If you’re a younger Philadelphia Eagles fan, you might not remember the 1998 season all that well. I do. I was in school at Boston University at the time and would save a little bit of money from every Saturday night, knowing I had to go sit in a sports bar (usually Atlas on Landsdowne St.) on Sunday to watch the Eagles. They were 3-13 that season, the worst team in the NFL and absolute dreck to watch. Everyone laughed at me. “Why are you going to watch the Eagles?! And why are you going by yourself? (different question altogether).” They were awful. If Bobby Hoying was able to complete a five-yard pass to Kaseem Sinceno, it was a thing of beauty.
Andy Reid’s arrival in 1999 and his subsequent selection of Donovan McNabb in that draft dragged the team out of that lifeless hell hole and pulled them not only into relevance, but to prominence. Say what you want about Reid and McNabb (and oh I’m sure you will!), but it was the man with the master plan, paired with with an athletic, strong-armed quarterback who could light up the stat sheet while not turning the ball over. Mix in the holdover studs from Ray Rhodes’ defense (Troy Vincent, Hugh Douglas, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, etc) and you had a strong team year in and year out.
Well, the Reid Era is over and it’s time for this Eagles team to undergo a complete renovation. Not just new paint, but they’re ripping up the hardwood floors and getting dirt under their finger nails. But, are they headed in the right direction, or are they headed for the dark ages of 1998? Here’s five reasons why they are staring into the abyss of unwatchable NFL hell, in no particular order:
1. Howie Roseman: The power struggle is over. The years of wondering just who in the hell was in charge in the front office are finished. Tom Heckert is the GM, but Andy has final say. But, Joe Banner is running the show. But, this draft Howie Roseman made the decisions. Oh, please. There was never any accountability for anyone until they got bounced out of the door. Then it was that guy who was the problem the whole time. Remember them claiming years ago that Tom Modrak actually wanted Akili Smith?
Well, Tom Heckert has been gone for several years. Joe Banner got Jeffrey Lurie’s childhood-friend-foot square in the back of his pants. They greased Andy up and managed to force him through the small doorways at the NovaCare Complex as well.
Howie doesn’t have a football background. Howie is a Joe Banner disciple. Banner was a numbers guy (and let me acknowledge that is indeed important in the salary cap era), not a football guy. So, the Eagles are going to undergo their biggest overhaul since Reid’s arrival and the strings are being pulled by a guy who isn’t fit to recognize when a cornerback isn’t unlocking his hips at the right time? He’ll be drafting offensive linemen when he isn’t sure what sound footwork looks like?
Who is the football guy in the front office? There isn’t one. Are you okay with that?
2. Chip Kelly: Let me first state that I have no clue what Chip Kelly will be at the NFL level. Not one clue. And no one does. It’s like the day after the NFL Draft when all the “experts” are trying to grade teams’ drafts. No one has any clue. So, the same will be said of Chip Kelly. He was successful in college and that’s all well and good, but he’s never done anything at the pro level, where it is a completely different ball game.
My biggest concern when bringing in a successful college coach is player acquisition. Did you watch the BCS Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame? Schemes had nothing to do with outcome. It was men against boys. Alabama is filled with the biggest, baddest and fastest. Oh, you want linebackers? Let’s go get some. We’ll get the best; don’t worry about it. We’re Alabama, we can have what we want, cost is no object.
Oregon is one of those schools that doesn’t have a tough time getting top-tier talent. For the scheme Kelly wanted to run there, it wasn’t tough to get the guys who could do it. And let me be clear here: Player talent trumps all. It is the number one reason for success in any sport and there isn’t a close second.
Is Kelly an innovator? Sure, he absolutely is. He’s very creative and has proven at the collegiate level that his way works. But, what about at the NFL level? What happens when you’re working with the personnel you’re stuck with because of the salary cap and other outside factors? What happens when you can’t just go to some kid’s house and he plays for you next year?
And what about his exotic schemes? To be fair to Kelly, he’s said all the right things so far. He’s talked about designing schemes around the talent he has, and that’s a good thing. But, it remains to be seen if his schemes can be paired with limited talent to result in wins at the NFL level. Steve Spurrier was innovative too, but was a laughing stock at the pro level and he probably ruined Patrick Ramsey’s career.
It’s not that I think Kelly can’t be successful at the NFL level; it’s just that there are a lot of question marks and unknowns.
3. Chip Kelly’s coaching staff: My hope is that Kelly is going to surround himself with proven NFL coaching talent. It’s up to your own point of view as to whether or not you think hiring Pat Shurmur as your offensive coordinator satisfies that. Shurmur is a solid coach, coming off a less-than-stellar stint as the head coach of a dysfunctional Cleveland Browns team. Tough to accurately assess that situation to be fair to all involved.
Shurmur aside, it flat-out scares me what they are looking to do on the defensive side of the ball. Of course it’s all rumors as of this posting, but the names being thrown around hardly inspire confidence.
