Chris Long consulted with a few people before signing a contract with the Eagles this offseason.
One of those people was former Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin, whom Philadelphia released last month.
“I’m lucky to have Connor as a friend,” Long said. “We’ve been friends from a distance through some of the charity work that we’re able to do. I think he’s the gold standard in being a person as well as a football player. The things he does off the football field, I really admire. He really puts his heart and his soul into it, not just his time. So he puts his time into it, he puts his heart and his soul. So that’s pretty rare. So for me, when Connor was asking me about L.A., I mean I never played in L.A. but I know the organization, I was like ‘well I’ll give you some information if you can trade me some information.’”
“Because you know, being a free agent, you’re really flying blind a lot of times. Connor helped me a lot to learn about the city. He had nothing but awesome things to say about the city, the organization, the coaches, the players. You know, Rodney McLeod, who I played with as a [University of Virginia] guy, was able to answer some questions for me too. So that’s a real great thing to have.”
But Barwin wasn’t the only former Philadelphia football player Long sought advice from. He also received some valuable insight from his father and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Howie Long, who played college football at Villanova.
“My dad always supports me in anything I do,” said Long. “I think he’s a got great football mind. I’ll bounce things off him. But obviously he was very supportive of it. The one thing that we can both agree on, me having played in Philly against the Eagles, and my first college game was against Temple at [Lincoln Financial Field], and my first pro game was against the Eagles. And I just saw [former Eagles starting left tackle Tra Thomas] and I lined up in front of Tra and was like ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’
“I was chasing around Donovan McNabb all day. I think they hung 44 on us. All I can remember was like, the fight song, you know, and I just remember thinking throughout my career, I would really love to play in a city like that, that’s got that kind of atmosphere.”
“And my dad was able to drive that home. He was like ‘You will love Philly. You’ll love the people. You’ll love the mentality.’ And having played in college there, having spent a lot of time there, having played against the Eagles a lot in the NFL, he was like ‘man, you will absolutely love that city.’ So for me, I figured out the football part. But to have my dad drive home ‘You’re just going to love Philly,” that’s kind of where he came in and gave me a little insight there.”
Based on the rave reviews he’s received, it’s safe to say Long is looking forward to playing in front of Eagles fans in Philly. And based on his personality, I have a suspicion Eagles fans will like him as well.
But Long isn’t just a likeable guy. The former No. 2 overall pick can still play. From a pass rush perspective, at the very least, he actually figures to be an upgrade on Barwin.
After playing 65% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps last season, Long figures to have a significant role with the Eagles in 2017. He said he feels the Eagles’ defensive line rotation has a real chance to be the strength of the team..
“I think however Coach Schwartz wants to do it, he’s had a great track record in this league,” Long said. “I know I’ve been part of defensive lines that were really great, really cohesive, that rotated a lot. I want to earn my reps, whatever they are. I’ve got to go out and earn them. When I watch [Brandon Graham] or Fletch[er Cox], or Beau [Allen] play, Vinny [Curry], Marcus [Smith], those guys, there’s a lot of talent in that room. I think it’s easily got the chance to be one of the better units in the league. I’m just really excited to be a part of that. Because that’s what a d-line is, it’s a big group. It’s not just four guys. It’s however many people you can get on the field to help you win. The more the better.”
Full transcript of Long’s first Eagles press conference below.
Can I just say first, thank you to Jeffrey [Lurie], Howie [Roseman], and Doug [Pederson] for this opportunity. And thanks in advance to Philly fans and the city for, you know, hopefully accepting me. I’ll work real hard and do my best to be part of this great thing that they have going here.
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU FIT?
I fit in well. For me, the number one thing when I went into free agency was to find a good football fit. Schematically, I think it works really well for my skill set and what I’ve done in my career. I love this city. I went to school here, my wife’s from South Jersey, so I know the area well. I’ll learn it a lot better [now], but football wise, family wise, it’s really perfect for me I think.
EASY TO WALK INTO A NEW ENVIRONMENT AND BE A LEADER?
