All good things must come to an end. The unlikeliest of outcomes, our very own Philadelphia Eagles, roared back to life in 2013: finishing with a 10-6 record that was good enough for first place of the NFC Eastern Division. To do so, the Eagles had to undergo a dramatic face-lift.
Many of the changes were obvious. Anyone who witnessed the lack of tackling in the Eagles secondary in 2012 knew that, regardless of actual passes defended, the Eagles would need new personnel at cornerback. In the same light, the nine technique, which called for defensive ends to take up positions somewhere close to the edge of the field, had to go.
In fact, the changes were so obvious that a majority of the fans called for the changes before they ever happened. But at 10-6, the Eagles can no longer rely upon the obvious changes. This team has grown together, but now in the face of success, must find a way not to grow apart.
We’ve already seen the signs. Teams that failed to meet their objectives have fired personnel, and have come to Philadelphia in the hopes of finding someone with a plan to change their fortunes. Players that have been squeezed into a niche or supporting cast role have come out publicly and indicated their intentions to start: whether with the Eagles or with another team. Even a player or two, who had significant success, has come out and openly spoken about renegotiating a contract. Yes, it’s all business and each player has the right to do so. But individual players focused on individual needs is something that these Eagles can ill afford right now.
Once a team wins their division, several forces begin to work against them, pulling them back to mediocrity. First, unsuccessful teams pillage their coaching staff, trying to find a key person or two who can bring that success with them. Secondly, the NFL draft position, which reverses the order of picks from the success enjoyed the year before. This year, the Eagles have fallen from the fourth pick to the twenty-second pick. And lastly, the team will face the other first place teams.
The overall effect of all of these forces can be dramatic. Think back to the 2012 Washington Redskins, a team that many predicted to be active in the NFL playoffs for many years to come. In one year, they fell as dramatically as the Eagles rose, all the way to a 3-13 season.
So the key is to prune, without damaging, the team chemistry. The Birds have enjoyed success, with an energized young team and some patchwork of players learning new positions. With a full year under their belts, players can go into 2014 knowing what to expect. Howie Roseman, in a recent interview on the topic of off-season strategy, laid out Philly’s mission when he appeared as a guest of Mike Missanelli on 97.5 in Philadelphia on the afternoon of January 7th:
“We’re trying to build our team and we want to do this the right way,” Roseman explained. “I think one of the mistakes that has happened is the past is that we get in the mold of ‘we think we’re one player a way or two players away and we have to go out and get the next hottest thing,’ I think it’s important we build a team of players that are home grown and people can relate to the names on the back of the Jerseys. “You don’t want to go out and get a bunch of ‘independent contractors’ for lack of a better term. That doesn’t mean we can’t go out and get some guys, but we have to stick with the process we’ve used the last few years. We have to draft the best player available, not necessarily drafting for need. We want to build a team that can compete year after year.”
This will not bode well for those who have already set their sights on premier free agents like Buffalo Safety Jairus Byrd, or Carolina Defensive End Greg Hardy. No. What will likely happen is the team will address any roster openings of their own players by either attempting to resign players or by signing a player with a modest price who has the potential for a good year.
And with a full compliment of draft picks (the Eagles did trade their 6th round pick and Isaac Sopoaga to New England for the Patriots 5th round pick), the team is hoping for a repeat of 2013, where they were able to draft starters in the first, second, and third rounds.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll look at free agency and the NFL draft, and take a look at positions and players who could contribute to the team. Much of what the team does depends on which players are resigned. And which players are resigned depends on what the Eagles can afford to do.
Turning this team around seemed so easy. But the real skill, the real magic of this team, will be what happens this year.
For the Eagles to get to the next level, they will need to know the difference between good, and great. And until the snap of the football to start the 2014 season, we wait.