PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Long took free agency and turned it upside down the same way he often does opposing quarterbacks. Rather than wait for a call from an NFL team last year, he pinpointed where he wanted to go and made sure it happened.
The defensive end revealed this week how the process went down just months after he won a ring with the team the Philadelphia Eagles are playing next Sunday in Super Bowl LII, the New England Patriots.
Incapable of sitting and waiting for things to unfold, Long proactively cold-called Eagles exec Howie Roseman. He wanted to play in Philadelphia after a conversation with former Eagle and current Los Angeles Ram Connor Barwin.
“That is true,” Long said. “Where I was last year there were a bunch of people who were like, ‘You’re crazy, you’re leaving the Patriots and you suck. You’re old, you’re washed up.’
“I’m like, 'Man I need to get on a team.' ... I was antsy to get on a team and I saw the team I wanted to be on. It was real simple for me.”
It was an unorthodox free-agency process, needing both parties to accept unusual roles.
It rarely works this way.
“For the record, Howie could have easily -- I’m not trying to take the credit away from Howie -- he could’ve been like, ‘Nah, dude, you’re too old. We looked at your tape last year,’” the 32-year-old Long said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, awesome. You’ll be great.’ And we just made it work from there.”
It has paid off for Long and the Eagles. He has been an invaluable addition in the locker room and on the field, where he provides depth for a defensive line whose never-ending waves overwhelm most opposing offensive lines.
Long had five sacks and four forced fumbles this season. He made two impactful plays in Sunday’s NFC championship rout of the Minnesota Vikings.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick conceded this week that Long probably made the right move in leaving New England, even though his one season there ended with his first ring.
“Chris has a lot of good skills, but his overall skill set and experience is definitely more in the system that he’s in than it was in our system,” Belichick said, noting that the Eagles’ 4-3 defense is similar to what Long had played in the first eight seasons of his career with the Rams.
“He did a great job for us. There was no better teammate or guy that tried to embrace the program than Chris, but in the end he probably has a better fit there for his skills and for this point in his career than maybe we had for him. I understand that. He probably made a good decision.”
The veteran has been a good fit for Philadelphia. Philadelphia has been a good fit for him in replacing Barwin, a close friend, on the roster. Barwin provided an assist in the signing.
“Exactly. I told him the Eagles are the real deal. Carson [Wentz] is the real deal. I told him that for me I really enjoyed playing in that city and in the NFC East. To me it’s the best division in the NFL,” Barwin told ESPN earlier this week by telephone. “People really care in Philadelphia. They care about their city. It’s a really good match for Chris. They care about their people. They care about their city and, of course, they really care about football.”
Long explained that what he likes about Philadelphia the most is the place itself. He lives just outside the city and has been deeply involved in events and programs since arriving.
It’s everything he was hoping it would be and more.
“Once Connor left, I called Connor and was like, ‘What’s it like there?’ He’s like, ‘It’s awesome. You’re going to love it. You’re going to be a great fit,’” said Long, who has donated his 2017 salary to scholarships for students in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, and to launch his Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign. “We traded notes on L.A. and Philly. I had to get ahold of somebody and tell ‘em I’m not dead, I want to keep playing and I still got a lot left in the tank.
“Of course, you tell somebody that, it’s one thing to tell them. You have to play it out.”
And played out it has, perhaps better than either side could have imagined. Long and running back LeGarrette Blount have the chance to join Charles Haley and Deion Sanders as the only players to win back-to-back Super Bowls with different teams.
And Long deserves some of the credit for initiating the action.