Chris Long and Patrick Robinson don't have many contracts ahead of them, and they knew what they were looking for when the Eagles showed interest. For both former first-round picks who signed with the Eagles this week, the opportunity available in Philadelphia is about another chance.
Long won the Super Bowl in New England last year. He was once the No. 2 overall pick. He has a ring and has earned fortunes in the NFL, so at 32, he was looking for the best football fit. The Eagles offered a scheme that fits his playing style, a defensive end rotation that has snaps to spare after Connor Barwin's release, and a chance to cement the reputation he's built over a nine-year career.
"It wasn't about anything other than getting back to the player I was, or as close as you can be to that, and that's something I'm driven to do," said Long, who has 58 1/2 career sacks.
Robinson, a 2010 first-rounder, has been on three teams in seven seasons. He's 29, and he believes he hasn't yet reached his full potential in the NFL. The one-year contract he signed with the Eagles wasn't about cementing a legacy, but improving from an average starter into a consistent player.
"This year I'm trying to reach [my potential], and I'll do whatever I have to do to reach it," Robinson said.
Both players also conferred with popular figures in Philadelphia before signing the deal. Robinson spoke to Malcolm Jenkins, a former teammate in New Orleans. Jenkins shared what kind of locker room Robinson will join, and Jenkins' endorsement carried weight.
Long actually heard from Barwin, whose job Long is taking. When Barwin considered signing with the Los Angeles Rams, he reached out to Long, who played the first eight years of his career with the St. Louis Rams. Long figured they could share information - and Barwin, even after his release, spoke highly of the Eagles and Philadelphia.
But Long didn't need convincing on Philadelphia. His first college game came against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. He played against the Eagles as a rookie, with an initiation rushing against Tra Thomas and chasing Donovan McNabb. He heard the Eagles' fight song, knew of the passion in the city, and imagined playing there at some point in his career. His father, Hall of Famer Howie Long, went to Villanova, experienced Eagles fans as a player and broadcaster, and told his son he would love it.
Plus, his wife is from South Jersey and grew up an Eagles fan. As a Christmas present while the two went to Virginia, Long gifted her an autographed Donovan McNabb jersey.
"It's come full circle," Long said. "For me, everybody's happy in the family."
But those were added benefits of coming to Philadelphia. Long emphasized this was a football decision. He won in New England, but he didn't play in the scheme that showcased his ability. He was willing to line up inside and play the role that the Patriots needed in their defense, but he told their coaching staff after the Super Bowl victory that he would seek a better fit in 2017. That's what the Eagles offered. He played in a similar scheme while with the Rams, and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to rotate edge rushers.
"When I found out there might be an opportunity to come to a situation like this, to a team on the rise, a lot of excitement in the building, and a chance to compete to have the role like the one I was looking for, that was. . .where I wanted to be," Long said. "I figured it out and tried to go get it."
Long doesn't know if that will be a starting job. He's expected to be in a rotation with Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Long said when he watches game film, he doesn't focus on the starting 11. He focuses on who plays. He just wants a chance to play, and that'll come with the Eagles. And he believes he still has "a lot left" after the way he played with the Patriots last season.
"I know I've got to strike when the iron's hot being 32, I wanted to be in the right place, and this is the right place for me," Long said.
Robinson might have a more direct path to starting, considering the Eagles' wide-open depth chart at cornerback. But he said that didn't even factor into his decision to sign with the Eagles, as surprising as it sounds.
"For me as a player, I don't look at the roster," Robinson said. "I know if I play how I know I can play, I'll be fine."
His problem is he hasn't been able to show that on a regular basis. He's started 49 career games, but this is his fourth team in four seasons. There's usually a reason why that happens, and it's up to Robinson to play well enough to find a place to stay.
"It's a matter of staying healthy, being more consistent on the field," Robinson said. "You've got to be dependable. As a coach, you want a guy who's going to be the same player week in and week out. Not a great player, then mediocre."