Like any of us, Eli Harold just wants to be wanted.
He thought the San Francisco 49ers wanted him when they selected the University of Virginia defensive end in the third round of the 2015 draft, but they traded him to the Detroit Lions last August.
He thought the Lions wanted him, especially after he sacked Tom Brady twice in a 26-10 Week 3 win over the Patriots last season. But they put him on the bench and forgot about him.
He thought the Buffalo Bills, who signed him in April, definitely wanted him. Right up until they brought him in Friday afternoon and informed him that he’d just been traded to the Eagles for an undrafted rookie offensive tackle (Ryan Bates).
If you’re counting, that’s four teams in four-plus years.
“Obviously it’s a business," Harold said Sunday after his first practice with his latest employer. “I just try to control what I can control and do everything I can to get myself out there and impress."
Even though he is joining the Eagles three weeks into training camp, he has a good feeling about his new home.
After spending his first four NFL seasons as a stand-up outside linebacker, he is returning to his college roots as a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end.
“This scheme is amazing, man," Harold said. “Early in my career [with the 49ers] I was a 34 outside ‘backer. And then a 43 outside ‘backer.
“I hadn’t played defensive end since college. This scheme, it’s just getting off the ball. Not a lot of reading. It’s just attack, attack, attack. What else can you ask for being a defensive lineman? It’s a perfect situation. I love it, man. Going forward is always a lot more fun than dropping into coverage. I’m excited."
After trading away Michael Bennett and losing Chris Long to retirement, the Eagles are trying to solidify their edge-rush situation. Their top three right now are Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Derek Barnett. But Barnett is coming off major shoulder surgery, and Curry has had more than four sacks just once in his career.
Harold joins a second-tier group fighting for the fourth and fifth defensive end roster spots that includes 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat, former Carolina Panthers third-round pick Daeshon Hall, rookie fourth-round pick Shareef Miller and 29-year-old Kasim Edebali, who was signed last week after Joe Ostman went down with an ACL tear.
“I feel I’ve already been accepted and I haven’t even been here 24 hours," Harold said. “Being in a room with a lot of veteran players plays a big part in that. It’s just a veteran team, and they know how to win here. I’m just glad I’m here."
Harold said Long, a fellow UVA alum, “is like my big brother." His new position coach, Phillip Daniels, who played in the league for 15 years, including six with the Washington Redskins, was one of his idols when he was growing up in Virginia Beach.
“Funny thing," he said. “I was a huge Redskins fan growing up. Phillip was on my wall. Him and Andre Carter and Lorenzo Alexander and all of those guys.
“I had met them when I was 12 at the Virginia Beach Pavilion. Andre ended up being my assistant outside linebacker coach in San Fran for a year. Now Phillip is my position coach here. I told him yesterday, this is amazing. I’ve now played for two of my former favorite players."
Harold was a well-regarded pass rusher at Virginia. But his draft stock soared after an impressive performance at the 2015 scouting combine, when he ran a 4.60-second 40, a 7.07 in the three-cone drill and broad-jumped 123 inches.
The Niners took him in the third round and turned him into a 3-4 linebacker. He started 25 games in three seasons with them, but had just five sacks.
He got off to a good start last year with the Lions, notching three sacks -- including the two against Brad -- three quarterback hits and three tackles for losses in the first three games.
But he played just 16 snaps the week after the Patriots game. He missed the Lions’ Week 5 game against Green Bay for the birth of his daughter, then, with the exception of a couple of late-season games, became a forgotten man. He played nine or fewer defensive snaps in eight of the Lions’ final 11 games, including two or fewer in six of them. He finished the season with four sacks.
“The [playing] opportunity wasn’t there," Harold said. “A guy [Ziggy Ansah] had gotten hurt and my playing time went up. Then my daughter was born. After that, it just fell off. I was still doing everything I could. I was doing my best. I would talk to the coaches and they would say nothing is wrong.
“I don’t know what happened. They were telling me one thing, but saying another thing in meetings or whatever. I went to work every day trying to be better. That’s all I can do. It just didn’t work out."
It didn’t work out in Buffalo either. He was only getting third-team snaps in their camp. Faced with a ton of injuries on their offensive line, the Bills called the Eagles about some of their linemen. The Eagles offer Bates in exchange for Harold.
“Good body for what we’re looking for," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Our scouts liked him a couple of years ago. He has had a little bit of production.
“He played sort of a hybrid role last year for Detroit. But we’re a little bit different. [We’re going to] put his hand in the ground and let him come [after the quarterback]. He’s big. He’s strong. And we will add him to the mix and see where it turns out.
“But he does have a little bit of experience. It’s a little bit different than a rookie coming in. We should be able to get him up to speed pretty quickly."