How the Eagles Won Free Agency: Brains over Brawn

Andy Reid play call
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It's not easy to explain the free agent binge the Eagles had in the first week of free agency. People have tried, of course, but I can't help but find most of their explanations lacking.

Donovan McNabb's resentful commentary, as told to Clark Judge, certainly isn't right. He whined, "You’re seeing Andy taking that chance. It’s not just taking that chance on one guy. They’re taking a chance on a bunch of guys. And they’re spending money. That’s amazing."

It's not as easy as saying that Reid and company have changed up, become more aggressive, more willing to spend, or more risky overall. The Eagles front office has never hesitated to go after the best free agents, signing guys like Jevon Kearse, Jon Runyan, and Asante Samuel. While they've been prudent with their money, that's never been a big restraint. And, considering all but the Nnamdi Asomugha deal can be opted out of after a year, they've certainly hedged against risk.

I look at the list of free agents additions at right and I don't see a big shift in philosophy. Some of the guys are older, but they're top players still in their prime, not fading former stars. And, to reiterate, they haven't let themselves get too risky with the deals.

Plus, the veteran acquisitions hide the fact that the rest of the Eagles lineup is still very young. A month back I pointed out that the team was poised to have Michael Vick potentially be the oldest Eagle in 2011. That's unlikely now, but the overall point remains. This team is still young — even after adding a few 30-year-old veterans — and the bounty of 2012 draft picks beckons.

So what has changed? It's not a willingness to spend or accept risk. It wasn't aggressiveness that won the free agency period for the Eagles. Nor was it some fateful passing text messages in the night.

It was brains.

Read Jonathan Tamari's Inquirer story about the Eagles preparation for the end of the lockout and free agency and tell me that the front office's "blueprint" didn't run circles around the rest of the league.

Carolina, for example, jumped into free agency like a chicken with its head cut off, throwing huge signing bonuses at every player who threatened to leave. Washington signed so many washed up veteran wide receivers that one backed out of his commitment. The Jets and Cowboys spent days pursuing Asomugha and came up empty.

Meanwhile, during the same window, the Eagles front office signed all their draft picks, picked a bunch of undrafted rookies, traded Kevin Kolb at high market value to the only team who was really interested, signed two Pro Bowl defensive linemen, snatched up the single best free agent with a surprisingly low deal before anyone knew they were even bidding, and then plugged cheap, proven contributors into the remaining holes with cap room to spare.

It makes sense. During the Andy Reid era, the Eagles have always been best at pregame preparation rather than live adjustments. And what was the lockout, ultimately, but an extra long chance to do nothing but plan, prepare, and scheme for the first days back?

Essentially, the Eagles just ran the best first 15 scripted plays they've ever called. The outcome of the whole game remains far from decided, but they now have a tremendous head start.

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