The climate is not a good one in the NFL, not for first-round draft picks hoping to get an equitable jump on their careers in training camp. That's why it was such encouraging news late Thursday night when word came down that the Eagles had agreed to terms on a five-year contract with first-round pick Brandon Graham, who became only the seventh No. 1 draft pick to get a deal done.
Graham should be on the field on Friday afternoon when the Eagles have their first full-team practice at Lehigh University, albeit without full pads. Graham missed five practices, time that he will never get back, but in the big picture he will be here in plenty of time to play in four preseason games, get his feet under him, immerse himself in the scheme and provide a full accounting for himself as a rookie.
Kudos to Graham and his agent, Joel Segal, for having the player's best interests at heart. A rookie not reporting to training camp is often a devastating blow to his career, and in this case Graham has a real chance to see significant playing time this season. And for the Eagles, well, signing 13 draft picks is not easy at all. They had 11 of them done before any of the players reported to Lehigh. Now, before the whole team laces on the shoulder pads and has full-contact drills -- you better be at Lehigh on Saturday, 8:15 a.m.! -- they have everyone present and accounted for.
"I'm really glad that we were able to work well with Joel Segal on getting this deal done," said team president Joe Banner. "We're really excited to get Brandon on the field tomorrow (Friday) in time for the start of the first full-team practice."
Great stuff. Get the party started, then. The Eagles had a very upbeat three days with Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick and then the impressive Mike Kafka running the offense and now the defense, unable to hit in all of these practices since the draft, has a chance to show its stuff. Should be very interesting.
Meanwhile, Graham was thrilled on Thursday night. He kept laughing and genuinely showing his excitement when we spoke and he was excited to show everyone that he is the real deal on the football field.
"I think I retained a lot of what I learned from the previous camps, and I know they are going to throw a whole lot more at me," he said. "This is my job. I'm going out there and giving it everything I have."
This first-round business in a flaw in the NFL's nearly-perfect formula, and it needs to be addressed. Whatever the solution -- for all its problems, the NBA seems to have it right as they slot the players and there is no wiggle room for rookie deals -- the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is sure to have this issue addressed.
Is there anything worse than seeing a rookie throw away his first NFL season because he was way, way late to camp? The memory of Brodrick Bunkley's washout rookie season still stings ...
Anyway, Graham is done. The urgency in head coach Andy Reid's message increased in the last day or two and he continually said that "Brandon needs to be here" as, behind the scenes, Banner and Segal were hammering away and making progress.
Graham comes in as a backup to Juqua Parker at left end. Parker is a solid pro, a good player. He is the odds-on favorite to win the starting job. But now that Graham is ready to go, at least the rookie has a chance to challenge. Had he missed a preseason game or two or even three, the odds would have gone way, way down.
No need to worry now. A smiling Graham hung up on the phone on Thursday night and gathered his belongings and will be in Bethlehem in time for a rocking weekend of Eagles football as the entire team is present and ready to come together.