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May 06, 2021

John McMullen: ‘Lovin’ Ball’ isn’t as flippant as you think for Eagles, NFL

Opinion Eagles
Nick-Sirianni-presser-screenshot_012921 Screenshot/

New Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.

One of the perceived problems with the Eagles' drafting throughout the Howie Roseman years has been a perceived inconsistency.

The philosophy can seemingly vary from year to year and even pick to pick at times based on things like college production, measurables, spider graphs, and injury red flags, all the way to the more intangible qualities of a player.

If there was a theme to the 2021 process and Philadelphia’s nine-player draft class from Alabama Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith all the way down to seventh-round edge rusher Patrick Johnson, it was probably leadership, perhaps a nod toward building a culture around a young and inexperienced coaching staff led by rookie mentor Nick Sirianni.

Eagles vice president of personnel Andy Weidl stressed that six of the players selected by the Eagles were named team captains and three were two-time captains of their college programs, indicating an emphasis on engagement, something foreshadowed by Sirianni earlier this year.

"As far as the character of the player, we're always looking for these things in a player: We're always looking for tough players. We're always looking for high football IQ players. We're always looking for players that are competitive, right? We're always looking for players that love ball," the coach explained.

The "love ball" aspect of Sirianni's template might seem the most flippant to those on the outside of the industry but it's the secret sauce for everyone around the league.

"The secret [many] may be surprised about: most players at best like football. Very few love it," long-time personnel executive Chris Landry told last month. "Most of it, it's a means to a scholarship. It's big money. They're chasing the dream."

Professional football is a grind. Many players would have rather played in the NBA but were steered in a different direction due to their physical gifts.

The baseball/football option is an easy decision for most who have two realistic paths, perhaps best evidenced by former Notre Dame receiver/pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who may have been a first-round pick in the NFL but also had a 95 MPH fastball.

Samardzija has been about as average as average gets during 13 years in the big leagues and at last count has $122.725 million banked to show for it. Even if he was better at football, his decision-making skills trump his talent in both sports.

"A lot of [players] it is as if they've arrived [when they get drafted]," Landry noted. "I mean it's just a starting point. Now it's a launching point. A lot of them take it as I got my money. It's what I can remember begging Bruce Allen and Al Davis at the time. ‘Do not — I knew JaMarcus Russell from high school — do not go there. You're going to live to regret it.’ It was the easiest thing because he didn't like the game."

Sirianni has his own history with players from great ones all the way down to footnotes.

"In my experience, those four things [toughness, football IQ, competitiveness and love for the game], when we find players that have those four things, those are the guys you can't go to a game without," the coach said. "The players that have those four things, it just feels like every player that I've been around, that I am like, ‘I can't get on the bus or plane without him,’ he has those four qualities.

“Those guys maximize their potential."

When it came to player procurement in the 2021 draft the Eagles’ top two selections — Smith and second-round pick Landon Dickerson — were extremely well-liked and respected on the best college football team in the land.

Of the six-player Day 3 haul, Weidl kept bringing up the word captain again and again when discussing Zech McPhearson, Tarron Jackson, and Johnson. That, and the ability to see so many of the picks in person at The Senior Bowl back in February.

"Six picks. And three of these guys were team captains," Weidl noted. "Four of the six we were able to see at the Senior Bowl in person and spend time with them and talk to them down there."

Sirianni did ultimately adjust his own criteria and added the most important caveat — talent.

"First obviously talent is the main thing. Like I have those four things, but you don't want me suiting up on Sunday," he joked. "But talent is the first thing. The second thing is the character of the player."

According to Landry, there are tricks to fleshing out that character.

"I haven't had anybody say, 'yeah, I don't really like the game. I'm just in it for the money.' Who's gonna say that? They're all gonna tell you I love it," Landry assessed. "... I don't ask them whether they like the game. I ask them things that are going to tell me what I want to know. It's very innocuous."

The Eagles believe they’ve cracked the code and found a draft class with all the intangibles needed for success.

John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, and the co-host of ‘Birds 365’ on He’s also the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for You can reach him at

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

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