On the afternoon before the Eagles selected Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett with the 54th pick in the draft, Quintin Mikell took advantage of the temporary lifting of the lockout to swing by the NovaCare Complex. There were things in his locker he wanted. Pictures. Footballs. Cleats. Memorabilia. Workout gear.
As he was waiting for a security guard to collect his belongings, Mikell bumped into Howie Roseman, then Andy Reid. They exchanged pleasantries, nothing more. Mikell heard them loud and clear.
He is not coming back to the Eagles. That much Mikell knows.
Whenever the NFL and the players finally agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, Mikell will be one of more than 500 unrestricted free agents. While he would love to return to the only team for which he has played, he is not kidding himself. After eight years in Philadelphia, Mikell fully expects to get the Brian Dawkins treatment.
Thanks for playing, good luck going forward.
"It was cool," Mikell said. "But no vibe either way, which probably means to me that I won't be back. So it's kind of weird."
Four months have passed since that emotional Monday after the Eagles' playoff loss to Green Bay. After his exit interview with Reid, Mikell became choked up when asked to reflect upon his eight years in Philadelphia.
Mikell was not ready to say goodbye, nor ready to think about the end of his tenure with the Eagles. He joined the team in 2003 as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Boise State, earned a roster spot by becoming invaluable on special teams, and became the team's starting strong safety in 2007 after Sean Considine got hurt.
In 2008, Mikell was named a second team all-pro, and in 2010 he played in his first Pro Bowl.
While picking at a salad at a Cherry Hill restaurant on Friday, armed with the knowledge that the Eagles drafted his successor, the 30-year-old Mikell said he was much more at peace with his uncertain situation than he was in January.
"This is part of the business, but this is why we are where we are," Mikell said. "This is why Reggie White fought for free agency, so you have the opportunity to make more money. If you stay here, you're going to make less money. . . . It's just business."
Mikell said he has steeled himself for this free agency ever since the Eagles let Brian Dawkins walk in 2009. If Dawkins did not do enough during his career for the Eagles to re-sign him, who was Mikell to expect he would be any different?
"I talked to Dawk after he left, and he was pretty upset about it," Mikell said. "For me personally, seeing how upset he was, I think I started preparing for that back then. Mike Lewis and Dawk, seeing those guys go, I was like, 'Mentally be ready for that day, because it's going to happen, and it might happen sooner than you think.'
"I know once Howie got the job of general manager, every guy wants to put their own stamp on the team. They want to bring their own guys in, and you can see it. Look at the turnover since the Super Bowl year. Me and [David] Akers and Jamaal Jackson were the last guys, and sure enough, they draft a safety, a kicker and a center/guard. The writing has been on the wall."
That does not mean that parting will be easy. A month ago, Mikell started working out with many of his Eagles teammates at Power Train Sports Institute in Cherry Hill. Akers, Jackson, Todd Herremans, Trevor Laws, Victor Abiamiri, and Brent Celek are regulars. Michael Vick has made an appearance.
One day, Mikell overheard several of his teammates planning to get together to run through seven-on-seven drills. No one had invited Mikell.
"I was like, 'Damn, I really am a free agent,' " Mikell said.
Nevertheless, that day at the NovaCare Complex, new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo flagged Mikell down in the parking lot as he was leaving. The two men talked for 40 minutes about defense, what had worked for the Eagles in the past, what had not, and what they might do in the future.
"He's just going to let guys play ball," Mikell said. "He's not going to have them think. He's going to really get back to the roots of what it is, and that's just playing ball and kicking somebody's ass."
Mikell would like to be playing ball for the Eagles, but if not, he plans on playing somewhere. He would like to go someplace where he is familiar with the system, preferably in a warm climate, and while he would not name any teams, there are Reid and Jim Johnson disciples scattered across the league. Baltimore. Carolina. Denver. St. Louis. Minnesota.
And Mikell is hanging onto a conversation he had with Reid in 2009, when Mikell was upset that the Eagles were not talking to him about a second contract extension.
"The one thing he told me was, 'No matter what, when it's all said and done, when you keep playing, you're going to make a lot of money. You're going to be fine,' " Mikell said. "I took that as, yeah, I'm going to make a lot of money, but maybe not here.
"He stopped short of saying, 'You're going to be here making a lot of money.' He said, 'You're going to make a lot of money. I don't know when.' It was like he wanted to say, 'I don't know where.' "
Mikell knows that, too. He has an empty locker to prove it.