It's been apparent for a while now that the Eagles wanted to bring back pending free-agent safety Quintin Mikell, and that Mikell, comfortable with the team that signed him as an undrafted rookie out of Boise State in 2003, wanted to return.

So it was considerably less than shocking yesterday when the team announced it had agreed to terms with Mikell on a 4-year deal. Terms were not disclosed, but NFL sources said Mikell got a seven-figure signing bonus, not bad for a backup safety and special-teams standout.

Among the 11 Birds set to hit the market, Mikell is expected to be the only player signed by the team before free agency starts on Friday. The Eagles almost certainly will also sign defensive end Juqua Thomas, but because he played last season for the veteran minimum, they can't sign him before free agency convenes. Cornerback Will James also could return.

Mikell, 26, is a two-time special-teams MVP. He stepped in ably as a safety in special packages at times last season, most notably the Christmas Day game in Dallas, when Mike Lewis was injured. Mikell blitzed on fourth-and-goal and threw Cowboys running back Marion Barber for a 3-yard loss. His previous highlight moment was a blocked field goal in 2005 against San Diego that was scooped up by corner Matt Ware and run back for a game-winning touchdown.

"Quintin has been a really good football player for us," Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said in a statement released by the team. "He's a vital contributor for us on special teams and does a very solid job when he's on the field defensively. We're glad to keep him here in Philadelphia."

Mikell said "it felt like the right thing to do, to be back here." He said he was told he would have the chance to compete for a starting job in training camp, presumably at strong safety. The Eagles do not intend to bring back Lewis, a pending free agent who lost his starting role to Sean Considine during the season. Considine still must prove he has the size and endurance to thrive as an NFL starter.

Mikell's agent, Jason Chayut, said he and the Eagles "talked about that stuff, his role going forward."

Last week, Heckert said that if both Lewis and Mikell left, the Eagles would have to make the safety position a priority in free agency and the April entry draft, looking for more than one contributor. They probably still will draft a safety early - free safety Brian Dawkins is 33 - but they can afford to relax a little.

"There's always something to be said for testing free agency and possibly getting more, but to me, in my mind, more money doesn't necessarily mean more happiness," Mikell said. "I just wanted to make sure I was in the best situation, and this was the best situation for me . . . I established myself here, I know the system, I know the coaches, they know me. I have a family here, a child on the way. It was a whole lot of things came into play, to where it didn't make a whole lot of sense to make a move. I'm just happy where I'm at, so why rock the boat?" *