Understanding the Russell Shepard situation with the Eagles

LSU's Russell Shepard. (Bill Haber/AP file photo)

One of the nine undrafted players that agreed to terms with the Eagles is LSU's Russell Shepard, a dynamic athlete who never played to his reputation with the Tigers. Shepard told FM-104.5 in Baton Rouge that he signed with the Eagles during the draft, and teams called after the fifth round and Shepard said he's already taken.

“I actually took myself off the draft board during the draft,” Shepard said in the radio interview. “Teams started calling me probably in the middle of the 6th round asking me ‘is it true that you’ve signed with a team already?’ and I actually got it out of the way before the draft was over, because that was the perfect fit for me." 

This is a neat story, but it's not entirely true. Some of it is a misinterpretation of semantics. 

The Eagles released the following statement on Wednesday: “Russell Shepard has not signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, we did come to terms on a contract with he and his agent after the draft was completed. We anticipate he, like all of the rookie free agents we have agreed to terms with, will take a physical examination upon arriving in Philadelphia prior to next week’s rookie mini-camp and then sign a contract.”

The Eagles statement is official, but the truth is probably somewhere between both versions.

Here's why: It's entirely conceivably, and all but certain, that Shepard heard from the Eagles late in the draft. This is a common occurrence, when teams scramble to identify players to sign as free agents. All teams do this, and agents try to find the right bonus or right situation for the player. Shepard's versatility clearly makes him an attractive player to the Eagles, and from Shepard's perspective, it sounds like he wanted to come to Philadelphia.

So it would make sense if they had an informal understanding to come to Philadelphia late in the draft. Of course, that understanding would be moot if Shepard was picked elsewhere. No team would decline on picking a player because he had designs of signing elsewhere. The draft trumps the free agent market for rookies. In fact, agents often tell the team to pick the player if they want to sign him that badly. Of course, teams might have been calling Shepard to sign him as an undrafted free agent, and Shepard might have wanted to go to Philadelphia if that was the case.

The bottom line is that no contract was or is signed. They agreed to terms after the draft, but Shepard will need to pass a physical to sign. That will happen next week. If the NFL finds that the Eagles did anything wrong during the draft, there will be more to this story. Otherwise, it's simply a look at how the sausage is made in the NFL.