Whether we remember the names Amon Gordon, Charleston Hughes and Byron Parker in six months remains to be seen. For now, the three players are the newest members of the Eagles' roster, and they have come to Philadelphia taking the unconventional road, a demonstration of the many ways an NFL roster is formed. In this slow period in early February, the signings of all three players offer some light into the methods players get their shots.
Gordon is a 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle who has had his taste of the big leagues. He had 29 tackles in 13 games with Tennessee (2008), Baltimore (2007), Denver (2006-2007) and Cleveland (2004-2005), which drafted him in the fifth round in April, 2004. Hughes was an extremely productive player in the Canadian Football League as a defensive end, a standup pass rusher on a staggered line of scrimmage. He made 71 tackles and had 5 sacks in 18 games. Parker, a safety, played for four seasons in the CFL, was a two-time all-star there and had 18 interceptions, six returned for touchdowns.
They are all Eagles now. Long shots, maybe. Probably. But that doesn't matter, really. They all have an opportunity now to show what they can do to the whole, wide world of the NFL.
But how did they become Eagles? Why? And why now?
In Gordon's case, his performance in two regular-season games for Tennessee in 2008 helped a lot. You know when players talk about "getting on tape?" It sure helped Gordon that he played in those two games, and that he recorded six tackles against the Colts in the final game of the regular season.
Tennessee waived Gordon to make room for defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson on the playoff roster. Vickerson had been suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. When he announced the release of Gordon, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher was appreciative of Gordon's work in the coachspeak kind of way.
"It was a difficult move. He understands," said Fisher. "We're very grateful for what he gave to us."
And so the Titans prepared for the playoffs and Gordon, who had been on the practice squad prior to his promotion to the active roster, went home. But he was "on tape," and every team in the NFL watches every game.
The Eagles saw Gordon's game against the Colts and were impressed enough to claim him off of waivers from Tennessee, a move that could not officially be announced until the 2008 NFL season was over.
"He's a good player, very similar to the guys we have in that he's not a real tall guy, but he's quick, about 310 pounds and is a very active player," said General Manager Tom Heckert. "He played quite well for the Titans until they had to waive him. We liked him enough to claim him off waivers, so we will see what he does when he gets here and gets into the program. He was certainly worth a look."
The Eagles have a good situation at defensive tackle with Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley starting, and with second-year man Trevor Laws a very solid third player in the rotation. But they could use a fourth tackle, and Gordon will get reps and get a look and work with new defensive line coach Rory Segrest on the technique side of things.
Finding Hughes and Parker was a lot different. The NFL has a good relationship with the CFL and scouts the league and compiles a list of prospects. Miami, just recently, signed linebacker/rush defensive end Cameron Wake to a deal that, reportedly, could earn him up to $5 million during the course of his four-year contract.
Neither Hughes nor Parker is in that category, and both players are a long ways away, simply because they lack the refined coaching and attention to detail that the NFL demands. Both, though, are Eagles.
"We spend a lot of time looking at the CFL and there are usually a handful of players who sign contracts and come and compete in training camp each year," said Heckert. "The CFL will send us a list of contracts and we can't sign a player unless he is in his option year or his contract is up. Otherwise, we can't mess with their players. So the CFL sends us the list of eligible players and gives us a window of about two months that we can sign those players who are in their option years. If their contracts are up, we can sign them at any time.
"We have a bunch of contacts up there, too. We know a lot of coaches and they are all great about it. They don't want to lose their players, but they help you out as much as possible. They tell you they think can play and guys who you should look at and then we look at those guys."
One of the Eagles pro personnel scouts, Jeremy Snyder, visited Canada in June and watched the players in training camp and then the Eagles had both Hughes and Parker visited the NovaCare Complex for a workout.
"You are looking for particular things in players at this point, athletes who can maybe develop into players who can help at this level," said Heckert. "We'll see how it goes with them. I'm glad we were able to sign them."
Gordon knows how tough it is to become established in the NFL. He has bounced around in his five seasons, and he hopes to land in Philadelphia on a more permanent basis. Parker has a taste, having joined Jacksonville as an undrafted rookie in 2004 and then was released. After playing a season in Canada with Toronto, Parker signed with Dallas and then was released during the Cowboys' 2006 training camp.
Parker is raw, but he is a terrific athlete. Parker won the NCAA Slam Dunk contest in 2003 and he was more of a basketball player than a football standout. After just one season of football at Tulane, Parker decided to give the game a go and make a living out of it.
Hughes has the challenge of learning the linebacker position here, a talented group already on this roster. All three of these players are going to be near the bottom of the ladder when the team convenes for its post-draft mini-camp. By then, the Eagles will have signed free agents who have already established themselves in the league, and they will have stocked up in the draft.
By May, nobody will talk about Gordon, Hughes and Parker. It is up to all three of them to gain some trust from the coaching staff and earn one rep after another in practice and maybe get themselves on tape to make coaches and personnel people here and around the league stand up and take notice.