There might not be another player in the NFL that has a better grasp on the Eagles' defensive coordinator situation and how it relates to Steve Spagnuolo than former Eagles and current Rams safety Quintin Mikell.
Mikell played under Spagnuolo when he was a defensive assistant with the Eagles in the mid-2000s and then signed with St. Louis last year largely because the Rams head coach recruited him.
In fact, Mikell said that he recently spoke with Spagnuolo, not long after he was fired by the Rams, about the speculation that he would return to the Eagles and replace Juan Castillo as the Eagles defensive coordinator.
"He said he wasn’t sure if that was in the cards," Mikell said Wednesday during a phone conversation. "At the end of the day I feel he's a really good head coach, but I think he missed being involved in the play-calling. As the head coach you're not as involved. It’s a different type of job. Maybe he wants to get back to play-calling."
Spagnuolo, of course, would return to calling the defense if he took the job. He was defensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 2007-08, and in his last season was part of a Super Bowl winner. He took the Rams job the following year, but went only 10-28 in three seasons and was let go on Monday.
"I would say he wouldn't be against" returning to the Eagles, Mikell said. "You got to remember he was a head coach and it's not easy to go from being a head coach to taking a step down. But I would also say that if he did something like this he would have to be somewhere he was comfortable with the situation and the people.
"If he decided to do that he should be an assistant head coach. If I was him I wouldn't do it for anything less than that."
There is still a question as to what the Eagles would do with Castillo, a loyal assistant to Andy Reid, if they hired Spagnuolo. Some have suggested that Reid could name Castillo as an assistant head coach alongside offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. But it could only be viewed as a promotion in name only. Perhaps he would become a linebackers coach.
There are other obstacles to a Spagnuolo return. For one thing, the Eagles don't run a defensive scheme similar to one he employed in St. Louis and with the Giants and the one he learned at the foot of former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
The Eagles, with their wide-nine scheme up front, blitzed much less this season than they did under Johnson and his successor, Sean McDermott. The wide-nine, with the ends split three feet further outside than normal, isn't built for most blitzing teams. Mikell, though, said he saw no reason why Spagnuolo couldn't adjust.
"I think Spags would do what any good defensive coordinator would do and that's use the guys around you and use them to the best of their abilities and you put them in position to make plays," Mikell said. "He would use his normal aggressive, Jim Johnson defense, but also incorporate some of the wide nine."
Keeping the wide nine would make sense based off the success that defensive line coach Jim Washburn had implementing the scheme this season with his linemen racking up 46 of 50 total sacks for the Eagles.
Another potential hurdle is that Spagnuolo reportedly did not leave Philly under the best of circumstances. A source close to the coach told the Newark Star-Ledger back when the Giants hired Spagnuolo that the one-time defensive backs and linebackers assistant felt as if Reid had blocked his chances to become a coordinator because he wanted him to succeed Johnson.
"I never got that impression. He never said anything to me about it," Mikell said. "But I'm sure anyone would feel the same way. If you want to move up and become a coordinator and head coach I would be pissed off, too. But now that he's a head coach I bet you he understands why Andy had to do that. As a head coach you have to make tough decisions."
As much as Mikell, who played for the Eagles from 2003-2010, endorsed the idea of Spagnuolo returning, he said it would not bode well for his Rams and the rest of the league.
"If it does happen I think Philly is going to be a force," he said.