Andy Reid was on the telephone last Sunday and you could almost hear the grin. The NFL's longest-tenured coach had new players flocking from hither and yon. Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland. Cullen Jenkins from Green Bay. Jason Babin from Tennessee. It was almost silly.
Why did this happen? And why did it happen to, of all teams, the Philadelphia Eagles?
Reid gave a nod to the organization's handling of the salary cap before getting down to brass tacks.
"I think the players -- and I'm repeating what they've said -- they see Michael Vick at quarterback," Reid explained. "[Free agent] defensive players are always looking to see if the team has a good quarterback, and we're sitting there with a Pro Bowl quarterback on our team. I think that's attractive to guys."
Two years after picket signs fronted the entrance to Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles' greatest risk has led to rewards that few could have imagined. Vick, who was signed as a backup to Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb following 21 months in prison, is now the centerpiece of a franchise that is the talk of the league. Babin tweeted that the Eagles are the new Miami Heat (though he is hoping for a different championship ending). Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan intimated that the Eagles were an "all-hype team," as if this old NFC East rivalry needed any more pep.
Nary a preseason game whistle has been blown, and the Eagles have become the hunted.
"People aren't just going to concede to you," Reid says. "We welcome that. You have to go out and earn everything. There's only one way to do that, and that's to get down and dirty."
Says Asomugha: "The focus is on one thing -- bringing a championship to the city of Philadelphia. With that, it will take more work now because the expectations are higher. No one wants to come out here and take it for granted and look at the talent and the coaching and say, 'We're going to win.' It's a lot more than what's on paper. We have to put it together on the field."
As Asomugha studied various potential landing spots following his career with the Raiders, he says the Eagles came out on top by every measure. That was not how the franchise was viewed in 1994, when Jeffrey Lurie bought it for $195 million.
"When I think back to when Jeffrey and I got here, this was not a place people were dying to come to," Eagles president Joe Banner says. "For someone like Nnamdi to want to come here, it feels good. I think Andy just has a phenomenal reputation and so do the people he has surrounded himself with. They know we bring character people here. It's the grass field. It's the passionate fans. These guys care about winning."
Asked if he thought the organization felt vindicated by the Vick signing, Banner didn't even list it as the greatest risk the Eagles had taken.
"If you remember, hiring Andy Reid was considered a huge risk because he didn't have head coaching or coordinating experience," Banner says. "We always look at ourselves as risk takers. We're selective and well-researched, but risk takers. For us, this [free agency] is a progression of that. The multitude of signings is a reflection of the opportunity that this dynamic has created."
Reid called Banner "a genius of the cap" and lauded him and general manager Howie Roseman for positioning the Eagles to capitalize on the post-lockout free agency. The organization decided it would not be the franchise reading about other teams' moves on the internet. They would be the pacesetters.
"Last year when we traded Donovan and drafted a lot of players, it may not have been the right moment to go and sign these players," Roseman says. "The free agent rules weren't like they are now. The chips just fell right. I don't know if that will ever happen in the NFL again. At some point, I'd like to be able to look back and go over the week and how it went down and be really proud of how we all worked together."
While some have viewed the Eagles' talent grab as taking a page from the Miami Heat, Roseman points to the template provided by the Green Bay Packers. The Packers won a Super Bowl last season despite placing 17 players on injured reserve.
"We didn't want to be at a point where one injury ruins our chance," Roseman says.
That philosophy was thrown in sharp relief Wednesday when defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who has played in more games for Philly than any current Eagle, suffered a seizure at training camp and was diagnosed with a brain condition. It was a frightening reminder of how quickly players can come and go in the NFL.
The Eagles organization seems well-positioned to weather all kinds of setbacks. Lurie and Banner grew up in the Boston area, and their youth has colored their approach to building the Eagles. Under their stewardship the Eagles have contended almost yearly, and their hunger for a ring grows with every season.
"I would use the Red Sox as an analogy," Banner says. "They have a great team and they still go out and get great players like Josh Beckett. We grew up watching Red Auerbach and a Celtics franchise that wouldn't rest. They looked for opportunities, and we feel like we had five or six that came free [in free agency]. What we were not going to do was hesitate. Not if you are going to win."
Banner says the beauty of the Eagles' front office and coaching continuity is the trust that develops. No one second-guesses the other, and no one is looking over his shoulder, Banner says.
"You can make moves without the fear of being wrong," he explains. "And that's why you can be aggressive."
The organization threw its weight behind Vick two seasons ago and, now, is watching as more personnel moves bear fruit.
"We came up a little short last year," Reid says. "If we add to this talent pool that the Eagles have, we can go out and win a championship, which everybody wants to do."
The Vick signing. A free agent bonanza. The Eagles are talking Super Bowl.
The rest of the league, scattered in camps around the country, is taking heed.