Chemistry, culture central themes in Eagles offseason

Andrew Sendejo could feel it when he walked through the hallways of the NovaCare Complex. Vinny Curry saw it the instant he walked through the doors and peeked in at the Lombardi Trophy in the lobby case.

“There’s an energy here,” Sendejo said. “They’re winners. They know how to win. The way they pulled things together the last two seasons and turned it around and won, that’s what you want. That’s the culture here.”

Said Curry, nearing bursting into tears: “Seeing that trophy, man, everything came back to me from winning the Super Bowl. It’s overwhelming. It’s just so great to be back here, to be back home.”

The Eagles have taken a smart, aggressive and also thoughtful approach to free agency, devoting their cap space to contract extensions for those already on the roster (center Jason Kelce, guard Isaac Seumalo), making the pre-emptive move to retain defensive end Brandon Graham and keep cornerback Ronald Darby after free agency opened, going into the market to bring to Philadelphia players like Sendejo, Curry, linebacker L.J. Fort and defensive tackle Malik Jackson and trading for wide receiver DeSean Jackson. With visionary planning to create cap space, the Eagles have had the ability to pick and choose how to spend their money, and as a result they stand now with a roster that has some appreciable depth at key positions.

We are far from done as far as the roster-building process goes, but the Eagles stand in excellent position. They haven’t limited themselves for the present and they haven’t mortgaged the future. Now, nobody is sitting here saying the Eagles are finished their work. There are still areas to address, and the team is on the lookout to upgrade the roster.

But what is clear is that, as many have said previously, the Eagles are a desirable destination for players around the league. In the case of a player like Curry, who spent a year in Tampa Bay after the Eagles released him in the 2018 offseason, seeing his pure joy returning to the NovaCare Complex was a convincing and telling experience: He literally almost wept throughout the day on Thursday as he said hello to familiar faces. Same with Jackson. Released in the 2014 offseason, Jackson smiled ear to ear as he addressed the media and reacquainted himself with the Eagles family.

This is exactly what Doug Pederson wants as the workplace culture develops through the course of a changing locker room. It is sometimes – many times, for some teams – very difficult to create the optimal chemistry for a football organization. Pederson has stressed the “ownership” part of the equation, the “accountability” mantra and the “trust” mandate since he became the head coach in 2016. Pederson will address the players upon their arrival for the team’s offseason strength and conditioning program in mid-April and again he will introduce team-building exercises to further the locker room camaraderie. Maybe it seems silly that players compete for parking spots and tee shirts and the opportunity to be the conditioning-room DJ for a week, but it works for the players. These fun exercises strengthen the bond.

“It definitely helps,” Kelce said. “We have fun with each other and for the guys who are new to the team, it gives them a chance to make friends in a more casual manner. The thing is, it’s a good time. We enjoy working out together and competing against each other. I think Doug does a great job creating the right culture. It’s obviously made a difference for us on the field.”

This all goes back to the “emotional intelligence” Owner Jeffrey Lurie cited when he announced the end of Chip Kelly’s tenure with the Eagles. Pederson lacked head coaching experience at the NFL level, of course, when he was hired, but he came in knowing how players operate and what they need in the workplace environment. Pederson’s 12-year playing career followed by his long climb up the league coaching ladder proved to be an invaluable teaching tool that not a lot of people really appreciated.

Now they do.

What the Eagles have within the walls of the NovaCare Complex – and it’s not just the football side, it’s every part of the organization – is an inclusive, all-for-one mindset. When you hear players like Malik Jackson speak about it on their first days in the building, and when someone like Sendejo compliments the aggressive, winning culture of the team and the City, you understand. Jackson was bouncing off the walls with energy when he officially became an Eagle and he couldn’t wait to show his fiancée and three children the ins and outs of the NovaCare Complex. Curry hammered it home when he arrived, turning down better offers elsewhere.

“It’s just the right place for me,” Curry said. “It’s the right kind of football environment. It truly is a family. I can’t say that enough times.”

I’ve been here long enough to remember what it was like when Norman Braman owned the Eagles, when players complained about not being given enough socks, when there was a great divide between the “first floor and the fourth floor” of Veterans Stadium, when players like Keith Jackson, Reggie White, Keith Byars, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons left the Eagles for better contracts and more love as soon as they had the opportunity in free agency. Those were tough days. There were missed opportunities. What has evolved over time here under Lurie’s direction has been remarkable, and you see the success the Eagles have had in his 25-plus seasons.

Now, well, the Eagles have a great thing going. And it’s going to stay that way as the Eagles continue to work “collaboratively” building for 2019 and beyond.

“I walk in here and it’s like nothing has changed,” Curry said, “but there’s a Lombardi Trophy sitting here. A lot has changed and I love it.”

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