BILL DAVIS has been an NFL assistant since 1992, which happens to be just before free agency descended upon the league.

Since then, he has seen his share of big-money free agents fail to live up to expectations. He has watched them desperately try to live up to the number on their contract rather than just trying to be the best player they can be.

Which brings us to Byron Maxwell.

In March, the 27-year-old cornerback signed a six-year, $63 million free-agent contract with the Eagles. That's a lot of money to give to a guy with 17 career starts. But that's the craziness of NFL free agency.

Nobody forced the Eagles to give it to him, certainly not Maxwell. And he would've been a fool to turn it down.

But taking the money is the easy part. Trying to earn it is the hard part. No, make that the impossible part. Because no one is worth $63 million, especially somebody with 17 career starts.

But that's what happens when you spend 10 years drafting corners like Curtis Marsh and Trevard Lindley and Jack Ikegwuonu and Matt Ware and Jordan Poyer and Rashad Barksdale.

"Over the course of my career, I've seen so many guys go through that," Davis said. "Max did what most do. You press and try to prove that you're worth the big contract early.

"Then you eventually settle down and realize that it's just about playing the football that got you the contract that matters.

"You don't have to make the 'wow' plays. And I think he stopped trying to make the 'wow' plays and settled in to playing technique and is now closer to what he was in Seattle."

Maxwell has played better in recent games than he did earlier in the season. But he insists the pressure of being The $63 million Man wasn't the reason for his early struggles.

"I wasn't pressing or anything," he said this week as he prepared for the Arizona Cardinals and their seemingly bottomless supply of lethal wide receivers. "I just needed to sharpen my technique. The more time you're out there the more opportunities you have to get better. My technique is definitely getting better each week."

Like Maxwell, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Walter Thurmond also came to the Eagles by way of free agency. But they didn't get the monopoly money that Maxwell got. Jenkins signed a three-year, $15.5 million deal. Thurmond signed a one-year deal for $3.25 million.

"I can't speak from personal experience (about what Maxwell was dealing with) because I was a middle-tier (free agent) guy and I don't think expectations were that high," Jenkins said.

"But whenever you get recognition or get some kind of notoriety, what you don't want to do is something different. You just have to do what got you where you are.

"Byron has settled down. He's learned the defense a lot more. He's learned where he makes his plays in the defense and has played a lot better.

"A lot of it, I don't know if it was the pressure of trying to live up to the hype, but it was just small things here and there that he needed to correct. I thought his practice habits got better after the first couple of weeks. That really had an impact on his game."

Thurmond, who played with Maxwell in Seattle, thinks Maxwell's early struggles were more a case of adjusting to a totally new defensive scheme than trying to prove he was worth $63 million.

"He came from a defense where you're playing more zone, but you have someone in the middle of the field as kind of a safety net, compared to this defense where you're pretty much playing zero coverage out there," he said.

"It takes getting used to. Your technique changes when you're coming from a system where you're pressing every down to where you're playing off. We never played off in Seattle. You'd get in trouble if you played off. Even if you were in zone, you had to go up there and press.

"Trying to get used to that and trying to break old habits from the system you were previously in (isn't easy). It's one of those things where he's just gotten more comfortable and understands what's required of him as far as being able to stop the deep ball, whether it's the post or the 'go' ball.

"You see that transition each week to where he's more comfortable in being able to make plays on other routes and competing and not just feel like you're on an island."

Sam I am (a leader)

Being a new guy in a new place isn't easy, even if you happen to be the starting quarterback. Especially if you're the starting quarterback.

There was a completely new offensive system for Sam Bradford to learn and the trust of new teammates to gain, and oh yeah, a twice-shredded knee to rehab and gain confidence in.

But as the Eagles head into the final three weeks of the regular season, Bradford no longer is The New Guy. He has become one of the team leaders, both on the field and in the locker room. He is playing well and he is speaking his mind.

"Before games, he's pulled us together and rallied the troops a little bit," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "The best part about it is that Sam doesn't always talk. So that when he does open his mouth, we need to listen.

"This is coming from a place where it's not something he's just saying to hear himself talk. He's actually thought about it and means what he says. When he does those things and brings us together, everybody looks at it like it's a very serious time and we've got to go out and make plays for him."

Said left tackle Lane Johnson who, like Bradford, played at the University of Oklahoma: "I've notice that. It's a big change coming from St. Louis where there is no media. A lot of changes here and it took him a while to kind of get used to it and come out of his shell. But I think he's finally comfortable."

Bradford said that after the Eagles' ugly losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, he just felt the need to become a little more vocal.

"At the same time, it's just the fact that I feel more comfortable saying things now after being around the guys for a while and going through battle with them," he said. "I think they respect me a little bit more and take it to heart a little more now."

FROM THE LIP * "Somebody texted me and said, 'Hey, you punched your (playoff) ticket.' I said, 'Yeah, but we're trying to upgrade to first class.' It's nice to be in, but it's no fun going on the road, that's for sure." - Cardinals coach Bruce Arians after clinching a playoff berth last week * "I've been here six years and nothing has gone the way that we wanted it to go. Every year we come in with new hope. But we're going to have another season with a playoff drought. I make damn sure that it stings and it hurts, because the minute you go numb to that, then you're just a loser." - Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell "When we do things that we work so hard to get, it deserves a celebration from time to time. We're celebrating because there's greatness in the air. People are making the most of each and every opportunity they get, and I hope it never stops - especially this season." - Panthers QB Cam Newton on the criticism his 13-0 team has received for its celebrations

BY THE NUMBERS

* From Daily News statmeister Boop Vetrone: Eagles opponents haven't missed a field goal or extra point since Nov. 16, 2014, when the Packers' Mason Crosby missed a 50-yard field goal attempt. Since then, they've been perfect on 31 field goal attempts and 55 PATs.

