Sometimes the best players available during free agency arent free agents at all.
The Eagles are doing things a little differently so far this year, focusing on locking up their own proven players in the early days of free agency instead of going out and spending millions on high-risk guys from other teams.
Its only a start, but its a good start.
Were they going to find an offensive tackle on the open market as solid as Todd Herremans? Or a defensive end as dangerous as Trent Cole? Or a wide receiver as explosive as DeSean Jackson?
One big lesson we learned last year was that packing the roster with free agents, no matter how good their resumes look, isnt the right way to build a football team.
Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith and Vince Young were all Pro Bowl guys in the not-too-distance past, but they killed the Eagles last year. Brown was one of the main reasons the Eagles lost the 49ers game. Smith was one of the main reasons the Eagles lost the first Giants game. Young was a big reason the Eagles lost the Seattle and New England games.
Brown threw the ball to nowhere. Smith dropped a pass deep in Eagles territory that turned into an interception. Young threw interception after interception.
Devastating moments for Eagles fans. Devastating moments in a nightmarish season.
But none of them ever seemed all that broken up about any of it. The fumbles, the interceptions, the embarrassing and costly mitakes. And why would they? Philly was a stop along the way. Nothing more.
Free agents. You really dont know what youre getting. You might happen to land Cullen Jenkins, who instantly becomes a force on the field and a leader in the locker room. Or you might get guys like Smith, Brown and Young, who were merely biding their time here for a few months on their way to their next contract.
Thats not how you build a team. We all saw that last year. You need talent, sure, but you also need players who are connected to the uniform theyre wearing in a deep and meaningful way.
Guys who want to be Eagles.
Keep Herremans, Cole and Jackson around for the long-term, and you know exactly what youre getting. Weve seen it.
Herremans is a throwback to his former teammates Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas, a battle-tough, old-school lineman who wants to spend his entire career here.
Cole is a camouflaged madman and the best pass rusher weve had here since Reggie and Clyde, and hes carries that title with pride.
Jackson is a good kid who truly wants to do the right thing and had a couple bumps in the road last year, but is only 25 years old and as electrifying as anybody in the game.
Herremans, Cole and Jackson. Each signed a contract in the past couple days because they simply would rather be here than elsewhere. They each want to finish their careers in an Eagles uniform, and those are the kinds of guys any team should want to build on. You trust a guy like that. Down a field goal in the fourth quarter, time running out? You want those guys on your side.
If Im a general manager, I want 53 guys who are here for the right reasons. Fifty-three guys who want to be Eagles for life. Not Pro Bowl guys who are just looking for that next contract on the way to whatevers next.
Thats why this has been such a successful few days for the Eagles. Go shopping in free agency, and you just never know. Youre going to spend a ton of money, but youre never quite sure for what. Keep your own guys, youre own proven, home-grown guys, and youre getting football players who are already respected in the locker room. Who already have relationships with their teammates and coaches. Who know the system, know the scheme, know the playbook, dont need to start from scratch.
You get guys who have something vested in being a Philadelphia Eagle. It means something to them.
This isnt to say the Eagles shouldnt go shopping at all. They have to. We all know what they need. But it really does seem like the teams that hit free agency hard on Day 1 end up struggling and regretting it. Wait a day. Wait another day. Lock up your own guys for the long haul. Be patient. Then shop for value.
Youll notice that Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton and London Fletcher are all still out there. With each passing day, their price goes down. That means more money to address other needs.
The Eagles are on the right track. They cleared cap space by trading Winston Justice. They stabalized both lines for the next few years by re-upping Herremans and Cole. They finally found enough common ground with Jackson to craft a long-term deal. And they still have plenty of cap space available to keep building.
A good start in an off-season where the Eagles had to have a good start.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com