The draft will end early Sunday night, and then some really important work will begin for the Eagles' staff of scouts and coaches.
That's when they will try to get their most highly regarded undrafted rookies to sign with them as free agents. The announcement of those signings a day or two after the draft doesn't get nearly as much attention as the draft itself, but it's a tool the Eagles have used effectively in the past.
"Hitting on a couple of these guys . . . I think helped us," general manager Tom Heckert said this week. "That's what we use as a selling point to these guys: 'We've had so-and-so free agents make our team and actually play for us.' For a kid to hear that, it's big and it's true."
Artis Hicks went from undrafted free agent in 2002 to starting left guard for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. Clinton Hart went from being an undrafted free agent who didn't play college football to a free safety who started nine games in 2003. Safety Quintin Mikell went from undrafted free agent in 2003 to current captain of the Eagles' special teams who just signed a four-year contract extension. Jamaal Jackson went from undrafted free agent in 2003 to the team's current starting center. Cornerback Rod Hood, after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2003, spent four productive seasons with the Eagles before signing a five-year, $15 million deal with Arizona this off-season.
"Those free agents are all guys we had draftable grades on, so we feel good about them," Heckert said.
The next really productive undrafted free agent for the Eagles could be wide receiver Hank Baskett, although he took a different route than the players listed above. The Eagles didn't draft him or sign him as an undrafted free agent, but they thought enough of him to make a trade for him before the season, sending former third-round pick Billy McMullen to the Minnesota Vikings to get him.
"We had a fourth-round grade on him, so that's why we made the trade to get him," Heckert said.
Baskett, as a rookie, caught 22 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns. That's more yards and more touchdowns than former first-round pick Freddie Mitchell had in his first two seasons combined with the Eagles. Of the 10 receivers drafted during coach Andy Reid's tenure, only Reggie Brown had a better rookie season than Baskett.
And that's why it's important to keep looking for quality players even after the last draft pick has been made.
- Bob Brookover