Philadelphia Eagles

Long, strange journeys for Braman and Maragos

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Long, strange journeys for Braman and Maragos

They were introduced together. One is tall and big and has long sand-colored hair and a growth of scruffy beard covering his face. The other is short and stocky and arrived with a fresh shave and a tight haircut. It was somewhat startling to see them standing there next to each other -- not because of how physically different they are, but because of the long odds they both beat to make it that far.

On Thursday, the Eagles introduced two new free-agent acquisitions: special teamers Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos. The Eagles signed Braman to a two-year deal and Maragos to a three-year contract. Braman, who was with Houston, hopes to see some snaps at linebacker. Maragos, who was with Seattle, would like to compete for the Eagles' ever-uncertain safety situation. At the least, both figure to play heavily on special teams. Considering the disparate but equally difficult paths they've traveled as football players, that is remarkable.

We will start with Braman, who is a hulk of a man (6-foot-5, 241 pounds) in a long line of them (he said his grandfather was 7-foot-4, 365 pounds). Out of high school, he played a year of football for the University of Idaho.

“Unfortunately,” Braman said, “I didn’t realize you had to go to class and get good grades in order to play football. I had to learn that the hard way.”

He took some time off after that. Braman said he comes from a “humble, blue-collar” family, and so he got a humble, blue-collar job making concrete railroad ties for a company called CXT. He lasted about three months.

“It was backbreaking work for $10 an hour, and it was about 75 hours a week,” Braman said. “I decided I deserved an education over a broken back.”

Braman returned to school and played two years at Long Beach City College. From there, he jumped to the Texas panhandle and landed at West Texas A&M.

“Unfortunately, my senior year, got into some trouble,” Braman said. “There were some character issues that people were questioning coming out my senior year.”

Braman was kicked out of West Texas A&M and later pled guilty to misdemeanor possession of psilocybin (halucinogenic mushrooms). He paid a $2,000 fine and the prosecutor terminated the one-year probation after 30 days, but the initial damage was done. He went undrafted and worked as a bouncer in Amarillo and College Station, Texas. He was also an Abercrombie & Fitch model for a while before the Texans called and offered him a job.

“That’s why Houston sits close to my heart,” Braman said, “because they did kind of give me a shot when no one else was batting an eyelash.”

The 26-year-old became a special teams monster with Houston and was named a Pro Bowl alternate two years ago. He had 31 special teams tackles with the Texans, including one that became a YouTube sensation when he made a crushing hit without the benefit of his helmet. Braman -- who said he once accidently tackled a fire hydrant with his face while playing playground football with his mom’s ex-boyfriend -- said he “wouldn’t advise” making a tackle without headgear. Those kinds of stories are why Donnie Jones, who played with Braman in Houston, called him a “war daddy” for his “will-sacrifice-body mentality.”

“It was a long road,” Braman said, “but I ended up where I wanted to be.”

Maragos managed to avoid backbreaking labor and mushroom possession and face collisions with fire hydrants, but his path wasn’t much easier. Maragos, who is listed at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, didn’t receive any recruiting attention coming out of high school. Western Michigan gave him a chance to walk on, and he spent two years there before sending a Facebook message to Luke Swan, a receiver at Wisconsin who was also a walk-on. Maragos asked Swan to look at his tape and bring it to the head coach. Swan obliged.

Maragos got a call, transferred, walked on, and switched to defense for the Badgers. He became a team captain for Wisconsin and was put on scholarship in his fifth year. Then he went undrafted. Maragos signed with the 49ers in 2010. He spent the last three years in Seattle where he played 43 games for the Seahawks and earned a Super Bowl ring. Maragos played 51 snaps on defense for Seattle this past season but was on the field for 80 percent of the special teams reps.

“It was kind of real similar,” Maragos said about the unlikely way he and Braman ended up with NFL careers. “And here we are today.”

