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The first time Tom Gamble was with the Eagles, it wasn’t that big a deal.
In fact, the highlight of his bio in the 1989 Eagles’ media guide was that he was “instrumental in acquiring a satellite dish” for Veterans Stadium.
This time? Gamble’s return to the Eagles 19 years after he left is one of the most important moves the franchise has made in recent years.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman pulled off one of the coups of the year in the NFL in February when he pried Gamble from the 49ers, whom Gamble helped build into a Super Bowl team, and hired him to the newly created role of vice president of player personnel.
There’s a direct correlation between the Eagles’ subpar drafting in recent years and their decline from a perennial playoff team to 8-8 in 2011 and 4-12 last year.
With Gamble aboard, Roseman believes the Eagles are better prepared than they have been in years for the draft.
Some may have perceived the addition of Gamble as evidence that organizationally the Eagles were concerned with how they have drafted since Roseman was promoted to general manager before the 2010 draft.
Roseman said he’s never been concerned with perception. He just wants as many good people in the draft room as possible.
“At the end of the day, it’s what kind of players you get on your roster and what your record’s going to be, and the more good people you have to help that, the more successful you’re going to be,” Roseman said. “It never made sense to me to think that hiring good people is going to hurt you personally. I always said that when I had an opportunity like this I would try to surround myself with great people, people that you think can do the job in the league, so I think that we’re doing that here.
“We have a lot of good people and I really think that’s going to serve us well in the future.”
The Eagles’ drafting woes have been well-documented. Their last three drafts have produced only a couple productive starters –- Jason Kelce in 2011, Fletcher Cox last year. They haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl player since LeSean McCoy in 2009, and they haven’t drafted a Pro Bowler on defense since Trent Cole back in 2005.
The 49ers, meanwhile, turned into an NFC champion under general manager Trent Baalke and Gamble, drafting players like Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Navorro Bowman and Michael Crabtree.
Gamble isn’t doing interviews right now. When he was hired, he said he looked forward to helping Roseman with every facet of personnel.
“Trying to help in any way I can,” he said. “College, pro, free agents. Getting to know this team, doing the best I can. I’m just trying to jump in. Lot of college, lot of pro. Football’s football, evaluation’s evaluations. I’m doing whatever I can. Helping any way I can help.”
Gamble came to Philly in late February, just in time for the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. So he’s been here for free agency and draft preparation.
And Roseman said as highly as he thought of Gamble before they worked together, he thinks even more of the South Jersey native now.
“It’s almost like players in the draft,” Roseman said. “Everyone can tell you about what kind of people they are and how hard a worker they are, but until you’re with them, you really don’t know.
“Talk about exceeding your expectations. Not only as an evaluator, not only as a football mind but as a person.”
Gamble isn’t the only important recent addition to the Eagles’ personnel department.
The Eagles within the past year also promoted Anthony Patch to director of college scouting and hired Ed Marynowitz as assistant director of pro scouting and veteran personnel guru Tom Donahoe as a senior adviser.
It’s all part of a front office reshaping designed to avoid draft-day misses such as Jaiquawn Jarrett, Trevor Laws, Bryan Smith and Victor Abiamiri.
“We’ve had an opportunity in the last six or nine months I feel like to get a couple people in the building ... who are just stars in this league,” Roseman said. “And the more good people we can have, the more good, talented people we can have, the better we’re going to be in the future.
“It’s reassuring to kind of look around the room and see guys like that. It’s exciting for the future of this team.”