There hasn't been much success plucking talent from the draft. (Where are you now, Matt McCoy?) Mostly the Eagles have whiffed when they have either traded for or signed a free-agent weak-side linebacker.
This year, they hope to reverse that trend with Ernie Sims.
Despite having two homegrown linebackers in Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither that have started at weak-side, the Eagles said this off-season that they needed an upgrade. So when Detroit dangled Sims on the market, the Eagles pulled off a three-team trade that cost them only a fifth-round draft pick in getting the former first-rounder.
In the Eagles' eyes, they were getting the player who recorded more than 140 tackles from 2006-08, not the one who struggled through an injury-plagued 2009. And, more important, they were getting a player they thought would benefit from a change of scenery.
"I loved it in Detroit, but it's just the losing wasn't where it was at," Sims said Friday after practice at Lehigh. "You get sick of losing coming to work every day. It just kind of worked out ironically that this change happened, and it's a great change. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
That's nice, but the Eagles have been down this road before.
They thought that Shawn Barber - the Eagles' 2002 starter and a coaching intern at this year's camp - Nate Wayne (2003), and Takeo Spikes (2007) would solve their hole at weak-side linebacker. It's not as if they were disasters. But each one failed to put a stamp on the position.
And they weren't the only ones. Since 1999, the Eagles have had 11 regular starters at weak-side linebacker. The cast includes Barry Gardner, Mark Simoneau, Keith Adams, Will Witherspoon, and, yes, even McCoy.
It looked as if the Eagles had found their man in Jordan, whom they drafted in 2007 and who became the starter in the second half of 2008. He held down the position through the first eight games last season but injured his knee and lost the spot to Witherspoon.
Now he's stuck behind Sims.
"This is a game of competition," Jordan said last month. "I wouldn't be here if I couldn't compete."
Sims is accustomed to pressure. He was selected ninth overall in the 2006 draft and was saddled with high expectations when he arrived in downtrodden Detroit. He racked up lots of tackles in his first three seasons. But his speed was thought to be a detriment to his playing outside because he often would over-pursue the ball.
"I kind of feel like I've got to prove myself to a new team, which I'll do," Sims said. "I'll have no problem doing that. I'm excited. A lot of eyes are on me, and I'm used to that."
The 25-year-old hung around after practice Friday to work with defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and linebackers coach Bill Shuey. Sims said there is still a lot - positioning, coverage, terminology - to grasp in learning a new defense. Could he be the one weak-side linebacker to put it all together?
"I just want to go out there and compete," Sims said. "I want to go out there and show my coaches, my teammates, and the fans that I am that player . . . Detroit drafted No. 9. I'm not going to try and kill my own teammates. At least I'll try not to."