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The Trait That Defines The Free Agency Class

Posted Mar 12, 2016

Never underestimate the power of hard work.

In the NFL, the "top college players" get drafted first and are rewarded with the larger rookie contracts. But so often in the league, it’s subsequent contracts that more accurately defines a player’s value. Two of the Eagles’ recent acquisitions - quarterback Chase Daniel and safety Rodney McLeod - began their NFL careers as undrafted free agents, but both elected to push themselves to their limits rather than sulk after going undrafted and now have multi-year contracts with the Eagles as a result.

While Daniel and McLeod went undrafted, two other names from the Eagles’ list of 2016 free agent acquisitions also came into the league with a chip on their shoulder despite being selected in the draft.

Guard Brandon Brooks, a standout at Miami (Ohio), was snubbed from the NFL Scouting Combine, yet put on an impressive Pro Day to go along with his game tape, which resulted in a third-round selection. This week, he signed a five-year contract and was the top offensive lineman on the Eagles’ free agency board.

Cornerback Ron Brooks was a four-star recruit out of high school, yet he started just three games in college career due to players like Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu being a head of him on the depth chart. This week, he signed a three-year deal with the Eagles.

Casual fans know that Daniel has spent his NFL career as the backup for Drew Brees and Alex Smith, but Daniel built a very illustrious college résumé with the Missouri Tigers. He completed 68 percent of his passes over his four-year career while throwing for over 12,500 yards. In December 2007, Daniel, a junior, was one of four finalists invited to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

Sixteen months later, 256 names were called at the 2009 NFL Draft. None of them was Chase Daniel's.

Daniel spent the early parts of 2009 season in NFL limbo, bouncing back and forth between the Washington Redskins’ and New Orleans Saints’ practice squads, before eventually catching on with New Orleans.

Coming out of college, the knock on Daniel, despite all of his impressive stats, was a number he couldn’t change - his height. The 6-0 Daniel is now standing tall with a three-year contract in Philadelphia.

“For me, I might not be the tallest guy in the world, I might not be the fastest guy in the world, but you can’t outwork me,” Daniel said. “That’s something I’ve prided my entire NFL career on. You can’t really measure your heart and your will and your determination. And, you have to be smart. I feel like I have all the physical tools in the world to play the position. I’ve showed it when I’ve gotten my chances. I’m looking forward to showing the organization what I have.”

After joining the Kansas City Chiefs prior to the 2013 season, Daniel quickly found favor with then-Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Over the course of three years together, he built a strong relationship with the Eagles' head coach.

“The one thing that I see, and obviously what most people don’t see, the chance that I had to work with him for three years, I see the leadership ability that he has on and off the football field,” Pederson said. “I see how well he interacts with the football players. I see what he’s done, not only in practice, but in limited game situations. I know the last couple of years with (Kansas City), he had a couple starts against San Diego and played extremely well. I think that he’s at a position in his career where given the opportunity and his work ethic, it puts him in a position to be a starter.”

Daniel’s story isn’t much different than that of his new teammate McLeod. After a four-year career at the University of Virginia, McLeod had high hopes entering the 2012 NFL Draft. He recorded four interceptions during his senior season with the Cavaliers and earned All-ACC honorable mention accolades, yet when the draft came along, McLeod was passed on by all 32 teams.

“I expected to be drafted,” McLeod said. “You know how it goes in this league. There are projections and it’s unfortunate, but obviously God has a plan for you, and my plan was to be undrafted.”

He appeared in every game his rookie season before winning a starting safety job with St. Louis in 2013. Over the course of the next three years, McLeod started every single game for the Rams, intercepting five passes and forcing seven fumbles along the way. He’s developed a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the league, but more importantly, one of the hardest working.

“Hard work, great coaching, taking coaching every single day and just applying it to the field each and every year and snap (is why I’ve been able to have success),” said McLeod. “I feel like I’ve kind of been doing it since high school in terms of just being a hardworking guy and taking coaching well and just applying it to my game any way that I can. I have to give credit to a lot of coaches that have gotten me to where I am today.

“St. Louis gave me the opportunity and I don’t know why some teams didn’t take that chance, but I’m here today a better man than I was four years ago. I’ve gotten better as a player, and that’s all I can ask for.”

The NFL Draft is the ultimate sports crapshoot. Some top-10 picks never amount to much of anything, while some undrafted free agents are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s not necessarily about how a player makes it to the NFL, it’s about what he does with the opportunity. Now, some of the newest members of the Eagles have overcome the odds and now have the chance to help the Eagles achieve their ultimate goal.

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