My view on the leadership thing is you’ve got to earn it. I’m walking into a locker room full of men who work very hard to do the same thing that I was lucky enough to just accomplish, and we’re going to do that again this year, is work hard towards competing for something like that. So my job is to earn that respect and their trust, and the coaches’ respect, the city’s respect. When I come into something like this, the challenge is new. When I was in St. Louis, I played for four different head coaches. Going into a new situation in New England, in a new situation here, it’s always first things things. Earn the respect and work as hard as you can. Start to build those personal relationships.
ON INSTAGRAM YOU TALKED ABOUT WANTING TO GET BACK TO THE PLAYER YOU WERE BEFORE. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT?
Yeah, I mean I just, I always feel like I have a lot to prove in general. And then, you know, got hurt for a couple years. Had a great opportunity to go to New England and win a championship. And that’s the goal every year for every team in the league. But at the end of the day, I wanted to get back to playing football that I played for a long time. And that’s something that gave me great joy, was taking the field every Sunday and playing to the best of my abilities. In a situation, schematically, that fit me. It was a real blessing to be a part of that team last year, but I wanted to, towards the end of my career, be in a situation where I can prove myself all over again. That’s what keeps me hungry and excited. I think this is a great fit for me to have an opportunity, because that’s what this is.
IS THE EAGLES’ SCHEME SIMILAR SCHEME TO ST. LOUIS?
I can’t tell you anything for sure about where I’d line up. It’s up to the coaches where they want to use me best. Coach [Jim] Schwartz is awesome. I really enjoyed getting to know him. I know I probably won’t play in the A gap or anything like that, but I can tell you I’ve been lucky enough to move around and play different positions in my career, and different schemes. In last year alone, I played probably half of my snaps in the 3-technique, so I’m open to do pretty much anything. But I know that I just trust the coaches here to put me in the best position to help the team.
YOU PLAYED 65% OF THE SNAPS LAST YEAR WITH THE PATRIOTS. DID THEY ASK YOU TO COME BACK, OR DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO FIND ANOTHER TEAM?
Well, um, and it wasn’t any bad blood. I just, football wise, like I said, it was more about finding a positive, and for me the positive for me, the thing I enjoy doing the most is playing in a situation that allows me to be proud of what I put on the field every Sunday. Pretty quickly after the season I was able to just be straight up with the coaches there who I admire a lot and tell them I was probably going to look to go elsewhere purely from a football standpoint. I appreciate everything that they gave me. I’d never have that [Super Bowl] ring that I’m going to get fitted for here soon, that I was lucky enough to be a part of something like that. But I wanted to get to a point in free agency where I could start my process, whenever that process started, and for them to find depth, or whatever they wanted at their position. I just prefer to do thing that way rather than string anybody along.
WAS IT A TOUGH THING TO WEIGH NOT STAYING THERE AND WINNING ANOTHER RING?
Not really because at the end of the day, I have to follow my heart. I’ve always done that in football and in life. So for the most part it serves me well, sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I think, for me, I just wanted to be in a situation where I was able to be proud of what I put on the field every Sunday. I think every team has a chance to be able to compete for championships. Every team has a chance to do that at the beginning of the season. So it’s no forgone conclusion that you go anywhere and you’re going to do anything. So I think when I figured out there might be an opportunity for me to come to a great situation like this, with a team on the rise, and a lot of excitement in the building, and a chance to compete, to have a role like the one I was looking for, that was, for me, where I wanted to be and I tried to figure it out and go get it.
FEEL ANY PRESSURE TO LIVE UP TO YOUR DAD HOWIE LONG?
Sure. It’s probably a little late in the game to get in the Hall of Fame (laughs) but my dad was a hell of a player and I’ve always separated him from doing my own thing and being my own man. Listen, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in the league. It’s never been easy, and certainly expectations are always there, that maybe other people don’t have to deal with, but there’s a lot of positive with that pressure too. I’ve always embraced it. And very proud of my dad, so I think he’s made me a better man and a better football player so the positives outweigh the negative.
LOOKING TO BE A STARTER?
