James Casey, Isaac Sopoaga explain signing with Eagles

GM Howie Roseman introduces new Eagles Isaac Sopoaga (center) and James Casey. ED HILLE /Staff Photographer
GM Howie Roseman introduces new Eagles Isaac Sopoaga (center) and James Casey. ED HILLE /Staff Photographer
Posted: March 15, 2013

Eagles free-agent signees James Casey and Isaac Sopoaga made decisions to leave playoff contenders with established coaches to come to Philadelphia, where they've staked their foreseeable futures on a rookie head coach and a team that won only four games last season.

Lucrative contracts are always a powerful persuader, but both players would have been attractive elsewhere, too. Their decisions to sign with the Eagles were also built on a confidence in what coach Chip Kelly is putting together - and Kelly's plans for both of them.

"We are here to hunt. We are here to win," said Sopoaga, a 31-year-old defensive tackle from the San Francisco 49ers. "We are here, and I believe and I promise that we are going to shock the world."

There might have been a dose of hyperbole in that confidence, but the declarations that often accompany a free agent's introduction in his new city are different for the Eagles this season. The Eagles are in a rebuilding effort, and they're doing it with the shroud of mystery involving a head coach whose schemes and system remain unknown.

That's why there was such excitement about acquiring Casey, a versatile 28-year-old tight end/fullback from the Houston Texans. Casey had 34 receptions as a fullback last season. He's a former professional baseball player who once played seven positions in a college football game.

"As a coach, it's almost like you've kind of got a new toy when there's a lot of different spots you can put him in because he's got a background in it, and he's extremely smart, extremely intelligent," Kelly said. "His versatility is really one of the keys to us acquiring him. He was a guy we targeted right away when free agency started, a guy that can really come into our program and have a big effect on what we're going to do."

Kelly said that Casey and Brent Celek would play together, akin to how New England uses Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman cited two games in 2011 when Casey was a tight end and combined for 12 catches, 217 yards, and a touchdown.

Casey, who played at Rice, was aware of Kelly's reputation in college, which is why he wanted to join the Eagles seemingly as much as they wanted to sign him.

"That was the main thing, that I thought it was the best case for me to come here and to get an opportunity to see my full potential as a player," Casey said.

Kelly similarly touted Sopoaga's versatility. The signing appeared to offer further proof that the Eagles are transitioning to a 3-4 defense because Sopoaga is a nose tackle. Kelly also mentioned that Sopoaga is versatile enough to rush from a four-man front.

Sopoaga can provide stability to a defensive line that lacks experience and also needs an infusion of talent. He mentioned the leadership element he plans to bring from San Francisco, where he was a key part of a team that went to the NFC championship game two seasons ago and the Super Bowl last season.

And the "shock the world" bravado that Sopoaga demonstrated was not played down by the coach whom Sopoaga and Casey entrusted on the first day of free agency.

"If you don't plan on coming in here and winning, then we're not going to talk to you," said Kelly, adding that work ethic will back up the talk. "We're in a blue-collar town, we've got a bunch of blue-collar guys that are going to go to work every single day, and we'll pick our heads up sometime next January and figure out if it was good enough."

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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