By Al Thompson
Since Eagles executive vice president/general manager Howie Roseman began his roster-building career, his philosophy has been to secure a franchise quarterback then build his teams from the trenches out.
The Birds have invested more contract money to their lines than any other position on the team.
That philosophy was on full display this offseason when Roseman pulled the trigger on a deal to sign former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
The contract is for three years, $39 million with a reported $26 million of it guaranteed. Hargrave said the Eagles showed the most interest in acquiring his services.
“I felt welcome,” Hargrave said in a recent conference call with reporters. “I felt like they really wanted me. That was really a big thing for me. And I’m going to a team that’s used to winning. Going from the Steelers to the Eagles is not really a hard jump for me. I’m still in a winning environment. I’ll be around some great talent. So it was really an easy decision.”
Hargrave is coming from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. When the 6-foot-2, 305-pounder was asked how that will affect his game, he said not very much.
“The Eagles are more like a get upfield (defense), that’s how I came into the league, playing in a system like that in college,” Hargrave said. “It’s made for defensive linemen. It’s a lot more exciting. It’s every d-lineman’s dream to play in a system like this.”
Hargrave played his college football at South Carolina State, an FCS (I-AA) program and a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
The 27-year-old was asked to describe his game for Eagles fans.
“I get off the ball. I get up the field,” Hargrave said. “That’s what I was kind of known for in college. I think it’s really something that really fits me. I’m just happy to show and see if I can do it.”
Hargrave is built like a fire plug. So when he was asked where he gets that strength to dominate guards and centers, his answer was not a surprise.
“I don’t know, I guess my legs,” Hargrave said with a bit of a laugh. “People say I’ve got squatty legs. It’s funny I used to hate when everybody used to talk about my lower half, my legs when I was younger. Now I just realize that’s what God gave me these legs for. To bull rush guards in the NFL. That’s where all my power comes from, and I try and use it to my advantage.”
In his pro career, Hargrave has played 63 games with 52 starts. He has 168 combined tackles (106 solo), 14.5 sacks, four in 2019, two forced fumbles, one recovered.
What will Eagles fans be most impressed about with their new starting defensive tackle?
He has missed just one game since becoming a pro in 2016 when he was drafted in the third round by the Steelers. Hargrave has not missed a game over the last three seasons. Hargrave did his homework before his conference call with reporters. He was asked about his new teammates
“It’s Fletcher (Cox) and you’ve got Malik (Jackson), and you got (Derek) Barnett, you got Hassan (Ridgeway) and Brandon (Graham),” Hargrave said. “You’ve got a lot of guys, a lot of dogs on that line. My coming from T.J. (Watt), to Bud (Dupree), to Cam (Cameron Heyward) to (Stephon) Tuitt…it’s like I’m back at home with a bunch of dogs ready to eat. I just love when you’ve got a lot of great players around. It really ups your game, and helps you get better as a football player.”
Hargrave was asked to talk specifically about Cox and how much playing alongside the five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro will impact his game.
“We know who’s going to get the double teams,” Hargrave said. “I pretty much know he’s going to get most of the attention. That can really boost me. I know there’s a lot to learn from somebody who’s been doing it for so long. And being so good at his craft for so long. I’m eager to see how he goes about his day and what makes him so good. I don’t know if he’s going to share his secrets, but I’m hoping he shares some of his secrets and helps my career.”
Last week, Roseman talked about what went into the decision to sign Hargrave.
“He was a guy we just felt was our up and ascending player,” Rodeman said in a conference call with reporters. “He’s got a tremendous work ethic, tremendous character. We did a lot of work on him coming out (of college). He’s a guy we really feel fits our scheme. I know I’ve seen some of those reports that he’s a nose tackle, but we really feel like this is a guy that can win with power, can win with athleticism, he can work edges. And he’s continuing to get better and better as a player. He just jumped out to all of us when we were watching tape and also kind of comparing the subjective, which is watching the tape, and the objective and looking at his numbers and what he can do in our scheme. So we’re really excited to get him.”
Hargrave was asked if he was familiar with Eagles longtime defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“I know a lot about Jim Schwartz,” Hargrave said. “He’s more of an attacker, he lets his defensive line make plays. You can see from all the talent on the defensive line where his mindset is.”
The elephant in the room is how the NFL and all the teams are going to handle the COVID-19 coronavirus. No one knows for sure when teams are going to practice again. As of press time, the NovaCare complex was in a complete lockdown, and will be until April 8, when commissioner Roger Goodell says he will evaluate the situation.
Hargrave said he does not currently have a gym to go to, but said he is taking care of himself training-wise as best he can. He said he has most of his food delivered to his residence. And it’s an adjustment that everyone is dealing with as the realities of COVID-19 continue to change our lives.
He was asked if not having any spring practices will make it hard to integrate himself to his new team.
“I don’t want to say it’s going to be harder, just a little longer to meet everybody,” Hargrave said. “No, it won’t be harder. I’m not really worried about that. I’m just going to sit in my seat and learn.”
“I got a bike and some weights,” Hargrave said. “I’m just trying to stay in shape without exposing myself. Just finding ways to grind.”
So is everyone. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii