EAGLES FANS got two surprises yesterday. Only one of them was pleasant.
Brandon Graham, the once-scorned 2010 first-round pass rusher who emerged as a useful, productive 3-4 linebacker in coordinator Bill Davis' scheme, was thought to be eager to move elsewhere - someplace that ran a 4-3 setup, and where nobody would ever again bring up the name "Earl Thomas." Graham also was rumored to be looking for something like $8 million a year.
But the Eagles eventually confirmed yesterday's report by Phillymag.com's Tim McManus that Graham would return to the Birds. A league source said his deal will pay an average of $6.5 million per year, with a $14 million guarantee. The Giants were the team's main competitors in the bidding, but it wasn't clear what they offered.
Graham, who presumably will finally become a full-time starter in his sixth NFL season, playing opposite Connor Barwin, helps solidify a position that will be missing Trent Cole. Cole is the franchise's second all-time sack leader, with 85 1/2 in 10 seasons, and was released last week. Graham, with just one start the past two seasons, notched 5 1/2 sacks in 2014. Pro Football Focus said he had the NFL's top sack rate per 100 snaps.
But that bit of feel-good news was overshadowed later in the evening, when the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that running back Frank Gore was having second thoughts about his Sunday agreement to sign with the Eagles. Rapoport and other outlets said Gore was exploring signing instead with the Indianapolis Colts, where he could play with quarterback Andrew Luck. The Eagles' quarterback situation is unsettled.
Gore, 31, was going to be the key piece of what looked like a running-back-by-committee approach, including Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, and possibly a draftee, in the wake of the LeSean McCoy trade to Buffalo, which becomes official this afternoon at 4. His presumed loss isn't catastrophic, but it is a setback for a team that has several holes to fill in free agency and in the draft - with the always-looming possibility that much of the draft will be compromised if Chip Kelly is able to trade up to take quarterback Marcus Mariota.
It's also the kind of glitch that invites speculation. What has Gore heard about the Eagles? Is he really that keen to be a Colt, or are there other factors at work? We all wondered, heading into free agency, whether the new Eagles setup with Kelly calling the personnel shots and Howie Roseman doing contracts would function smoothly.
One agent who has dealt with the Eagles recently described a process where Roseman, formerly in charge of negotiations, would shuttle back and forth with proposals, not really empowered to make adjustments on his own. The prospect of some sort of disconnect there would seem very real.
But it's a little early to stretch the Gore snafu into a larger conclusion about front-office dysfunction. This stumble could just be a symptom of the unwieldiness of the NFL's 72-hour "legal tampering" period leading up to free agency, in which teams are supposed to negotiate without finalizing agreements, which seems silly. The setup would seem to invite second thoughts.
As far as we know, the Birds are still going to announce the signing of coveted Seattle corner Byron Maxwell this afternoon when free agency officially starts. We know they and other teams would have liked to have gotten a shot at safety Devin McCourty, but he opted to stay with the Super Bowl champion Patriots. That decision wouldn't seem to have much to do with the Eagles.
The Eagles still need secondary help - Denver's Rahim Moore might be the best remaining safety name. There's Kansas City's Ron Parker, and hey, Nate Allen wouldn't need to learn the defense; he's as good as a lot of what's left.
New England corner Darrelle Revis apparently will hit the market again today, if you want to dream big. Green Bay's Tramon Williams, whose interception ended the Eagles' 2010 season, wouldn't look bad opposite Maxwell.
The lackluster group of receivers available in the wake of Jeremy Maclin's pending departure for Kansas City didn't change substantially yesterday, though Brian Hartline signed in Cleveland, and Houston released franchise icon Andre Johnson, who turns 34 in July.
Johnson wouldn't be a bad guy to have around your receivers group, even at 34.
The Elias Sports Bureau reported yesterday that the Eagles will be the first team in NFL history not to return its leading rusher and receiver the year after they each had 1,000-yard seasons, for whatever that's worth.
Running backs still available include C.J. Spiller, usurped by McCoy in Buffalo, and Roy Helu, cut by the Redskins. NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray and Baltimore's Justin Forsett, who gained 1,266 yards last season, are out there, but they will be at the top of the market, and their predicted contracts wouldn't fit very well into a "committee" approach.
Meanwhile, Graham yesterday tweeted "Happy to be back, family!" A few years ago, it would have been hard to envision him saying that, and maybe even harder to envision Eagles fans being glad to see it. Graham was drafted 13th overall after the Birds traded up, with fans thinking they would take Thomas, the now-All-Pro safety. Graham showed promise early, suffered a major knee injury, then got caught up in the Juan Castillo-Jim Washburn wide-nine defensive dysfunction of 2011-12.
Graham, 6-2, 265, seemed the antithesis of the long, lean 3-4 type Kelly covets, but he showed some flashes in 2013 and he really played well last season, spelling both Cole and Barwin, forcing four fumbles while recording 13 1/2 tackles for a loss. He also became a stalwart on special teams.
Plus, as a guy who was already on the roster, and not someone else's pending free agent, he presumably is bound to yesterday's agreement. Graham can't wake up this morning and decide he'd prefer to be a Giant.