Brian Dawkins and the Eagles parted ways in the spring of 2009 in a shocking move with rancor in the air and an organization's intent very much in question. He returned on Saturday to love amid the team's new, welcome-back direction.
Those hard feelings from Dawkins signing with the Denver Broncos in free agency had long since been smoothed over. Dawkins played out his career in Denver and then was inducted into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame in an all-time emotional embrace at Lincoln Financial Field and has since furthered his bond with the organization. What happened in 2009 was business, we all understand.
But now Dawkins is back with the Eagles in an official manner as a scout working for Howie Roseman doing all the grunt work a scout does -- the travel, the written reports and the research. Dawkins is ready for the next phase of his career, and the news that he is back with the Eagles was greeted with great enthusiasm by the team and by the fans.
And it was another reminder of where the Eagles are going and the mark they are trying to make: They want to get back to being a playoff team and take it to the top and have it sustained and, in the process, keep the tight fuse of the past, the present and the future together. This philosophy extends beyond what happens on the field. It matters for the fans, who maybe were unsure of just who the Eagles were the last few seasons.
"I think it matters," Eagles president Don Smolenski said. "You look out on the field and you see Dawk talking with Q (Quintin Mikell) and Tim Hauck and Greg Lewis and Duce Staley and you understand the link. Those players can relate to this current roster because they've been there and they've had success in the NFL in Philadelphia. They understand the culture of this city and this fan base.
"And then Howie and the football side have made it a point to sign so many players to new contracts to keep the core together and you understand when Jeffrey Lurie talks about short-term, mid-term and long-term goals."
Practice was back outside at the NovaCare Complex on Saturday morning as the Eagles took the field for Day 6 of Training Camp ...
It's more than cool to see how the Eagles are building here. They want to win now, there is no doubt about that, and the way they've been aggressive adding players in the previous months who can step in and start now - offensive guard Brandon Brooks, safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, wide receiver Rueben Randle, to name a handful - speaks to that goal. Roseman has also gotten creative with the salary cap and has signed so many members of this team's core to new contracts with the specific intent to stabilize a roster that has been entirely unstable since the Eagles last won a playoff game, way back in the 2008 season.
At the same time, the Eagles moved up twice in the draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz and gave up some considerable draft assets as they peer into the future with Wentz someday leading the way.
"The hardest thing from a front office perspective is to have an eye on the present, but also make sure the future is protected and that you have a chance, over a period of time, to be competitive so it's not just 'one year at a time.' You want to have a chance for continuity," Roseman said. "It's exciting to know that we have a bunch of guys who are going to be here and be in place so we have that stability and we can build on top of that stability."
Along with building the roster, the Eagles have identified with their past. Now, Dawkins is here because he earned the franchise's inaugural Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, an NFL program aimed at introducing former players into the world of player personnel. Dawkins is going to work hard as he learns the ins and outs of the entire football operations department.
"I know it's going to be challenging and I'm embracing that challenge," Dawkins said. "I want to absorb everything I can about football operations and that side of the business. Coaching is something I feel I had been doing the last six years of my career, in a certain capacity. And after I played I coached my son in high school. Coaching comes naturally to me. This side of it is going to be different and I'm excited to start."
There have been times in the past, and not all that long ago, when the Eagles were criticized for the way they treated the franchise's past and the link to the fans. Those days are long gone, of course. The connection from the Andy Reid years is very strong in and around the Eagles, and going back to the Ray Rhodes years and the Rich Kotite seasons and even the Buddy Ryan and certainly the Dick Vermeil days, there are dots and scribbles and pieces that still remain and are encouraged by the team.
Maybe I'm just waxing nostalgic on a day when Dawkins is back in an official capacity because I remember so vividly the sickness everyone felt when Dawkins signed with Denver in 2009. Maybe I'm just excited to see how Roseman is locking up so many key players to build and deepen the roster's core after a few seasons of roster musical chairs and of seeing so much top-shelf talent fly out the door.
It just feels like the Eagles are back in Philadelphia, and that they are here to stay. It feels like the piecemeal approach taken in the recent years is 180 degrees different from what the Eagles are trying to do now. We'll see how it all works out, and there are certainly no guarantees for success. The Eagles need these contracts to look good in a year or three from now. Roseman has to hit on his draft picks in lieu of having a first-round pick in 2017 or a second-round selection in 2018. Clearly, the quarterback picture as it stands now is not entirely conventional and a lot of outside eyes are skeptical it will work. And, yeah, the Eagles need Sam Bradford to be at his best for 2016 and see what the future holds and they need Wentz to be ready to be great when it's his time to play. So there are a lot of balls in play here.
But the intent makes a lot of sense and it feels so good. The Eagles are weaving together the past, the present and the future together and that's the right way to do business. There are some people who come through the organization who are Eagles forever and the return of B-Dawk speaks loudly and boldly to that, and it just feels right in every way.