A phone call to the Buffalo Bills got the ball rolling, and as the Eagles wrapped up a trade that was, in reality, nearly a year in the making and then iced off the deal with a contract for left tackle Jason Peters that makes him reportedly the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league, they recalled how it all began.
A humble start to a gigantic move, if you will.
"This was actually an interesting one because we actually called them last year when he was holding out, just to feel out whether they were considering moving him or were they committed to working it out," said Eagles President Joe Banner, who initiated the conversation with the Bills. "The answer at the time was they were committed to working through it. They had no interest in moving him and we kind of left the conversation, 'Well, if you ever change your mind give us a call.' That little call kind of planted the seed that led to some very serious conversations here recently.
"It was clear that they were in a mode where if they felt like they got a reasonable value they were prepared to move him. We felt like they were primarily negotiating against whether they were going to keep him or move him, as opposed to other teams. We got to a point where we were close enough that we just persevered for a couple of days and got it done and then we had to deal with the contract side of things as well.
"This was odd where we had a situation we looked into a year earlier and a year later it came back and turned into something."
Banner made the call to Buffalo, based on his relationships with certain folks in that front office. Typically, Banner or General Manager Tom Heckert or Vice President of Player Personnel Howie Roseman starts things, and who makes the call is dependent, generally, on who has the more intimate relationship with that team. In this case, it was Banner.
And when the Eagles called, they made it immediately clear that they weren't just kicking tires.
"We were very direct," said Banner. " 'Jason's holding out. We'd be very interested in him. We think he's a top player. If you consider moving him, we'd be happy to make an offer.' They said, and this was last year, 'Don't waste your time. He's a great player. We love him.' In fact, they said, 'He's the best' or 'one of the best players on our team. I don't know if we'd ever move anybody like that.' We said, 'Fine, if you ever change your mind, call.' "
Buffalo changed its mind and the talked renewed in recent weeks and then, especially, in recent days. The Eagles and Bills exchanged proposals and then Philadelphia made its "best offer" on Thursday and the Bills "tweaked it slightly," said Banner and a deal was done. But there was another component to the trade and that was the part Banner had a short window to finish: The contract that was a whopper.
In the end, everything worked out exactly as the Eagles hoped it would, and credit goes to many parties in the organization. Now, the offensive line is rebuilt after time ate away at the effectiveness of veterans Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Now, the Eagles are so much younger and still experienced up front, they are massive and yet they are nimble, and they have tremendous power combined with great athleticism from tackle to tackle.
"We probably have our offensive line in as good a shape as it's ever been in and that's a big compliment, because we've had some really good offensive lines here in the Andy Reid era and that's really exciting," said Banner.
The Eagles entered the off-season loaded with salary-cap room and with, frankly, not a lot of great options in free agency. The trade market actually looked more fertile, and the Eagles took advantage by acquiring Peters. The turnover on the roster has been remarkable and a new era of star-caliber players is upon us. Yes, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook are the headliners and they have been here for a football generation, but the core is changing. Clearly, it is changing.
That's what the Eagles wanted. They wanted to get younger and more athletic and better and they think they have done that. Next up is the busiest week and the most important weekend of the year. Will the Eagles make another blockbuster trade to acquire a veteran? Maybe, but it would seem to be a long shot. They are still well positioned under the salary cap and could, conceivably, make another deal.
"We'll continue to use that if there is any way to improve this year's team and give us a better chance to win the Super Bowl. If that doesn't happen, we'll do our best to evaluate young players that we have may want to extend and keep them here for a long time," said Banner. "But the first priority, and it always is at this time of the year, is to make this the best team we can have on the field. That cap room is used for that purpose first."
Banner said the possibility of using some of that cap room to acquire a player from another team is "fairly small," but added that "we probably said that a week ago and now we made this major move, so we'll see what else is out there."
What is out there is a draft that includes 10 picks, including No. 21 overall. Banner didn't care to discuss the draft on Sunday and the Eagles are sifting through the options. There are many. The Eagles can still go up into the top 15, even the top 10. They could move back from 21 and stay in the first round and add another draft pick.
There is a lot of work to be done between now and the time on Saturday when the Eagles are on the clock. The phones are going to be buzzing. The Eagles still deal from a position of strength, and they can address just about any position they like knowing they don't have a pressing need for a starter on this team. Running back? At some point, yeah. Tight end. Same thing.
The Eagles believe in building from the lines out, and they have taken care of those lines big time the last couple of years. It's a good situation for the Eagles, and the fun is here. Draft week is here. What will the Eagles do next? They can strike at any time and go in any direction. Maybe a phone call they made weeks ago, months ago, will come full circle and blossom into something much more in the coming days.