. No Plaxico. Not a good run in post-lockout life. Suggestion: There's still a receiver out there who might be able to help, so maybe it's time to give him a call.

Slot receiver with great hands. Great teammate. Willing to work for reasonable wages. Has played in New York the last seven seasons. Would fit in perfectly with the Giants' offense.

Jerricho Cotchery, anyone?

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