Eagles

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."