* With a win over the Ravens this week, the Chiefs will become the first team in history to win at least eight straight games immediately after losing at least five in a row.

* Eli Manning's 87.1 completion percentage in last week's 31-24 win over the Dolphins was the highest in Giants history for a single game with a minimum of 20 attempts. Manning completed 27 of 31 passes.

* Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has passed for at least three touchdowns with no interceptions in four straight games. That ties him with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers for the longest such streak in league history.

THIS AND THAT

* No coaching staff in the NFL has more, uh, experience than the one Bruce Arians has put together in Arizona. Arians, 62, who was ignored as a head-coaching candidate by many teams because of his age, has three coaches on his staff who are in their 70s - assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore (77), pass-rush specialist Tom Pratt (78) and assistant offensive line coach Larry Zierlein (70). Also, tight ends coach Rick Christophel is 63 and linebackers coach Bob Sanders is 62.

* On a conference call with the Philadelphia media earlier this week, Arians was asked if he was surprised that DeMarco Murray hasn't been more productive this season. Murray, who won the league rushing title with the Cowboys last season, is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry through 13 games with the Eagles. He has had just one 100-yard game. Said Arians: "You never know when you take a guy out of one system and put him in another what you're really going to get. We were very lucky in Pittsburgh (where he was the Steelers' offensive coordinator) when we got Duce Staley and he fit our offense. But you still never knew. But Duce did different things than Jerome (Bettis) did. So we would kind of tailor it for what Duce did when he was in there. You have to mix and match. That's one of the things about coaching. When you get a guy and he doesn't quite fit this. (You figure out) what he does fit and put him in that situation."

SCOUTING THE DRAFT

An AFC scout broke down two of the top defensive line prospects in next spring's draft - Oregon's 6-7, 300-pound DeForest Buckner, and Ohio State's 6-5, 275-pound Joey Bosa - for the Daily News:

Buckner: "I really like Buckner," the scout said. "He's much better than (Arik) Armstead (who was taken 17th by the 49ers last April) . He's more powerful. He's more athletic than Armstead. You can play him at "5" or "3" or "7" (technique). You can play him inside in nickel or play him outside in nickel. He's a man. To me, he's a top 8-10 pick. Body typewise, he reminds me a little of Justin Tuck. He's a (Michael) Strahan type, but he's not as athletic as Strahan. He's a physical specimen. I think he's going to be a good pro. I don't know if he'll be a double-digit sack guy. But he's going to cause enough havoc and disruption that they're going to have to block him with two all the time."

Bosa: "He's not J.J. Watt, but he's got J.J. Watt's temperament," the scout said. "He's an Energizer Bunny. He's got a really high motor. Really prides himself on doing things on the field the right way. One concern I have is that all of his production comes against right tackles, which in college are the worst. In the pros, there's not going to be that big drop off from left (tackle) to right. So you have to figure out how will he be against a bigger, stronger guy that he hasn't really seen in college. I don't know if he'll be the double-digit sack guy that he's been in college. But he's going to be a really good player. The best place for him is as an end in a 4-3. He could be a SAM or a rush guy in a 3-4. But that wouldn't be the best use of his talents."

COUNTDOWN TO CANTON

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its 15 modern-era finalists for the class of 2016 early next month. This week, the Hall's 46-person selection committee, which I've served on for the last 16 years, held a reduction vote to pair the list of 25 semifinalists down to 15.

MY BALLOT

QB: Brett Favre*

OL:Joe Jacoby

RB: Edgerrin James

OL: Tony Boselli

WR: Marvin Harrison

LB: Sam Mills

WR: Terrell Owens*

LB: Kevin Greene

WR: Isaac Bruce

DB: Steve Atwater

OL: Alan Faneca*

DB: John Lynch

OL: Orlando Pace

DB: Ty Law

Coach: Jimmy Johnson

*First year of eligibility

DIDN'T MAKE MY CUT

QB:

Kurt Warner

OL: Kevin Mawae

RB: Terrell Davis

OL: Mike Kenn

RB: Roger Craig

LB: Karl Mecklenberg

WR: Torry Holt

PK: Morten Andersen

Coaches: Tony Dungy and Don Coryell

FIGURING THE EAGLES

* In their last two games, 59 of the Eagles' 131 offensive snaps have been run with "12"' personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR). But their preferred personnel grouping much of the season, as it was in Chip Kelly's first two seasons in Philadelphia, has been "11" (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). Six hundred thirteen of their 897 offensive plays, or 68.3 percent, have been with "11" personnel.

* After giving up a league-high 72 pass completions of 20 yards or more last season, the Eagles have allowed 44 in the first 13 games. Twelve teams have given up more, including Sunday night's opponent, the Cardinals (46). Offensively, Arizona has a league-best 59 pass plays of 20-plus yards. Interestingly, Jacksonville is second with 57, followed by Cincinnati (56), New Orleans (56) and Pittsburgh (51). The Eagles have 42.

* The Eagles have had 106 third downs of six yards or more this season. That's the seventh most in the league. But they've converted just 20.7 percent of them, which is the third lowest. Only the 49ers (18.6) and Rams (17.2) have converted a smaller percentage of third downs of six yards or more.

* The Cardinals are first in the league in both points per possession (2.67) and yards per possession (39.9). The Eagles are 24th in points per possession (1.61) and 26th in yards per possession (28.7). Both figures are the lowest in Chip Kelly's three years with the Eagles.

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog