Eagles didn't seek out Chris Long, he sought out Eagles

USA Today Images

Eagles didn't seek out Chris Long, he sought out Eagles

We tend to think of NFL free agency as teams shopping for the players they want. But in Chris Long's case, the defensive end turned salesman, pitching his services directly to the Eagles in March.

When last season ended, Long was celebrating a Super Bowl championship with the rest of his Patriots teammates. It was a dream come true, and a lot of veteran players probably would've been happy to keep chasing rings and add to New England's dynasty.

Long had other ideas. Instead, he placed the first of three life-altering phone calls he made during the 2017 offseason, informing Patriots coach Bill Belichick he would not return.

"I called him before I hit free agency," Long said this week. "I said, 'Hey, I don't want to waste your time. I don't know if I have a spot or not, but at 32 years old, if I'm going to play at a high level, a level I can be proud of, I need to play more in-position.' He understood that from the beginning."

Long had a decent year on paper, finishing with 4.0 sacks. Yet the Patriots' diverse scheme called for more than a pure pass rusher, and well before the postseason, his playing time had diminished.

After spending the first eight seasons of his career with the Rams, never getting so much as a whiff of playoff football, Long decided to test free agency for the second year in a row. If Belichick was understanding, Patriots fans were less sympathetic.

"People were like, 'You're crazy for leaving the Patriots,'" Long said. "'And you suck. You're old and you're washed up.' So I'm like, 'Man, I need to get on a team.'

That's when Long made call No. 2 to former Eagles outside linebacker Connor Barwin.

Barwin spent four seasons with the Eagles but was no longer a fit once Jim Schwartz was named defensive coordinator and was released after a disappointing 2016 campaign. Though he caught on with the Rams during the offseason, Barwin wasn't quite finished contributing to the Eagles.

"For me, I was antsy to get on a team, and I saw the team that I wanted be on, and it was just real simple for me," Long said. "Once Connor left, I called Connor. I was like, 'What's it like there?' He was like, 'It's awesome. You're gonna love it. You'd be a great fit.'"

By this point, Long already knew he wanted to sign with the Eagles. Barwin's endorsement was simply the icing on the cake.

"I was like, 'Well, I have to get ahold of somebody and tell them that I'm not dead, I want to keep playing, and I still have a lot in the tank,'" Long said.

So the next step was placing the third and final call. It was Long who ultimately told his agent to reach out, initiating a conversation with Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman.

Long saw something special was happening and wanted to be part of it.

"When you're older, you have to make some of your own calls," Long said. "I just had a good feeling about this team. Maybe I should be on NFL Live or something so I can pick teams in the playoffs because I felt like we'd have an opportunity to play on a stage like this.

"I just saw Philly, and I was like, 'Man, that D-line, I'd love to be a part of it.' And I wanted to be here, and (Roseman) was like, 'Oh yeah, I'd love to have you.'"

Long signed a two-year contract about three weeks after free agency opened. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but the 10th-year veteran finished with 5.0 sacks — his highest total since 2013 — and a career-high four forced fumbles. And, of course, the Eagles are playing in the Super Bowl.

Most of all, Long feels at home.

"Connor was right," Long said. "The coolest thing that I think Connor loved about this place was — and he was really civically-minded, community-minded — the city of Philly. As great as everything is in here, the thing I love most about Philly is Philly."

Long willingly left the Patriots, who probably had a 50-50 shot to make it back to the big game, and hand-picked the Eagles as his destination. Like a lot of the club's offseason signings, he followed a hunch and it couldn't have worked out any better for either party.

"It takes a lot of luck to wind up in the right place," Long said. "I could've easily made a different decision. All these guys that came here in free agency could've made a different decision, but they believed in what (Eagles coach Doug Pederson) is building here and the locker room that we have here."

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

AP Images

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

Greg Ward threw more touchdown passes in college than Carson Wentz and had a higher career passer rating than Nick Foles. 

These days, his job is catching passes, not throwing them. 

It’s quite a transition from big-time NCAA Division 1 quarterback to NFL wide receiver, but at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the former Houston Cougar knows where his future is.

Ward spent all of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, learning the nuances of a new position and figuring out how to think like a receiver instead of a quarterback. 

He looked surprisingly polished at wide out in training camp, caught nine passes for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the season focusing on getting better.

“I still haven’t 100 percent gotten the position,” Ward said after a recent rookie camp practice. “I always feel like I can get better, always feel like I can learn something new, feel like there’ll always be something to improve on. 

“Last year was a big year for me. Just learning a new position, learning football period, learning from Alshon (Jeffery), Torrey (Smith) and Nelson (Agholor), it was a very important year for me.

“Just gathering every bit of information I could watching those guys practice and watching them in games and then learning how to apply what you’ve learned to your game.”

Ward never did get a chance to play, but he said he felt himself getting better as the year went along.

“Everybody wants to play,” said Ward, who led Houston to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State in Atlanta at the end of his junior year. 

“You’re a competitor, that’s why we all do this. But I was humbled and thankful just to be on a Super Bowl team. Just to be in the NFL period. Some guys aren’t able to play football at all. I’m just grateful to be on a football team. 

“But this is not the end of my story. I am going to get out there and I am going to play.”

Ward was with the Eagles during their postseason run and he was there in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

He used every moment, every day, as an opportunity to improve. Even if nobody could see it happening.

“The biggest thing I learned was just being patient, just being humble,” he said. “Our team last year, there was nobody that was selfish. Nobody who thought they were bigger than anybody else. I learned patience and the importance of doing extra. Getting extra work, studying more, watching more film. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

The Eagles have quite a crowd at wide receiver, with Jeffery, Agholor and Mack Hollins back, Wallace and Markus Wheaton in the fold and guys like Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis all also in the mix.

But Ward doesn’t concern himself with the numbers.

“The next step for me is to separate myself,” he said. "As a competitor, especially coming from being undrafted, you have to separate yourself. You have to be different. 

“You have to catch whoever’s eye it is, head coach, position coach, catch everybody’s eyes. They have to see value in you. That’s where I am right now. Trying to separate myself.”

How long will it take?

“I’m leaving that up to God,” he said. “I know I’m putting in the hard work and I know one day it will pay off. I know that day will come.”

Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

AP Images

Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is strongly denying accusations made in a lawsuit that he trashed a Los Angeles house after the Super Bowl (see story)

The lawsuit, as reported by TMZ earlier this week, accuses Ajayi of throwing three parties at the L.A. mansion he was renting even after the owner told him not to. Ajayi is being charged $25,000 by the owner. 

Shortly after the story broke on Monday, a representative for Ajayi claimed the lawsuit was bogus. 

Now, we have an even stronger detail from Ajayi’s camp. 

Ajayi’s publicist Melanie Wadden told the Miami Herald that Ajayi didn’t throw any parties and caused no damage to the property. 

Additionally, Wadden denied the home owner’s claim that Ajayi pushed him in a menacing manner after confronting him.

“Jay was not involved in any physical altercations,” she said. 

Ajayi’s publicist also told the Herald that Ajayi was a guest and not the renter and the owner wanted the group to pay cash instead of through Airbnb. 

"The entire group voluntarily left the property several days early — no security or police were ever involved or on-site," Wadden said. "They filed a complaint against the owner through Airbnb back in February that included screenshots of the owner asking for cash and trying to communicate outside of their platform [against Airbnb policy]."

Ajayi, who came to the Eagles in the middle of last season in a trade, has one year left on his current contract.