Malcolm Jenkins compares Donald Trump to 'a troll on social media'

Malcolm Jenkins compares Donald Trump to 'a troll on social media'

Malcolm Jenkins heard what President Donald Trump had to say Friday. He heard Trump encourage NFL owners to release players who protest during the national anthem. 

It was all pretty familiar. 

"Honestly, it's one of those things that it's no different than a troll on social media that I've been dealing with for a whole year," Jenkins said. "That same rhetoric is what I hear on a daily basis. It hits other people close to home when you see your teammate or a player across the league that you know is a great person, who's out there trying to do their part building our communities and making our communities greater, being attacked. I think that's why you saw the response that you did. Mostly from guys who hadn't been protesting or doing whatever already. 

"But for me, it was just more of what's been happening. Nothing anybody can say is going to stop me or deter me from being committed to bringing people together, impacting our communities in a positive way and being that voice of reason."

Trump's comments Friday in Alabama set off even more protests from around the NFL on Sunday (see story). The day started with the Jaguars and Ravens locking arms. The Steelers didn't even come out of the locker room for the anthem. 

And the Eagles took part too. 

Players, coaches and front office executives locked arms as Navy Petty Officer First Class (retired) Generald Wilson began to belt out the Star-Spangled Banner. The Eagles decided Sunday morning to hold the demonstration. Head coach Doug Pederson called it "an organizational decision." Owner Jeff Lurie, team president Don Smolenski and vice president of football operations Howie Roseman were among those who joined. 

"It meant a lot," said Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem for a year to protest against racial injustice. "I know Mr. Lurie specifically doesn't go on the field much, so for him to be down there and showing their support in their own ways in important. I was happy to see that league-wide." 

Jenkins has continued his demonstration this year and has been somewhat joined by teammates Chris Long and Rodney McLeod, who have been placing their arms around him in a showing of support. 

It seemed like the entire team sort of did that Sunday. 

"It was nice that it was a team effort," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "That's what we wanted. We just wanted a team effort of everybody standing up for the right thing.

"It was good that we all did it as a team, because I just don't like how they single people out and make it about one or a couple people or a group of people. I'm happy we did it as a team because I back those guys that are putting their career out there. It's tough. You get backlash, people start judging you a certain type of way, and to do it as a team, that's a credit to our owner, and I appreciate that."

For what it's worth, President Trump on Sunday condoned locking arms. He tweeted: "Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!" 

It was clearly Trump's comments Friday that spawned Sunday's near-league-wide demonstration. His comments also elicited responses from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFLPA and many NFL owners, including Lurie

"It's just really a distraction," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "I don't like to get involved in politics and I don't think politicians should get involved in sports. It just creates a lot of noise and distraction that takes away from your main goal of winning games."

"It was interesting," Long said of Trump's comments. "It was interesting that he was so occupied with us."

Because of Trump's comments, Long said, "we're kind of also now protesting the right to protest, which you wouldn't think you'd have to do in this country." 

The only Eagles player who noticeably didn't partake in the showing of unity on Sunday was linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The veteran linebacker claimed his non-participation wasn't some sort of political statement.

"Don't think too deep into that," he said. 

When asked, in the wake of increased demonstrations, if Trump's comments backfired, Jenkins wasn't ready to say that. But he did think Sunday served as a chance to make the demonstrations something that brought unity instead of divisiveness. 

So what's next for the NFL? 

"I'm not sure," Jenkins said. "I know there are multiple guys who have been behind the scenes doing work. Hopefully, we can continue to highlight that and hopefully, it's not a one-week thing. We also know it's not about the protest, it's not about the national anthem. It's really about effecting change in our communities. 

"Hopefully, just like today was a collaborative effort of everybody pulling their resources to send messages and to bring people together, hopefully, that can continue on a micro level in each NFL city, each community and we can really break some walls down and makes some changes." 

‘Like a cannon,’ Jake Elliott sets Eagles franchise record with walk-off FG

‘Like a cannon,’ Jake Elliott sets Eagles franchise record with walk-off FG

Carson Wentz was praying. 

