At no point in time, Rashad Jeanty says, did he consider giving up and finding a new career. He belongs in the NFL, he says, and he wasn't going to let a broken leg, resulting ankle problems, surgery, and more than a year of rehabilitation keep him away from returning to where he should be.
"When you get injured and you can't play, you miss everything," said Jeanty. "I missed the routine, the competition and the camaraderie so much. I'm so looking forward to this next step."
Jeanty is back in the league now, having signed a one-year contract with the Eagles on Sunday. The strongside linebacker knows all about taking the long road to the big leagues, having played four seasons with Edmonton in the Canadian Football League after a career at Central Florida. He signed on with the Bengals after his CFL years and played well in four years, starting 32 games, including 15 starts in 2008 and the honor when he was voted the team's Ed Block Courage Award.
But in the 2009 season, after leading the Bengals in special teams tackles, Jeanty suffered a broken leg on the opening kickoff of Cincinnati's playoff game against the Jets, an injury that put his playing career in limbo.
"It was one of those bizarre situations where he was injured right away and it just wasn't handled the right way by the Bengals," said agent David Canter, who has been extremely critical publicly of the way the Bengals diagnosed and then treated Jeanty's injury. "He is one of the most incredible players I've ever come across. He came out of school to support his family and played in CFL for three years to support his family. Rashad is humble, hard working and just an amazing kid.
"I think he is better now than what he was before. His body is completely healthy and he is ready to go. Rashad is excited to go to work. He is in tremendous shape. Kudos go to Howie Roseman (Eagles general manager) and to Louis Riddick (Eagles director of pro personnel) because they stayed on top of it with Rashad. Every two or three weeks they would call and check in and tell us to let them know when he was really, really ready to go and work out."
So, then, the Eagles add a player who has an incredible drive to get back on the field and resume his upward mobility in the NFL. Jeanty joins a linebacker group that needs competition. The linebackers here have some promise, sure enough, but they also have four players -- Stewart Bradley, Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither and Akeem Jordan -- who are potentially unrestricted free agents in this offseason. Beyond that, the Eagles haven't had a solid, every-year threesome starting for what seems like forever.
Jeanty is a big body at 6 feet 2, 243 pounds who goes out and lays it on the line every day in practice and in games. Who knows if he is going to make an impact? He will decide that when the first practices begin. Jeanty, though, is going to fight.
"He is going to bring an attitude and he is a tough guy," said FoxSports.com's Adam Caplan. "He is a SAM linebacker in this scheme. When he was healthy, he was physical and he could rush the quarterback from the strong side. I don't know about his coverage skills, so we will have to see him there. He is tough, he has played with injuries. Coaches love the guy. He will add competition here."
The Eagles expressed interest in Jeanty last year in the offseason when he was a restricted free agent, but by then Jeanty was aware that there was something very, very wrong with his leg. The broken leg didn't heal. In fact, his pain got worse and then Jeanty underwent ankle surgery and then faced a long, lonely road in the training room to get right.
He rehabbed throughout the offseason and then deep into the 2010 campaign to get close. Not until the last few weeks did Jeanty feel he was ready to show off for other teams. Canter set up five workouts in a span of about a week -- Jeanty worked out for the Eagles on Thursday -- and Jeanty received four offers to sign. Canter said two other teams besides the Eagles offered very significant deals.
"The Eagles did a great job getting him," said Canter. "This deal had some bells and whistles in it. It was not a standard one-year contract."
Jeanty wanted to come to Philadelphia and get going in Juan Castillo's defense.
"Thank God I'm a Philadelphia Eagle," said Jeanty on Sunday. "It was a nerve-wracking experience for me this last year. Everybody gets hurt playing the game of football, but to be injured like that and to miss an entire season was tough. I had never gone through anything like that before. I worked hard and I was extremely motivated to get back to the league.
"Philadelphia felt right when I was there. I wanted to find a team where the total picture was what I wanted. I'm familiar with the defense. I liked the atmosphere a lot when I worked out in Philadelphia. It was the right feeling for me."
The hope is that a year off didn't take away Jeanty's edge or his timing. He was one of Cincinnati's top special-teams players prior to the injury and he earned a lot of playing time on a rugged Bengals defense. And just as Jeanty was geared up for the postseason and what turned out to be a great playoff game against New York, he went down.
And nearly out.
"I worked my tail off and I do think I'm better now physically than I was before the injury," he said. "I'm fresher. That's the big thing. My body feels great. I am so hungry to play again, to step back on the field. It has been a long, long time."
It's hard not to root for Jeanty, who sacrificed his early career to put food on the table for his family. Search his name on the Internet and you will find former teammates and coaches praise him for his toughness and his leadership. Clearly, his desire to play the game of football is not the least bit questioned.
"The game means a lot to me," he said. "I've loved it since I played flag football as a little kid. I love being with the guys, working hard, everybody fighting together. I'm glad to be back as a Philadelphia Eagle."