Paul Worrilow grew up in North Wilmington, just 20 minutes from Lincoln Financial Field.
It would be a stretch to say he was an Eagles fan as a kid. When asked Wednesday whether they were his favorite team as a youngster, he would only say, “They were the team on TV every week.’’
That’s a no.
That said, the Eagles definitely were at the top of his list last month when the soon-to-be-28-year-old linebacker became a free agent and was looking for a new NFL home. The appeal of coming back home and playing in front of friends and family was overwhelming.
“For me, Philly was the place I wanted to get to,’’ he said after signing a one-year deal with the Eagles.
“I let my agent handle it, but he knew where I wanted to end up. This is it for me. I used to drive by the stadium as a kid all the time. You look out and see the Linc. That’s where I wanted to play. It’s nice to be home. Nice to be around my family.’’
Worrilow, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Delaware, spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons, starting 44 games for them.
But he eventually lost his starting job to 2016 second-round pick Deion Jones and spent the Falcons’ Super Bowl season as a core special-teamer.
He was interested in signing with the Eagles last year after becoming a free agent, but he and his wife had their second child on the way, and well, the Detroit Lions offered more money than the Eagles did.
“With my second daughter coming [last April], you need to make the best financial decision you can,’’ said Worrilow, who played in 13 games for Detroit, with eight starts. “This time around, I’m in a position where this was where I wanted to play regardless.’’
Worrilow’s signing comes three weeks after the signing of yet another free-agent linebacker, Corey Nelson. Their roles are yet to be determined.
The Eagles re-signed their starting strongside linebacker, Nigel Bradham, to a five-year, $40 million contract last month. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Weakside linebacker Mychal Kendricks’ future with the team remains in flux. He played well last season in Hicks’ absence, but has a $7.6 million cap number in 2018, which is too high for a guy who would play no more than 30 percent of the defensive snaps if Hicks manages to stay healthy, which admittedly is a big if, given his medical history.
Worrilow, like Nelson, received no guarantees when he signed with the Eagles, aside from the fact that he’ll be given the opportunity to compete for a starting job and likely will see a lot of action on Dave Fipp’s special teams.
“Right now, I don’t know [what my role is going to be],’’ he said. “I’ve started and played both inside and outside. Mostly inside. That versatility is in my favor as far as finding a role [in the defense]. I don’t know what to expect. I’m just concerned with coming in and trying to fit in and learn as much as I can and just get going.’’
Besides his inside-outside versatility, Worrilow also has experience handling the defensive play-calling.
“I’ve put a lot into the cerebral part of [the game],’’ he said. “That’s something that’s helped me out. Wearing an indicator [the coach-to-player communications device inside the helmet] and making the calls. That’s something I’ve been comfortable with forever.
“And just relentless attacking. That’s something I try to bring every time.’’
Much of Worrilow’s football career has been spent proving people wrong.
Despite a standout career at Wilmington’s Concord High School, he didn’t get a single Division I scholarship nibble. He ended up walking on at Delaware, where he became a four-year starter.
He got the cold shoulder from NFL teams in the 2013 draft, and didn’t even get signed as an undrafted free agent right away. He had to go the Falcons’ rookie minicamp and essentially try out before they would give him a contract.
Four games into his rookie season, he became their starting middle linebacker and went on to become the first undrafted free agent in franchise history to lead the team in tackles.
“It doesn’t leave you,’’ Worrilow said of the chip on his shoulder he’s developed from all of the times he’s been underrated in his career. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from it is, I don’t look at down the road.
“You stay so hyper-focused in the present and make the present the primary. That’s something I’ve been able to do really well. I don’t get hung up on, ‘Man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make this team next year’ or ‘So-and-so isn’t recruiting me.’ I’ve done a good job of just staying in the present. I think that’s helped me throughout my career and just in life in general.’’
Worrilow never went to an Eagles game when he was growing up. The first one he attended as a non-player was the Eagles’ playoff win over the Falcons in January.
“I still have a bunch of buddies who play for Atlanta,’’ he said. “We couldn’t pass up a chance to go and watch. I remember driving up [to the Linc] and telling my wife, ‘I hope this is my drive to work next year.’
“They’re coming off a great year. I’m just going to come in and try to fit in. This is a very talented team. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?
“Growing up just 20 minutes away, I know how important it is for the Eagles to win. That’s cool, and that’s something I want to be a part of.’’