Malcolm Jenkins was keeping an eye on Odell Beckham Jr., worried about the prospect of the superstar getting his hands on the football one last time with offensive linemen trying to tackle him. 

And Donnie Jones, the veteran punter and field goal holder, was on the sideline lobbying head coach Doug Pederson and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp to let them try. 

"I went over and said 'Let's go," Jones recalled. "We can win this thing. I said let's kick this bleep-bleeper and win this game."

A couple minutes later, rookie kicker Jake Elliott exited the field at the Linc in style, hoisted up on the shoulders of Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill. 

That's the kind of treatment you get when you drill a 61-yard, game-winning field goal.  

"Jake came up and I saw it in his eyes," Jones said. "I knew. I knew he was ready to go out and execute and he did."  

Elliott, whom the Eagles signed before last week's game against the Chiefs after Caleb Sturgis went down with an injury, drilled his 61-yard attempt to give the Eagles a 27-24 win over the Giants on Sunday afternoon (see breakdown). It was a crazy end to a crazy game. 

"It's kind of a blur to me," Elliott said. "I don't really know. All I know is that the ball was in the air for a really long time and [it was] real close to that right upright." 

The Eagles led by 14 until the fourth, then gave up the lead, then found a way to tie it. The 61-yard walk-off was fitting. 

"We knew Jake had pretty good range," Wentz said. "I wasn't sure 61 is doable. You never really think that. But we had a lot of faith in him. I had a lot of faith in him and he got it done." 

The 61-yarder was the longest field goal in franchise history, surpassing Tony Franklin's 59-yard field goal in 1979. It was the longest field goal in the NFL since Matt Prater's 64-yarder in 2013. And there have been just six longer field goals in NFL history (see observations)

All this for a guy who missed a 30-yard chip shot last week. 

"You have to be mentally strong as punters and kickers because bad things happen," Jones said. "It's how you bounce back from that and respond. That's what really makes you the player you are." 

To set up the game-winning kick, the offense first had to get into position. After a poor punt from the Giants, the Eagles got the ball at their 38-yard line with 13 seconds left. The first pass went incomplete and drained six seconds. The next pass was a 19-yard gain to Alshon Jeffery on the sideline. 

It left the Eagles with one second. 

"We only had seven seconds," head coach Doug Pederson said. "So we have calculated in a sideline throw can take anywhere from five to six, and we were right on that mark today.

"It was pretty awesome. It sounded like a cannon off his foot. Great snap, great hold. The protection was there. Awesome.”

The only reason Elliott is even on the Eagles is because Sturgis was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury suffered in the opener. The Eagles worked out a trio of kickers but instead elected to sign Elliott off the Bengals' practice squad. 

The Bengals used a fifth-round pick on Elliott this year. But the Memphis product lost the Cincinnati job to veteran Randy Bullock and was put on the team's practice squad.

While Elliott looked a little shaky in his preseason with the Bengals and even missed his first field goal attempt Sunday, his leg strength has never really been questioned. At Memphis, he made more 50-yarders (10) from 2013-16 than anyone else in the college ranks. 

The longest kick he's ever made came in college, a 56-yarder. In warmups, Elliott said he usually tries "50, 56, maybe 57 and call it a day from there."

Still ... 61 yards? 

It was something special. 

Jones called Sunday the best team win he had ever been a part of. Jenkins said the game was one of the most memorable of his career. Even Jason Peters said this game and the Miracles at the Meadowlands "almost rate the same." There was certainly plenty of drama. 

The idea to carry Elliott off the field on Sunday was actually Najee Goode's. But after the game, he was nowhere to be found. That's when Kendricks stepped in and joined Grugier-Hill to hoist the 167-pound kicker and carry him into the tunnel. 

"I'll take it," Kendricks said. "It was fun. It was cool, man." 

After the kick went through, the capacity crowd of 69,596 erupted and there was chaos on the field. Elliott was at the center of it as the hero of the day (see rookie report)

"It was awesome," Elliott said. "I was just kind of running around, trying not to get hurt."