Nnamdi Asomugha. Jason Babin. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. Vince Young. Cullen Jenkins. Ronnie Brown. Steve Smith. Ryan Harris. Evan Mathis.
These were the acquisitions made by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 off-season. Vince Young quipped it was like a “Dream Team”, yet it really turned into a nightmare 8 -8 season when expectations were Superbowl or bust. They busted.
There are lessons to be learned from that unfortunate off-season. Some that are pertinent to how the Eagles move forward through the rest of free agency, some that are relevant to the way we view the moves that the Eagles front office have already made.
Big Names don’t always mean Big Games
It’s quite apparent that superstar players don’t always continue to play at that same level when they move to a new team. There is a pretty good track record of big name players cashing in big paydays and not giving their new team a return on their investment. There can be several factors for this; a poor fit for the new scheme, lack of motivation after getting a big contract, or just not ever gaining a comfort level in the new environment. In 2011 the Eagles brought in a lot of big names, and if they all would’ve performed at their prior performance level, an 8-8 record would’ve been hard to fathom. But most under-performed, and the only veteran acquisition from that off-season still with the team today is Evan Mathis, and he was not a big name.
Believe your Eyes, Not your Ears
I remember the utter excitement I felt when I found out the Eagles had signed Asomugha. I couldn’t believe that the Philly front office had pulled off that kind of coup, on top of all the other “great” moves they had made that off-season already. I was certain that he was all but locked up by the Dallas Cowboys as was being reported at the time. It made me feel like Philadelphia had duped Dallas (which is always a plus), and that the Eagles were going “all in” for a Superbowl. Not only was Nnamdi the cherry on top, he was also the meat and potatoes, as he was exactly what Philadelphia needed to match up with the team that had eliminated them from the playoffs the season before….the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers. His reputation as a big, physical cornerback with shut down man to man skill seemed like the perfect prescription for the Eagles secondary.
Truth be told, I hadn’t watched an Oakland Raiders game in years. So my excitement was really based off of pundit opinion and a few YouTube highlights. I knew he was a Pro Bowler and widely considered to be a top 5 cornerback in the league, so I assumed that was what the Eagles were getting in return for the $60 million contract. It only took my eyes the first preseason game to realize that that was not going to be the case. I was still optimistic though, as with his size and age, I envisioned value by him transitioning to safety ala Charles Woodson, lining up in the slot in nickel packages and blitzing off the edge etc. But by the time the regular season rolled around, I realized the Eagles had been sold a lemon. So there should always be a buyer beware sign when bringing in new people to your organization. Tape doesn’t lie, but it doesn’t always tell the whole truth either. Therefore, I am withholding judgment on new Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins until I can view every snap from the 14 games he played last year.
You can’t buy Team Chemistry
With all the money that was thrown at newcomers in that 2011 off-season, it was bound to cause some ruffled feathers in the locker room. Players that had already been in house may have felt like a step-child after putting in work and not feeling rewarded. Perception is reality to players, and it doesn’t take much to feel disrespected on their part. Those types of feelings can make a player not “buy in” to what the coach or organization are trying to accomplish, and in some ways lead said player to selfishly sabotage the effort. Add that to a bunch of new faces, personalities, and talents and you have a powder keg of variables that can ignite at any moment. Ideally all players are professionals, all coaches are intuitive and in tune with the pulse of the locker room, and all organizations are adept at open communication and transparency. But in the real world of the NFL, mastering team chemistry is a nuance that is very hard to grasp. Therefore a team’s off-season priorities should reflect that on some level, and due diligence should be performed before adding to the mix. Just because a player is talented doesn’t mean he would be the best fit.
Have patience with the Front Office Plan
Head Coach Chip Kelly has put his fingerprints on the DNA of this franchise, and has had success with it on his debut. It appears with the moves being made that he is further along in sculpting this roster into his vision of a championship team. General Manager Howie Roseman was able to re-sign the key pieces that Kelly deemed vital, and still address some glaring weaknesses thus far in free agency, which is barely a week old. There is still a lot of time left, and there is still the NFL Draft of course. So patience is a virtue, as long as you have faith in what the Eagles are prioritizing. It appears that keeping the core together, building the special teams, and signing leaders that fit in both the locker room and scheme are the things they believe in. I believe this is a solid way of doing things.
The Dream Team may not have lived up to the hype, but Eagles fans can sleep soundly knowing that Coach Kelly has a plan.