Rich Hofmann: Birds' GM goes fishing, reels in Bell

Posted: April 06, 2012

TEN DAYS AGO, they were in Palm Beach, Fla., at the NFL owners' meetings - Jeffrey Lurie, Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, all of them. Amid the old money and the pounding Atlantic surf and the $22 room-service omelets, the Eagles had no idea they were about to be confronted with a roster crisis: the ruptured Achilles' tendon of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters.

Roseman, the Eagles' general manager, was in Palm Beach with his family. He said he arrived back from the meetings last Tuesday.

"It's kind of a funny story, if there can be anything funny about this," Roseman said Thursday night, after a day full of predraft meetings at the NovaCare Complex. "So I got back and, every day, I go over our draft board and our free-agent board. For us, at the top of our free-agent board, is Bell. This is before we know anything about the injury."

That would be Demetress Bell, who has now been signed as the Eagles' new left tackle. Except the Eagles undoubtedly had it spelled as Demetrius Bell, which is how the player himself had spelled it his whole life, which is another funny story entirely.

"So I call somebody and email somebody and get the name of his agent [Ted Marchibroda] and his phone number," Roseman said. "And I call him and say, 'Ted, what's going on? How are you doing with Bell? Why not come to us? He'll come in here and work with the coaches and he would be a great fit for what we do.' "

Roseman was fishing, a good general manager's favorite pastime. Marchibroda wasn't biting. Bell had a list of visits to potential suitors. Roseman said, "He says to me, 'Where would he start for you guys?' I said, 'He'll come in and he'll work and he'll . . . ' I really don't have an answer. There was no place for him. I knew that. Ted said he appreciated the call but that his client was a starter."

So why make the call?

"We never want to see a player we like go someplace else," Roseman said. "A lot of times, you get the answer I got, either because of the price or because it's not a fit. But you do it. And the last thing I said to him was, 'Do me a favor: Don't take a low deal from a good team.' "

That was that.

That was Tuesday.

The next day, Roseman said, the first whispers began reaching the Eagles about Peters' injury. The confirmation would not come for another day. With that, the machine began to work.

Peters was not replaceable in the sense that a player who is regarded as maybe the best left tackle in the NFL does not typically have an identical twin available to take his spot. The goal could not have been to replace him.

Teams do not lose games because they lack a great left tackle - they lose games because they have a substandard left tackle. There is a significant space between great and substandard, and the Eagles needed to fill it.

The Eagles were fortunate in this sense: that it wasn't in the middle of the season, and they still had free agency and the draft, and they had saved themselves some salary-cap space, and they already had every offensive tackle on the planet graded. So, Roseman said, they went over their stuff, and they went over other teams' depth charts searching for a potential surplus tackle somewhere, and they recalled any earlier conversations with teams in which the availability of a tackle might have been mentioned.

They also signed backup tackle King Dunlap.

"We like him and his versatility," Roseman said. "The conversation with King was ongoing before Jason got hurt, but once he did get hurt, it put a kick-start into it."

Still, that wasn't the complete answer. The Eagles weighed everything, including the uncertainties. To chase a veteran free agent might mean a bidding war, and potentially losing it. To think about a draft choice meant targeting a completely moving target with no guarantees the guy would be available.

Pretty quickly, they decided on Bell.

And Roseman picked up the phone:

"I called him and I said, 'Ted, I know you told me we weren't the ideal situation. But things have changed. Let me tell you why we are.'

"When I got done, he kind of chuckled."

A couple of days later, the deal was done.

A cold call by the general manager had become so much more.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

For recent columns go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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