Eagles

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long probably could have stayed with the Patriots and had a pretty darn good chance to rack up another Super Bowl ring.

Or two.

At this point in his career? Long was after something different.

It was fun playing for the Patriots and winning a Super Bowl in his ninth NFL season. But what he really wants is to finish his career with a team where he can really be a difference maker on the field.

And the Eagles, with whom he can be a pure pass rusher in Jim Schwartz's classic 4-3 defense, offered that far more than New England, where he spent most of last season lined up inside as a defensive tackle.

Is there really something bigger than having a tremendous chance at winning another Super Bowl ring?

For Long, there is.

"At the end of the day I have to follow my heart and that's served me well, for the most part," Long said. "Sometimes it gets me in trouble. But I think I just wanted to be in a situation where I was able to be proud of what I put on the field every Sunday.

"I think every team has a chance to compete for championships at the beginning of the season. It's no foregone conclusion you go anywhere and do anything.

"So I think that when I figured out there might be an opportunity for me to come to a great situation like this with a team that is on the rise and a lot of excitement in the building and the chance to compete for the role I was looking for, (that's) where I wanted to be."

Long had 50 1/2 sacks in his first six NFL seasons, including 13 for the Rams in 2011, 11 1/2 in 2012 and 8 1/2 in 2013. His 33 sacks during that three-year period were fifth-most in the NFL during that three-year span.

But injuries and a poor fit in New England limited him to eight sacks over the last three years.

Which led him to Philly.

"I had a great opportunity to go to New England and win a championship and that's the goal every year for every team in the league," he said.

"But at the end of the day, I wanted to get back to playing football the way that I played for a long time. And that's something that gave me great joy, taking the field every Sunday and playing to the best of my abilities and in a situation that schematically I felt like I was really being the best me I could be.

"It was a real blessing to be a part of that team last year, but I wanted to towards the end of my career be in a situation to prove myself all over again.

"And that's what keeps me hungry and excited and I think this is a great fit because it gives me that opportunity."

The Eagles signed the 32-year-old Long last week to an incentive-laden two-year, $4.5 million contract.

With their starting defensive end rotation of Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith and Brandon Graham limited to just 15 1/2 combined sacks last year, the Eagles are desperate for pass pressure.

They released Barwin -- Long's close friend. Barwin signed with the Rams, Long's former team, and the Eagles essentially replaced him with Long.

"The No. 1 thing when I started free agency was a good football fit," Long said. "It wasn't about the money for me. I've been lucky to make a good amount of money playing football. It wasn't about anything but getting back to the player that I was or as close as you can be to that and that's something that I'm very driven to do.

"For me, No. 1 was the football fit and a team that is going to have a chance to win a lot of football games, and I feel like when you watch them play, it's obvious this organization is moving in the right direction.

"When we got ready for the Super Bowl and watching the Falcons, I spent a lot of time watching Philly's defense because they were obviously very talented and played Atlanta great and they really jumped off the screen at you.

"And you say, in free agency, once it starts, 'Yeah, I do remember watching those guys, and, 'Man, that would be cool to be a part of something like that,' and that’s where I wanted to be."

Long is at an age where most players are winding down.

Only two players 32 or older in Eagles history have ever recorded more than 6 1/2 sacks in a season -- William Fuller in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and Darren Howard in 2008.

But Long, who didn't miss a game from opening day 2008 through September 2014, said he's healthy and fit and ready to be a big part of this defense.

"I feel like I have a lot left, I really do," he said. "There was a time when I was injured and playing really bad and cut (by the Rams) -- rightfully so -- where I wasn't sure what my future in football was.

"But I was really lucky to take that stuff and for Coach Belichick to take that chance in me and I found out I still have a lot left in the tank. I didn’t miss a practice, didn’t miss a game last year, and that's something I was really proud of.

"I was able to play hard and I think at a pretty high level but I know I have to strike while the iron's hot. Being 32, I wanted to be in the right place, and this is the right place for me."

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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