The Eagles signing of Jason Babin to a free agent contract says as much about their confidence in defensive line coach Jim Washburn as it does in Babin himself.
The Eagles saw what Washburn did with Babin last season in Tennessee, turning a journeyman player into a Pro Bowler. They are counting on the coach to keep Babin playing at the same high level.
If Washburn was not on the staff, the Eagles would not have invested a reported 28 million to re-sign a player they once had and let walk away. But with Washburn here, they feel Babin is worth the hefty five-year deal. Well see how it works out.
This season will be Babin's eighth in the NFL. The first six were notable only for the number of times he changed addresses. Babin played for four different teams in his seven seasons and totaled all of 17.5 sacks. He was considered a bust, a first-round pick (Houston, 2004) that didnt pan out.
Babin spent the 2009 season with the Eagles. He showed flashes in the preseason and picked up 2.5 sacks in three weeks during the regular season, but he slipped to the back of the D-line rotation as the year wore on. By the time the season ended, he was all but invisible.
The Eagles didnt show much interest in keeping him so Babin went on the free agent market and signed with Tennessee. No one thought it was a big story at the time. Lets see, this would be his fifth team in six seasons. He was coming off a 2.5-sack year with the Eagles. Wow, stop the presses.
But Washburn demonstrated again why he is considered one of the best coaches in the game. He saw untapped potential in Babin and gave him a bigger role in the Titans defense. He made Babin the starting right end and turned him loose. He allowed me to play the way I wanted to play, Babin told the Associated Press.
It worked so well that Babin recorded 12.5 sacks. Only five players in the league had more. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Babin was rewarded with his first trip to the Pro Bowl. It is such a stark contrast seven seasons of basically nothing then one season thats wildly successful there has to be a reason. Stuff like that doesnt just happen, not in the NFL.
Babin gave the credit to Washburn. The two obviously have a special relationship. Washburn is a crusty, tough-love kind of coach and in Babin, he found a pupil willing to pay the price to improve. It was a very productive marriage in Tennessee. The Eagles are betting it can work just as well in Philadelphia.
For those who dont think assistant coaches are important, think again. The Eagles are counting hugely on both Washburn and Howard Mudd to improve the play on the two lines.
Two seasons ago, the Eagles had Rory Segrest coaching their defensive line and he had Jason Babin and Chris Clemons in his end rotation. Clemons finished the season with three sacks, Babin had 2.5. Last season, while Babin was piling up Pro Bowl numbers in Tennessee, Clemons was recording 11 sacks in Seattle.
Why did they have so little impact in their one season with the Eagles? Why werent they better utilized? Thats a coaching issue, and the Eagles will be significantly better with Washburn replacing Segrest.
I thought the Eagles would pursue Ray Edwards (Vikings) who is bigger (6-5, 270) and younger (26) and a true strongside defensive end. He plays the left side while Babin is a natural right end. Since Trent Cole plays right end, Edwards would have stepped right in as the starter the opposite side.
It would have been an ideal fit, but Edwards wants a huge payday no doubt he saw the 70 million deal Charles Johnson signed in Carolina and the Eagles felt Babin was the more affordable option. But if they didnt have Jim Washburn here to coach him, I dont think it would have happened.
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com