THE EAGLES and the Giants exchanged players this offseason. Not formally, of course, but New York signed Eagles free-agent defensive linemen Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins, and the Eagles signed former Giants first-round safety Kenny Phillips.

It will be interesting to see which organization had a better read on the other squad's talents. Patterson, a smallish defensive tackle, didn't fit the Birds' new defensive scheme. Jenkins just seemed to be wearing down at 32, and seemed expendable to a rebuilding team. Both men were solid, character guys on a 2012 defense that wasn't overflowing with those.

Phillips, 26, probably has the most upside of the trio, could fill a huge need here, but he also might come with the most risk.

A lot of fans would have been happy had the Eagles drafted Phillips in 2008, instead of trading down and letting the Giants grab the 6-2, long-armed former Miami star 31st overall. But there wasn't a lot of rejoicing when the Birds finally did acquire Phillips in March, signing him to a 1-year free-agent contract. The reason wasn't hard to understand: Phillips underwent microfracture surgery after a bad knee injury in 2009, then suffered medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament injuries that limited his play last season. In between, he was a standout on the 2011 Giants team that won the Super Bowl.

The Giants wanted to bring him back, but apparently they didn't make much of an effort, since Phillips ended up signing a make-good 1-year deal with the Eagles. One factor in his departure could be that he indicated late last season he felt his rehab had been mishandled.

So far, the Eagles seem to be taking a cautious approach with Phillips in OTAs, though he said yesterday that his knee feels fine.

"My knee is good," Phillips said. "MRIs show that it healed up nicely. Right now, we're just taking it one day at a time."

Phillips hasn't been working with the first-team defense during the 2 days reporters have been allowed to watch spring drills. He declined to shed any light on that, but agreed that coaches "most definitely" are easing him in.

"They're definitely letting me take my time, trying to just monitor me right now, so I can be good when it really counts, which is training camp and the season," Phillips said. "It's different, it's a lot different [from being an established starter with the Giants]. I'm not with the first group, but I'm still getting the same amount of reps as those guys, basically going out there and making plays and showing the coaches that I am a starter."

A reporter asked Phillips if he is the player he was a few years ago. His answer was typical of a veteran who has suffered serious injury.

"I'm better, because I'm smarter; I know what it takes to get from Point A to Point B. I know when my body needs rest," he said. "I feel like I have a long career ahead of me, as long as I just be smart with it. It's definitely something I have to be conscious of when I'm in the weight room or when I'm on the field, how many reps I take."

Phillips, mainly a free safety with the Giants, said new Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis requires more interchangability.

"That's what I like about it so far. I'm not going to just be designated in one area," Phillips said. "I'm going to get a chance to show that I'm capable of making plays."