Flocking to the Eagles

Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles pulled off the NFL free-agency equivalent of buying out the bar. They signed defensive end Jason Babin, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, quarterback Vince Young, and free agency’s crown jewel, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. This was front office bottle-popping that would have earned a slack-jawed round of applause from a ’94-era Diddy.

Add their free-agent haul to the acquisition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and you’re looking at a terrifying defensive front line, one of the stingiest defensive backfields in the NFL and a solid backup quarterback for when quarterback Michael Vick inevitably breaks a few ribs sometime before Christmas.

Maybe they came for the money. Maybe they came for the near certainty of a playoff appearance. Maybe they came because team president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman spent the NFL lockout in South Jersey repertory theatre, rehearsing the “train compartments” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross and they just sold it.

But don’t discount this possibility — maybe they came to play with Vick.

I mean that in two ways. First of all, don’t underestimate the profound influence ’04 Michael Vick, bullet-time Michael Vick, this Michael Vick has had on players. That was the dude they watched and wanted to be. The chance to play with him cannot be oversold.

There’s more than just Michael Vick, the phenomenally talented player, to consider here, though. There’s also Michael Vick, the rehabilitated ex-con. Regardless of how you feel about his crimes, you have to admire the way he’s pieced his life back together. That happened with the help of the Eagles organization, which supported him, set boundaries, and shepherded Vick through his personal and professional recovery.

I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest that coach Andy Reid’s experiences with his own children influenced him. And it doesn’t take a continuing education course in psychology to see that Reid has a personal investment in Vick becoming and staying a decent human being. He’s pretty much bet his professional reputation on it.

Perhaps that’s what brought Young to the team — the idea that Philadelphia was the place to get himself back on track. Young was up-front about what drew him to the Eagles, even in a backup role: “Andy Reid, the respect that I have for him.”

For a long time, the Eagles seemed to have a rather cold relationship with their personnel, and Lincoln Financial Field still isn’t exactly a den of sentimentality. (Just last week, fan favorite Leonard Weaver learned about being cut from the team through the media.) But there is obviously something that is attracting players to South Philly.

Perhaps there’s recognition that there’s a kind of loyalty in place, even if it’s not always reflected in the contracts they offer. Or maybe it’s that players can see that the Eagles want a Super Bowl. Right now.

Throughout the Donovan McNabb years, there was a sense that the Eagles were not only in the business of being competitive during the present season, but also in the future, never willing to overextend themselves or sacrifice cap flexibility, even if they never used that flexibility to push the perennial playoff team over the top.

That seems to have changed with the signings of Jenkins, Young, Babin, and Asomugha. And so has the typically stoic, measured organizational attitude. During a press conference announcing the Jenkins move, Roseman was asked if the Eagles still had flexibility to sign more players during free agency. He didn’t get a chance to answer, because Banner shouted from the back of the press room, “Hell, yeah.”

There was only one real follow-up question that could be asked.

“Have you guys been drinking, or what?”

Chris Ryan is a staff writer for Grantland. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisryan77.

Filed Under: Andy Reid, Chris Ryan, Michael Vick, NFL, Philadelphia Eagles