BY THE TIME Howie Roseman stepped away from his sizzling speakerphone Wednesday night, the Eagles had taken steps to get stronger in three important areas: quarterback, offensive line and safety. They'd added a linebacker to replace one they'd traded, and gained depth at corner. The count of defensive players who'd worked for new coordinator Jim Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014 was up to three.
Not to mention, they'd moved up five spots in the first round of the NFL draft.
It was quite a day, and it started early.
NFL free agency didn't even officially get underway until 4 p.m., but Eagles drama was off and running with the sunrise: fans chomped their Cheerios to news that ESPN was reporting the Birds' trade with Miami might be off.
The deal was negotiated Monday to rid the team of Byron Maxwell's $63 million contract and Kiko Alonso's perpetual air of puzzlement. Maxwell, a league source told the Daily News, showed up for his mandated Miami physical Tuesday and told the Dolphins' orthopedist that he couldn't do pushups or bench presses because of the sprained SC joint that kept him out of the Eagles' final two games of the season. Eagles fans had worried that Alonso's knee would be a sticking point, but a lot less money was at stake with him, and he presumably kept his thoughts on any exercise limitations to himself.
Alarm bells clanged in Miami, calls flew back and forth, neutral experts were consulted. But by lunchtime Wednesday, the Miami docs had anesthetized Maxwell, and put his shoulder through enough tests to determine whatever mild laxity he felt in the joint wasn't a big deal, the source said. The trade, which called for the Dolphins swapping their eighth overall pick in the draft for the Eagles' 13th overall selection, was back on. As was the Birds' plan to free up nearly $10 million in salary-cap room by getting rid of the Maxwell, Alonso and DeMarco Murray contracts.
Murray went to Tennessee, as promised, basically for the Titans taking his contract and his dour pout. The Eagles will move up 13 spots in the fourth round with an exchange of picks, and Jeffrey Lurie will have to find a new charter flight seatmate. Though the exact order of the draft isn't set, the pick coming here will be the second of the fourth round.
Meanwhile, the Eagles reached agreement with five players, including two clear starters and another who seems likely to start, this group added to possible starting corner Leodis McKelvin, cut by Buffalo last week and signed by the Eagles on Tuesday.
The presumed starters added Wednesday are all under 27, which you can be sure Roseman will emphasize when he talks to reporters Thursday. Winning free agency isn't how you build a team in the NFL, as Roseman and Eagles fans have learned and relearned. But if you have to go there, go young.
The Eagles added safety Rodney McLeod, from the Rams, at a reported $37 million over five years, with a $17 million guarantee, and guard Brandon Brooks, from the Texans, at $40 million over five years, apparently with a $21 million guarantee.
An NFL personnel executive who has worked in the Rams' division said he likes McLeod, 5-10, 195, as a free safety - which might mean Malcolm Jenkins will move closer to the line in Schwartz's scheme. Like a lot of players, McLeod got more Wednesday than the personnel exec thought he'd earn in free agency, but "he's a good player and a character guy," the exec concluded.
McLeod seems to be more of a hitter and less of an injury risk than Walter Thurmond, the 2015 starter at safety opposite Jenkins. Thurmond texted the Daily News yesterday that he figures now he'll end up elsewhere. It's a good bet that the same now goes for 2015 starting corner Nolan Carroll, also a free agent.
McLeod, who turns 26 in June, notched a career-high 106 tackles last season. He has never missed an NFL game in four seasons, since arriving in St. Louis as an undrafted rookie out of Virginia.
"Good player. You're going to overpay for anyone in this process," an AFC personnel evaluator said. "Lacks size and elite speed, but is tough, instinctive and very smart."
Brooks, 6-5, 335, who turns 27 in August, has played in and started 44 games over the past three seasons in Houston, where he was a 2012 third-round pick, from Miami of Ohio. All but one of Brooks' starts have been at right guard, where Matt Tobin was less than stellar for the Eagles in 2015.
The AFC exec didn't know the Brooks guarantee when he spoke, but he agreed Brooks would be an upgrade on either of the Eagles' incumbent starting guards, Tobin or Allen Barbre.
"Big body. Decent athlete. He's a solid starter," the evaluator said. "A good-at-the-right-price type."
Brooks was on many lists of the top handful of free agent offensive linemen.
The signing of quarterback Chase Daniel, from Kansas City, generated more hubbub than it might have; Daniel played the last three seasons for new Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, and he got a pretty solid deal - reportedly $21 million over three years, with a $12 million guarantee. That isn't 2016 state-of-the-art NFL starting quarterback money, but it's far above what most backups make, and there were reports that Daniel could make much more with incentives.
The interesting thing there is, starter Sam Bradford, signed to a two-year, $36 million deal recently with a $26 million guarantee, missed the 2014 season and half of 2013 with back-to-back ACL tears, before missing two games last season with a shoulder injury and a concussion. The door certainly could open for Daniel to become the Eagles' starter, and his contract appears to allow for that.
The Daniel signing remains unofficial, but should become official Thursday. Daniel, who turns 30 in October, has started just two career games, both for the Chiefs, in a seven-year career that began with four seasons in New Orleans. He's listed at 6-0, 225.
The Eagles are expected to trade or cut Mark Sanchez, their backup QB the past two seasons, a move that would free up another $3.5 million in cap room. It's possible moving up from 13 to 8 in the draft would put them in range of a future franchise QB.
Nigel Bradham, who turns 27 in September, seems likely to replace Alonso as the penciled-in strongside linebacking starter. He was a Bills free agent, 6-2, 241, who, like McKelvin, had his best season with Schwartz in 2014. Bradham had 104 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks that year. Last season he missed five games with an ankle injury.
Like Daniel's situation, the Bradham deal, for two years, was not yet official Wednesday night.
Roseman finished his day by adding another ex-Bill, corner Ron Brooks, who has mainly been a special-teams standout. He got a three-year deal.
The 5-10, 190-pound Brooks turns 28 in October.
So, put it all together, what does it mean? If the Eagles don't do anything else before the draft, and they spend their nine picks wisely - maybe they can package some and get the second-rounder back they lost in the Bradford deal a year ago - they'll look competitive, at least, in the NFC East, no matter how much money the Giants hand out.
As free agency continues, one has to think a veteran wideout or two might be in the picture (a report had the Eagles among a handful of teams involved with Raiders FA wideout Andre Holmes, who also has spent time with the Vikings, Cowboys and Pats), maybe another offensive lineman, or even a pass-rusher, though the money was especially crazy in that neighborhood Wednesday.
But Roseman definitely entered the swap meet with a plan, and judging from the two trades and five contract agreements, he's been able to execute it thus far. Now we'll see what else he was cooking up during that long year in exile.