It took some time, Byron Maxwell admits, before it all settled in. His career change came suddenly, but as expected, on the first day of the NFL free agency period, when the Eagles reached out and made him an offer he couldn't refuse and all of a sudden Maxwell was on a new team, in a new city and with a new professional responsibility.
"It feels perfect now," Maxwell said prior to the end of the Eagles' mini-camp at the NovaCare Complex last week. "It's all just what I wanted. I feel great here. But when it happens, you know, it happens fast. It's a lot of change. So you have to get adjusted and it takes a few minutes.
"Once I got here and was around the guys and the coaches, it felt natural and I felt at home very quickly."
Maxwell has asserted himself as the linchpin of the Eagles' cornerback stable and as one of the leaders of the defense. He brings a dynamic presence to "the room," as they say – the room is the meeting room of each position, and the environment of those rooms are treasured by players and coaches alike – as a fun-loving, hard-working player who is as competitive as they come. Maxwell wants to be the best cornerback in the league with the best defense in the league. He just wants to have some fun while he's doing it.
"I like to have a good time," he said. "I like to keep the mood light and enjoy what we're doing. We're going to work and we're going to get it done, but it's important to have a good time, too. So I like to joke around and make the process as much fun as it can be."
Adding Maxwell to the overhauled secondary was a huge priority in the offseason, and the Eagles clearly made it known they weren't going to mess around in free agency. Maxwell's five-year contract ranks among the most lucrative in the league, and his importance goes far beyond being a prototype man-press cornerback. The Eagles want to be physical with their corners, and Maxwell fits the mark with his long arms, his confident demeanor and his interest in playing physical football.
This secondary has had a reboot with a new set of coaches in Cory Undlin and Matthew Harper, and an overhaul in personnel. Maxwell headlined a free-agent class that added three players, and then the Eagles used three picks in the NFL Draft to address the secondary.
As the Eagles rest and relax and prepare for Training Camp, the mood is decidedly positive with the early results in the back four. And Maxell's presence – for what he does on the field and what he brings to the room off the field – is a big reason for the optimism.
"Behind the scenes, he's a character," second-round draft pick Eric Rowe said. "Likes to joke around. Real calm and relaxed. Really insightful. Even though he's a new guy to the team, he's not new to the NFL. He obviously knows a lot. He's a funny guy."
There is also the "swagger" factor to consider. A defense that allowed 72 passing plays of 20-plus yards in 2014 took a beating from the media and the fans in addition to the on-field programs, so the reconstruction from a personnel standpoint was necessary. Same with the mental makeover.
Having Maxwell, who won a Super Bowl and played in back-to-back Super Bowls as a member of Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary, adds instant legitimacy.
"I think we're all working on our swagger, our confidence, whatever you want to call it," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Byron adds to that. He's an extremely hard worker. He takes it seriously, but he also understands the right mentality to have. It's a long season. We have a lot of work to do. Byron doesn't back down from any of the challenges here, and we have some. Last year was tough. It's over. We needed to do things differently and here we are.
"Byron knows that things aren't going to be handed to him. He's going to have to lead and he's going to have to do it by working harder than anyone else. He's got the spotlight on him. He knows how to handle it."
Maxwell, like all of the Eagles, is doing his thing until the August 1 report day for Training Camp. He is fully integrated into the "Eagles Way", doing it with a smile and a prank here and there. Maxwell can lighten the mood in an instant with his smile and his repertoire of jokes and funny funnies. And when it's time to work, Maxwell digs in and sees the man across the line of scrimmage and knows he has to get into shut-down mode.
The new secondary is not all on Maxwell. No way. It's going to take an entire team effort to make that happen. Maxwell, though, has made his impact felt right away. He's here to stand out.
"Oh yeah, that's the plan. It's all been great, learning the defense and getting to know the guys and building this thing," he said. "I love it. We have great energy here. I think we're putting something special together. That's the way it was in Seattle and I see it going that way here. Everyone is on the same page and we're getting after it. That's what you have to do."
He's doing it, all right. Making his mark. The life of the party, or in this case, the meeting room. We all know what Maxwell is here to do on the field, but he's much more than that. When the Eagles signed Byron Maxwell, they signed an entire package of a player just coming into his prime on and off the field.
*Ed. note -- Maxwell's complete package does indeed extend beyond the field. Read his eloquent thoughts on the tragedy that befell his hometown of Charleston, SC, here. *