BETHLEHEM - In case you were wondering, no, there are not two Jason Babins playing in the National Football League.
The Jason Babin the Eagles are about to hand a 5-year, $28 million contract is the same Jason Babin they told not to let the door hit him in the butt on his way out of the NovaCare Complex after the 2009 season.
What a difference 12 1/2 sacks and a rock-'em-sock-'em recommendation from new defensive line coach Jim Washburn makes.
The Eagles say the door-butt characterization is a little harsh. According to one club executive, they had "a lot of discussion" about re-signing Babin after the '09 season, but deferred to the opinions of then-defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and then-defensive line coach Rory Segrest, neither of whom, the executive said, felt Babin could be anything more than a situational player.
Babin had an option year left on his deal with the Eagles, but wanted an opportunity to compete for a starting job. So they let him go.
"What they told me was, 'We really don't have room for you, but we really like your ability,' " Babin said yesterday, in a phone interview. "I told them that I felt in my heart I could be a starter in this league, and the clock was ticking.
"Coming back shows my respect for the people upstairs in the front office, who were professional enough to let me go and improve myself. And guess what? I came back."
If Washburn wasn't here, it's unlikely Babin would be coming back, because if Washburn wasn't here, there almost certainly wouldn't have been a 5-year, $28 million contract offer, even with the 12 1/2 sacks he had last year playing for Washburn in Tennessee.
We're talking about an undersized 31-year-old end who, until last season, had never had more than five sacks in a season in his career and who, in the previous three seasons before he signed with the Titans, had a grand total of 4 1/2 sacks.
But the Eagles, whose pass rush died on the vine in the second half of the season when they managed just 15 sacks in their last eight games, need a pass rusher. And Washburn, whose opinion counts for a lot right now, convinced the organization that Babin is not just a 1-year wonder.
"People have said to me if I had played for coach Wash from the beginning of my career, I'd have gone to a bunch more Pro Bowls and have a lot more sacks," Babin said. "Maybe they're right. But all the trials and tribulations I had to deal with earlier in my career, and the journeys I have to go on helped make me who I am today.
"Not just as a defensive end, but as a person, a father, a husband. Those things have really made me hone my skill set. I always had to fight, always had to push and outwork everybody. I wouldn't trade any of that for [more] cash or [better] stats."
The Eagles gave up a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes last season, and while their problems at right cornerback were blamed for much of that, a bigger problem was their inconsistent pass rush.
Trent Cole had another double-digit sack year (10), but had just three sacks in the last eight games. Thirty-three-year-old Juqua Parker had four sacks in the first three games, but only two the rest of the season.
The Eagles drafted a pass rusher - Brandon Graham - in the first round of the 2010 draft. But he tore his ACL in Week 14 and ended up having microfracture surgery. He likely will open the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which means the earliest he could play would be Week 7.
They signed Canadian Football League sack king Philip Hunt in February, but you're not in Saskatchewan any more, Toto. Who knows if he can play? So, after focusing on other areas in the April draft, they listened to Washburn and signed Babin.
"A lot of people I trust and respect in this league will tell you the best way to impact the pass is get the [pass] rush, get in a quarterback's face and hit him as often as possible," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I wouldn't disagree with that."
Babin is out of the same mold as Cole, Parker and Graham - undersized guys with a high motor and a quick first step. They, like Babin, could flourish in the "wide-9" sets Washburn frequently uses, in which he lines his ends out wide and allows them to rush upfield.
"This year, people are really going to see coach Wash's style," Babin said. "In Philadelphia, we have so many guys who can do this [wide-9]. It's going to be scary."
"The NFC East now has the nastiest defensive end tandem going," said Rich Rosa, who is the agent for both Babin and Cole.
Only time will tell whether Babin can duplicate what he did last year in Tennessee. But at least one longtime league executive thinks he can.
"Jason is a lot like the ends they have and play with," said Bill Kuharich, a former general manager with the New Orleans Saints and former player personnel chief with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Kuharich was with the Chiefs in '08 when they picked up Babin late in the season after he was released by Seattle.
"He's got a quick first step. He's a relentless guy," Kuharich said. "I think he's better when he doesn't have to play an entire game. He's better when he moves around a little bit. You can also sneak him inside in nickel and let him rush over a guard and out-quick a guard. I think he's a very good pickup for them. Especially with Washburn there."
Babin said Washburn likes to rotate his linemen regularly, so that he can keep them fresh. Cole certainly would benefit from fewer snaps. He was in for 876 snaps last season and clearly wore down in November and December.
"You hear guys say, 'I want to play every snap, I want to play every snap,' " Babin said. "But to really be able to play 100 percent wide-open, you can only play 60-65 percent of the snaps to be most effective.
"If you do that, what's going to happen is, the second-string guys that come in and take the other 35-40 percent of the snaps, they know they're going to get to play, too. So, they're not going to bitch and complain. They're not going to mope around. You're going to get more production of all of your guys that way."
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