I never think about labels like starter. I know Coach Schwartz likes a hard-nosed, fast, physical defense, and to do that you need a lot of people playing. I’m just happy to have an opportunity to compete for playing time. And at the end of the day, when you turn on the film, end zone copy, you don’t know who most of the time who started the game and who doesn’t. I just want to be out on the field enjoying, competing with that great group that we have here, that I look forward to starting to work with.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU CAN FIND HERE THAT YOU DIDN’T HAVE IN NEW ENGLAND?
If you watch New England play, a lot of times they, their defense is sort of, I don’t want call it a 3-4, it’s not a 3-4, but I ended up in a 3-technique a lot, playing inside. I’m happy to do that. Really was lucky to be able to do that for a year. But for me, if you watch what I did in St. Louis for eight years, I was more like what we do here. So, schematically, there’s a big difference. I’m just lucky to find a place that I can at least compete to try to have a role.
HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE LEFT?
I feel like I have a lot left, I really do. There was a time when I was injured and playing really bad and cut, rightfully so, that I wasn’t sure what my future in football was. But I was really lucky to take that step and for Coach [Bill] Belichick to take a chance on me. I kind of found out that I still have a lot left in the tank. I didn’t miss a practice, didn’t miss a game last year. And that was something I was very proud of and able to play hard and I think at a pretty good high level. But I know I’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot, being 32. I wanted to be in the right place and this is the right place for me.
DID YOU PLAY MUCH 9-TECHNIQUE IN ST. LOUIS?
Yeah, we played a lot of 9, a lot of 7, we played some 5. I played some 4i too, so I’ve been all over the place, like all up and down the line. But we definitely played … it was closer to what we do here.
WHAT DID YOUR WIFE SAY ABOUT SIGNING WITH THE EAGLES?
She said ‘Good decision.’ (laughs) No, my wife, who’s been incredibly supportive of me, you know, we have a one-year old boy, Waylon is his name, he is kind of, as any dad will tell you, the centerpiece of whatever you’re doing whether it’s professional or personal. He’s the middle of it all. So for me to move them to New England and now, a year later, we’re moving again, they’re real troopers. My wife is a hell of a trooper. She wants me to be happy. So as long as I’m happy, she’s happy, but the Jersey connection really helps.
DID IT MEAN A LOT THAT A GUY LIKE CONNOR, WHO GOT CUT, WAS GIVING HIGH REVIEWS OF THE EAGLES ORGANIZATION?
Well I know Connor is a straight shooter and just a good dude, so I think for the most having been through it, having been released in St. Louis […] having been there, and gone through that where you know you have a lot of great ball left — Connor’s a hell of a player — there’s no bad blood. You’re just helping a friend find a place in free agency. He’s going through the same thing. That’s pretty cool. I think he’s a classy guy and that’s why this city loves him so much.
THE EAGLES HAVE BEEN HONEST ABOUT NOT BEING “ONE PLAYER AWAY.” WHAT MAKES THIS THE RIGHT FIT FOR YOU?
Like I said, really, the number one thing I wanted to find when I started free agency was a good football fit. It wasn’t about the money for me. I’ve been very lucky to make a good amount of money playing football. It wasn’t about anything but getting back to the player I was, or at least close as you can be to that. That’s something that I’m very driven to. I’m very driven to compete and try to help this team win. I’m just lucky to be here. But for me, number one was the football fit. And a team that’s going to have a chance to win a lot of football games, and I feel like when you watch [the Eagles] play, it’s obvious that this organization is moving in the right direction. When we got ready to watch the Super Bowl and play against the Falcons, I spent a lot of time watching Philly’s defense because they were obviously very talented and played Atlanta great. It really jumped off the screen at you. In free agency, once it started, I was like ‘I do remember watching those guys and it would be cool to be a part of something like that.’ So that’s where I wanted to be.
IS YOUR WIFE’S FAMILY EAGLES FANS?
Yeah. They kind of took one for the team and wherever I was, they were big fans of the Rams and then the Pats, so this is like a win-win. Actually, when we were in college I tracked down a Donovan McNabb jersey and got it signed and gave it to my wife for a Christmas present (laughs). And I think playing on the Eagles is probably … it’s come full circle. And she grew up an Eagles fan, my in-laws, they’re all Eagles fans. So for me, it’s like everybody’s happy in the family.