There’s only a few ways for NFL teams to find talented players. You draft ’em, you trade for ’em, you sign ’em as free agents.
Or, if you’re the Eagles, you look under every rock, search in every nook and cranny, exhaust every unconventional possibility trying to land that long shot who could one day become a star.
When you haven’t won a playoff game in five years, and you’re coming off your worst season in 15 years, and you’re trying to build the roster back up after a couple dismal years, you try anything.
“It’s hard to find those guys, and there’s competition for them, too,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. “You’ve got to be creative and be willing to take a chance.
“Right now, we’re going to look under every rock. We’re trying to build this thing, and it’s hard to find.”
Two of the rookies that reported to Eagles training camp Monday and will begin practicing on Tuesday, 339-pound offensive lineman Michael Bamiro and 6-foot-7 wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah, fall into that “under-every-rock” category.
Bamiro started out at Pitt-Titusville, a college that doesn’t even have football, and became an unexpected pro prospect when the NCAA ruled earlier this month that he did not have a final year of eligibility at Stony Brook.
Momah opened his junior year at Boston College in September 2011 with a huge game against Northwestern – eight catches for 171 yards – before suffering a knee injury and hasn’t played since. So he’s played part of one game in the last 31 months.
Bamiro is 22, Momah is 23. Both had their college careers cut short. Both took unconventional routes to the NFL. Both were unusual signings, Momah just before the draft after he proved he was healthy and could run, and Bamiro in the middle of July after the Eagles and every other NFL team learned he couldn’t play any longer at Stony Brook.
Bamiro is massive and athletic, Momah is big and fast. They came cheap, and they came without using a draft pick or giving something up in a trade.
Both are long shots, but both have a chance.
Not all of these sort of gambles work. The Eagles in 2006 used a fifth-round pick on Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom, a one-time All-America returner at Colorado, but after he spent his rookie year on Injured Reserve trying to return to football shape, he was released and never played a down in the NFL.
“You only have a certain number of draft picks and a certain amount of money to spend on the cap, so you’ve got to take chances,” Roseman said. “You’ve got to take chances on talented guys.
“When we go out and talk to our scouts about players, we talk about looking for unique physical characteristics. What do they have that makes them different? What is their unique trait? We talk about that a lot.
“You talk about Mo, you talk about a 6-7 guy who runs 4.4. Unique traits. We brought him in, we worked him out, we saw him catch the football, we saw him run routes and we said, ‘All right, that’s the kind of guy you want to work with,’ because he has something unique about him.”
Momah caught just 39 passes for 629 yards and six touchdowns in his entire college career. He missed 2009 with an injury, missed all but one game of 2011 with an injury, didn’t play in 2012, so he’s played only 12 games since the end of the 2008 season.
“It’s about talent,” he said. “Certainly, you want to have character, you want to have work ethic, but it’s hard to play at a high level in this league, you have to have a unique skill, a unique trait, and Mo’s got some unique traits.”
Bamiro was unrecruited out of Pocono Mountain West High School, gave up football after high school and entered to Pitt-Titusville for pre-law.
When he realized he missed football, he transferred to unheralded Stony Brook and became an All-Big South first-team offensive tackle.
The NCAA has some strange rules, and one of them is that even if a player spends a year at a college that doesn’t have a football team, that year counts against his football eligibility.
So a couple weeks ago, he stopped preparing for his senior year of college and headed to South Jersey to train with Tra Thomas and prepare for the NFL.
“You talk about Michael … he’s huge,” Roseman said. “He’s 6-8, he’s 345 pounds, he’s got 36-inch arms, he’s got 11-inch hands, and he’s young. He was a basketball player, and he can move his feet. It’s hard to find those guys in the draft.
“We have a great relationship with Tra Thomas, and Tra knows good football players. He’s watched Jason Peters, he watched Lane [Johnson] coming out, Dennis Kelly, and having that insight helped us as well.
“You’ve got to take shots like that. You’re not going to be right all the time, but when you have guys with those characteristics and good character, you want to take those shots.”
The Eagles signed Momah to a three-year deal with minimum base salaries of $405,000, $495,000 and $585,000 and a modest $7,500 signing bonus. They signed Bamiro to a deal with the same minimum-wage base salaries but with $247,100 guaranteed over the first two years.
None of this is new for the Eagles. Last year, they landed two very promising offensive weapons who came to the NFL with red flags that dramatically reduced their value.
They took running back Bryce Brown in the seventh round of the draft after Brown played in just 13 college games, just one since 2009, and they signed receiver and returner Damaris Johnson as an undrafted free agent after he had been kicked off Tulsa’s team for after a minor legal matter.
All Brown did last year was became the ninth player in NFL history to rush for 165 yards or more twice as a rookie.
All Johnson did was rank second in the NFC in punt return average and become the fourth-youngest player in NFL history with a punt return of 98 yards or more.
“Those guys, it makes it fun,” Roseman said. “All the draftniks are looking at the first 50 guys in the draft. It’s when you get a little lower, when you have those kind of guys and you get ’em, it definitely makes it fun.
“It’s like finding money in the street.”