Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Keeping the Nnamdi deal secret, and other free agency notes

On Sunday I had a long story about the Eagles furious four days of free agent signings, looking inside the front office’s plan and how they pulled it off. As often happens in those kinds of pieces, I had far more material than we could squeeze into print, so here are a few added nuggets on how the deals went down, including: how the team kept it secret; what the Jason Babin signing says about Brandon Graham and how the team executives did (or didn’t) celebrate their successes.

Keeping the Nnamdi deal secret, and other free agency notes

The Eagles went to great lengths to keep their deal with Nnamdi Asoumgha a secret. (Rich Schultz/AP)
The Eagles went to great lengths to keep their deal with Nnamdi Asoumgha a secret. (Rich Schultz/AP)

On Sunday I had a long story about the Eagles furious four days of free agent signings, looking inside the front office’s plan and how they pulled it off. As often happens in those kinds of pieces, I had far more material than we could squeeze into print, so here are a few added nuggets on how the deals went down, including: how the team kept it secret; what the Jason Babin signing says about Brandon Graham and how the team executives did (or didn’t) celebrate their successes.

-- One of the biggest keys in the Asomugha deal was secrecy. As I wrote Sunday, the Eagles didn’t want their interest to simply be used to push up Asomugha’s price. They knew what they wanted to pay, and if he fell within that range, they would strike, but if the cost went too high, they were out. So they had to keep things quiet. Only five people within the Eagles organization knew the team was even keeping an eye on Nnamdi: Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner, Howie Roseman, Andy Reid and general counsel Aileen Daly, who drafts contracts.

Even after the Eagles knew they had Nnamdi, Banner said he couldn’t celebrate too openly, because he didn’t want word getting around, even at the NovaCare Complex. Meanwhile, the Eagles had Asomugha’s agent Ben Dogra promise secrecy. Dogra did his part: he didn’t even tell his assistant who reviews contracts about the possible deal until after it was announced, Banner said. They didn’t want a leak that would let another team swoop in with a better offer. Banner said that if word got out about the Eagles’ interest, the team would walk away. “For us to trust the situation we can’t find our name out in the newspaper and then we’re just going to assume you’re using us to put up the price,” Banner says he told Dogra.

-- I gathered that the Eagles still have a lot of faith in Brandon Graham. One of the reasons the team went for Jason Babin, we learned, is that his price allowed them to keep Trent Cole and Graham as big pieces on the defensive line without tying up too much money in one position. Also, as Babin ages (he’s already 31) the team hopes Graham will mature and be in position to take over the spot opposite Cole (at least the Eagles hope). Cole, the team figures, has several good years left.

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-- Not everything went the Eagles way last week. Banner was up all night Wednesday trying to negotiate a deal that fell through, only he wouldn’t say what it was. Free agent signing? Trade? Contract extension? All he’d say is that if he even gave us a hint, we’d be able to figure it out. I’m really not sure what it was. But it goes to show two things: 1)they didn’t get everything they wanted and 2)the Eagles really don’t like to have their failures out in the open. After the most successful NFL free agent spree in recent memory – if ever – they still didn’t want to talk about the one that got away.

-- The “structure” of contracts came up a lot. Roseman and Banner talked about that when referring to the deals for both Asomugha and Jenkins. This tells me that there was a premium on working the contracts in a way to make them cap friendly in order to squeeze everyone in.

-- The Eagles front office is made up of competitive, intense personalities, but that drive is very inwardly directed. I kept trying to get them to tell me about a scene of celebration – about popping some champagne after landing Asomugha, or big claps on the back, or a cheer. The best I could do was get Banner to admit to a fist pump. These guys want to win – and they want credit for what they’ve done -- but they quickly move onto the next thing. There’s no Rex Ryan in any of them.

-- There’s also no Miami Heat in them. Instead of promising not one, not two …. Roseman and Lurie cautioned that there is lots left to do.

“To pat ourselves on the back, we haven’t really done anything yet, other than to try to assemble a good team,” Roseman said.

Said Lurie: “I do feel we have a long way to go. As the Redskins have proven over the years, you don’t win by winning free agency. You win by having the best execution on the field.”

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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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