If you've paid attention to Head Coach Nick Sirianni in his press conferences since coming to Philadelphia, you noticed a certain player's name he would mention from time to time, a player he respected for the way he made himself a respected and productive player in the NFL, a player who worked from the ground up to carve his impact – Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal. At his introductory press conference, Sirianni thanked Pascal – among a handful of names of players he coached as offensive coordinator with the Colts, saying, "It's been great just to get to know these guys and be in that room and be in the battle with them every single day. I can't wait to build those same relationships with the players here in Philadelphia."
Now, Sirianni is continuing his relationship with Pascal, with whom the Eagles agreed to terms on a one-year deal they announced on Monday afternoon.
Pascal is a player who went undrafted after a terrific career at Old Dominion – he caught an Old Dominion-record 233 passes for 3,184 yards and 30 touchdowns in four seasons there and was the first player in school history invited to the NFL Scouting Combine – and then was cut by Washington and twice by Tennessee before finding his niche with the Colts in 2018. Clearly, the impact on the field and the respect Pascal earned gaining the coaching staff's confidence on the field has had a resonating meaning for Sirianni, who credits Pascal as the originator of the "Dawg Mentality" approach with the Colts that Sirianni implemented in Philadelphia last season.
Said Sirianni of Pascal in mid-September when asked about the roots of the "Dawg Mentality": "Zach Pascal, our receiver in Indianapolis, he had the shirts and passed them out. There are different ways of saying dog mentality. Different places, I've had different things, but there's a story I have about dogs, and I'm not going to go into that whole story. It takes about 15 minutes to tell the story. I'm not going to bore anybody.
"Just that me seeing them is that no matter what, when they go hunt, regardless of what happened the week before, they're ready to go. Whether they got shut out, whether they won by 40, whether they didn't do good on third down, whatever it is – again, I'm talking about the dogs. They went out, and the gates opened for them to hunt, and they went out and hunt. So that's what that is about. The shirt, I've told that story for a number of years now. When Zach Pascal had that shirt, and we were all like, 'Man, that shirt's cool,' that kind of tied it in together there."
Sirianni's admiration for Pascal obviously extends far beyond a T-shirt and a mentality. Sirianni lauded Pascal as the preseason ended as an example of using the final preseason game to earn a roster spot, which Pascal did in 2018 with the Colts. Four seasons later, Sirianni pulled highlights from that game – in which Pascal had three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown in a 27-26 win over Cincinnati – and showed them to the team last summer.
Pascal has come a long way from the borderline roster player in 2018. Pascal made his first impact as a dominating special teams player and then earned playing time. Pascal caught 27 passes and scored two touchdowns for the Colts in 2018, then improved those numbers to 41 receptions for 607 yards (averaging a healthy 14.8 yards per catch) and scoring five touchdowns in 2019. The next season, Pascal grabbed 44 passes for 629 yards and another five touchdowns. Last year, Pascal caught 38 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns. He started 40 games in the last three seasons and brings excellent size at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, outstanding blocking skills, and a knack for finding the end zone.
And, of course, the "Dawg Mentality."
"It's just my story of how I got to where I'm at right now," Pascal said last year to reporters in Indianapolis. "I've had to grind, I've had to overcome obstacles and things people said I wouldn't do or wouldn't be capable of doing, I've had to fight around things."
It's important, though, to understand that Pascal isn't just a "blue-collar" receiver who loves doing all the "dirty work" on special teams and as a wide receiver. He has shown a strong skill set and can play in the slot or on the outside – per Pro Football Focus, Pascal has played in 1,869 snaps in the slot in his career and 1,467 snaps outside. Last season, per PFF, Pascal played 656 snaps in the slot, 210 snaps wide, and 40 snaps inline. That versatility will be key for the role Sirianni and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen put in place.
Pascal was also known as "essentially the leader" of the wide receiver room with the Colts, said Indianapolis Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady last year, who is an "all-around player" who "does everything right."
Bringing Pascal on board gives the Eagles another receiver who can move around the formation and team with the likes of DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, John Hightower, and Deon Cain. Of course, there is a long way to go in free agency before the focus fully turns to the April 28-30 NFL Draft. And the early word from the draft experts is that this year's class is loaded with talented receivers who have great speed and project as strong prospects in the league.
Clearly, the Eagles are following a disciplined structure in free agency. They landed Haason Reddick, one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, as the 2022 League Year opened, and then aggressively kept tabs on a large handful of players on their list. Since Friday, the team announced that they brought back defensive tackle Fletcher Cox on a new contract after he had been released – the two sides mutually understood the big picture and the plan – along with safety Anthony Harris and running back Boston Scott.
Now it's Pascal, with more to come. And the common thread is that all of those players fit the mold of what Sirianni wants in his players – love of the game, production, talent, toughness, competitiveness, and leadership. This, as we know, is just the start. The roster-building process has a long way to go and the Eagles have the opportunity to address the roster in a variety of ways. They have resisted over-extending themselves with commitments, and flexibility will be so vitally important as the Eagles enter the second week of free agency pleased with the progress they've made to date.