T.J. Edwards spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Eagles, but that never stopped him from keeping up with his hometown team: the Chicago Bears.
Growing up in Lake Villa, Ill., Edwards learned his Bears fandom from his father. He has decades of Bears memories like meeting Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher at a meet-and-greet his rookie year or watching Devin Hester return the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for a touchdown.
In December, the undrafted linebacker out of Wisconsin played at Soldier Field for the first time in his career when the Eagles played the Bears in a Week 15 matchup. While Philadelphia went on to win the game 25-20, Edwards was anything but shocked with the Bears' ability to contend with the Eagles' Super Bowl squad.
"I definitely always followed to see what was going on, just out of habit," Edwards told reporters Thursday at Halas Hall. "But obviously, we came and played here, it was a really tough team, man. It was a game that was all the way to the end and obviously I can speak more from the defensive side going against the offense, just a lot of weapons and trying to contain [Justin] Fields was a big part of what we were trying to do.
"You saw what happened on one of the plays where he got loose, so he's definitely a special player for sure and you can tell just by the way the game was going that it was no quit at all. That's definitely something that I want to be a part of."
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Between understanding the potential of this Bears team and earning the opportunity to play for an organization he grew up loving, signing in Chicago Wednesday was a no-brainer for Edwards.
While Edwards - along with anybody in Halas Hall - knows the rich history of linebackers in the Bears organization, the 26-year-old wants to stay in the moment and find a way to create his own path in Chicago.
"I just want to come in and be me," Edwards said. "I want to come in and figure out where I fit in and just try to help as much as I can and learn as much as I can. There's a lot of guys who have played a lot of good football here. They understand how the game is supposed to look. So just getting with them and figuring out how I fit, but I definitely just want to be me, for sure."
Edwards has made vast improvements year-after-year in Philadelphia but enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 when he led the Eagles with 159 tackles, which ranked seventh in the league. He started all 17 games and added 10 tackles-for-loss, seven pass breakups and two sacks while being the main communicator on defense.
The success Edwards created for himself in Philadelphia was apparent to his veteran teammates, like Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce. The Super Bowl LII champion had high praise for Edwards on the New Heights podcast Wednesday which Kelce co-hosts.
"T.J. has been a really big part, he had a great year last year and he's been a guy that you've seen get better every single year," Kelce said. "You've seen that improvement. He's a smart player, he's instinctive. You know when you're playing certain guys early in their career and you can just tell that they get it? They react to things well. He has great feel for the game of football. Obviously would've loved to have him back in Philadelphia, but T.J.'s gonna do great over there in Chicago."
Along with building on his personal game last season, Edwards learned how a winning culture is created and what it takes to make a Super Bowl run.
Edwards said the most important piece of that culture is having a connected team with players that spend time together off the field.
"When you go through moments of adversity, that's what helps a lot when you can lean on a guy and you have a good relationship with a guy to where if something goes wrong on the field, you can go talk to them and it's not an insult," Edwards said. "It's just getting things right so you can continue to move forward. That's something I took away from that is just that the team chemistry has to be at the forefront for sure."
Another thing Edwards took away was the importance of having great leaders and "guys who understand how the place is run." After spending little time in Halas Hall and meeting some of his new teammates, Edwards can tell the Bears have players who can excel in those roles.
Going from undrafted to signing a three-year contract with his hometown team, Edwards is eager to elevate the culture in Chicago and continue evolving as a player to help bring wins to the Bears organization.
"I was raised in a way where to where you have to earn every single thing you get," Edwards said. "Nothing is given in this world. That's on the football field and life. The one thing that's undefeated is hard work. As cliche as it sounds, getting up every day and putting two feet on the ground and getting to the task that you need to is what's really helped me.
"I think that draft weekend was a long weekend, but for me all it did was help burn that hunger into my head, man. It'll never go away. It's something that I'm always chasing. I always want to be the best and it's my job to get up every day and find something new to work at and find something new to challenge myself with so that I can continue to be better and better. I don't think I'm anywhere near the football player I can be. I'm excited."