Defensive lineman Chris Long had a significant role on a New England Patriots team that won Super Bowl LI in February. Yet not long after the season was over, he told the powers that be he wanted to play elsewhere.
Long signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t any bad blood,” Long said during his introductory news conference with the Philadelphia media. “Just football-wise, it was more about finding a positive, and the positive for me, the thing I enjoy 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 be straight up with the coaches there, who I admire a lot, that I was probably going to look to go elsewhere.”
Long played 65 percent of the snaps last season and posted four sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He would seemingly have had a better chance of capturing another ring if he stayed in New England rather than coming to Philadelphia, which is still in the early stages of building around second-year quarterback Carson Wentz.
Long, 32, explained that scheme fit was a big factor in his decision. Working in a 3-4 hybrid with the Patriots, he ended up playing inside a fair amount as a 3-technique. While he appreciated the experience, his preference is to be deployed from the edge, as he was earlier in his career with the Rams.
“If you watch what I did in St. Louis for eight years, that was more like what we do here,” he said. “So schematically there’s a big difference. I’m just lucky to find a place that I think I can at least compete to try to have a role.”
Long, the No. 2 overall pick out of Virginia in 2008, did not miss a game during his first six seasons with the Rams and averaged 8.5 sacks during that time. Ankle surgery limited him to just six games in 2014, however, and he was released by the Rams after the 2015 season. Back in a good place physically, he is optimistic that he has more years of productivity ahead of him.
“I feel like I have a lot left, I really do,” he said. “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, and I found out that I still had a lot in the tank. I didn’t miss a practice, I didn’t miss a game last year, and that was something that I was very proud of — and was able to play, and I think at a pretty high level.”
Long should be able to carve out a pretty significant role in Philly, especially under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who likes to rotate his defensive ends. A starting job opened when the Eagles opted to release Connor Barwin, who signed with the Rams in mid-March. Long will be competing with the likes of Vinny Curry to lock that job down.
Interestingly enough, Barwin helped convince Long that the Eagles were the right fit.
“When Connor was asking me about L.A. — I never played in L.A., but I know the organization — I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give you some information if you give me some information.’ Because being a free agent, you’re really flying blind a lot of times,” Long said. “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 … so that’s a real great thing to have.”
Long knows a little about the Philly area. His wife is from nearby Moorestown, New Jersey, and grew up an Eagles fan; he even tracked down an autographed Donovan McNabb jersey for her birthday once. He played his first college game against Temple University at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles’ home, and faced the Eagles in his first pro game.
Long also got some good advice from his father, Hall of Famer Howie Long. From what Chris Long saw, the city appeared to be a good fit for his personality — a notion Howie reinforced.
“He was like, ‘You will love Philly. You will love the people. You will love the mentality,'” he said. “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.”