There were times, Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick admitted after the season was over, that he felt like a "superhero" on the football field in 2022, wreaking havoc for this defense on a Lincoln Financial Field playing surface that he had played on in college and in a town and for a team that he had felt connected to since he was a youngster just a few miles away across the Walt Whitman Bridge in Camden County.
It was a dream-come-true homecoming, a perfect fit on the football field as Reddick was named a Pro Bowl player and second-team All-Pro after registering 16 quarterback sacks, playing tough against the run setting a rock-solid edge, and playing every down and every game with emotion and intensity and nastiness.
Off the field, it was great for Reddick to be around his family and friends and give back to Camden, N.J., something he had been able to do when he played in Arizona and Carolina, but now he could do it in a more hands-on way.
"Coming home worked out just the way I hoped it would," Reddick said. "You never know at first how it's going to play out. A lot of people reach out and, you know, want a piece of you, want your time. But it was great and it's only going to get better."
That's how the Eagles feel about Reddick on the field, too. He can, for the first time in a few seasons, stay in one place and train where he wants rather than move from city (Phoenix) to city (Charlotte) to city (Philadelphia) as he did the last three seasons. With NFL Free Agency starting in (gulp) three weeks, Reddick is the model for a player the Eagles want to add for 2023 and beyond. He was the perfect addition at a position of need and the right boost to a pass rush that in 2021 ranked 31st in the league with 29 quarterback sacks.
With that in mind, what do the Eagles identify as areas to improve in the season ahead? A team that went 14-3 in the regular season, that dominated two NFC teams in the conference playoffs, and then went to the Super Bowl and lost on a last-possession field goal doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. The initial challenge is to address the pending free agents on the current roster and then add with players from other teams.
Reddick is the star example of how to make it work perfectly.
"I just came in with the mindset that I was going to work hard every day, fit in with the guys in the locker room, and go out on the field and do what the coaches want me to do," Reddick said. "The coaches here understand what I do best, how I can be most effective on the field, and they put me in the right position to make plays. There are a whole lot of things that go into the mix of being productive out there. You don't just freelance or do what you think is right. You have to follow the team structure.
"We have a lot of very talented players on this defense, so that opens up opportunities for everybody, and when it's your turn, you have to step up and make the play. We got it rolling early in the season and just kept it going. Just kept working hard and connecting and that bond got better and better. I know that was a key. This team, this organization, works hard at connecting and making everyone feel like they are a big part of this. You don't find that on every team or in every locker room."
In 20 games, including playoffs, Reddick produced 19.5 quarterback sacks, more than 70 quarterback pressures, consistency, durability. What does he do for an encore?
"There are a lot of things I can improve on in my game. You always have to get better, keep moving forward. That is the only direction to take," he said. "I'm not satisfied at all. We made it to the Super Bowl, but we didn't win it. The only thing that matters is winning the Super Bowl. I'm going to keep that in mind throughout this offseason."
And the Eagles are going to keep in mind the perfect free-agency model. Reddick was the player they targeted at the onset of free agency and they landed him and he produced as they hoped he would. It's hard to make happen, but the Eagles did it with Reddick and they'll aim to duplicate that kind of perfect fit when free agency opens three weeks from now.