Let’s just look at a few quickly. Todd Grantham from the University of Georgia has come up. See my previous comments on talent acquisition at the college level and Georgia fits into that perfectly. I find it tough to gauge a coach’s ability when they have players that are just flat-out better than the competition. Grantham was also the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2007. Anyone remember anything special about those defenses? Were pretty good against the pass? If he was so brilliant in that role, he wouldn’t be taking lesser jobs afterwards.
Another name that has been tossed around a bit and tickled is Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Seriously? Talk about having the best of the best in terms of talent. And his highest level of NFL coaching was back with Nick Saban and the Dolphins when he coached their safeties. Considering all of the other question marks facing the Eagles, you want this guy turning around your horrific defense? If the Eagles defensive talent was to the rest of the NFL what Alabama’s defensive talent was to the rest of the NCAA, then yes. But, it’s not.
And how about Bill Davis, the former linebackers coach of the Browns? And what is this infatuation with former Browns coaches? Has anyone watched the Browns in, say…ever? Post Otto Graham? Of all of the NFL staffs I would like to pilfer, the Browns wouldn’t be high on this list. And check out Davis’ coaching resume. How many teams is that in how many years? If he was a brilliant guy who could turn the Eagles defense around, wouldn’t one of his other eight or so employers have noticed that talent at some point?
I’ll shelve my displeasure with the rumors of the Eagles moving to a 3-4 defensive alignment because we haven’t had the offseson yet. Right now, they do not have the personnel to run a 3-4. However, if you want to make the case that they stunk at the 4-3 anyway, then the court of OTR will hear those arguments. It’s not fair to judge a particular scheme as it relates to personnel in February.
4. Quarterback: Write this down: If the Eagles don’t find their quarterback of the future, Chip Kelly is probably gone in two years. Doesn’t matter how smart he is or how innovative his system is. If you don’t get a quarterback who can play consistent football with minimal mistakes, you aren’t going to win in this league. Awful quarterbacks get coaches fired. In 2008, Ken Whisenhunt was a genius with the Arizona Cardinals. He had Kurt Warner. This year? He’s out of a job after watching the likes of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer flail about on the FieldTurf.
Michael Vick is owed some $15.5 million with a bit of that due shortly after the Super Bowl. So a decision on his future with the team will come quickly. And I think I know what that decision will be. At the very least, I know what it should be. He can’t run like he used to, can’t read a blitz, is a turnover machine, denies that he’s a turnover machine, throws teammates under the bus, has never won anything of significance in the NFL and is an awful leader. And there was the incident with the dogs. If the Eagles are to move forward as a franchise, they must do so without this embarrassment.
Who is next? Yes, Nick Foles. Foles showed some promise last year in what was truly an awful situation (the terrible o-line is reason enough to give the kid a pass). Could he have probably had five more interceptions by the end of the season? Yes. Even during his best games he would have that throw or two where you just cringed. The back-across-his-body punt thing that he threw up to Jeremy Maclin during the Dallas game at the Linc comes to mind. Somehow he completed it. It reminded me of the time Willie Mayes Hayes made the basket catch.
There are a few questions about Foles: Can he be an NFL starting QB period? Can he be a starter for what Chip Kelly wants to do? Does Kelly even want to try with him? All these things remain to be seen, but if Foles isn’t your guy, who is?
Not Alex Smith. We aren’t going there.
So, do you look to the draft? Are rumors true that the Eagles could be eyeing Florida State’s E.J. Manuel? Do you like Geno Smith or Matt Barkley? Could they fit in Kelly’s scheme? All I know is that this year’s quarterback field is extremely weak. I don’t see the Eagles using that No. 4 pick on a quarterback, but we’ll see.
Not having your quarterback of the future in place is very unsettling and a big reason the Eagles could be facing some looong seasons. No quarterback, no football team. That simple.
5. Jeffrey Lurie: During his tenure as the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie has pretty much had my 100% support. He hires guys and lets them do their jobs. He’s not the owner/GM that Jerry Jones thinks he is. He’s not the meddler that Dan Snyder is. But, now we’re going to really find out if he’s backing the right horses.
Say what you want about Joe Banner (and I know you will!), but the guy created the term “capologist.” He’s always come across as cold and uncaring, but he’s a businessman, not your friend. For a long time, he did a very good job of managing the Eagles’ salary cap so they could keep as much possible talent from year to year and remain competitive. Well, he’s gone.
Reid had his warts and everyone is quick to point them out. But, he’s the most successful coach in Eagles history and his players would lay down on I-95 at rush hour for him. He’s gone.
Lurie is backing Howie Roseman. That’s his guy. He just gave him a shiny new 4-5 year contract. This is his horse. He chose the guy with no football background at all to rebuild his precious franchise. He’s entrusted Roseman to pick his next head coach and run his drafts (at least that’s what Chip Kelly said at his press conference. He says he doesn’t have full control as had been rumored. Who knows what the real deal is considering the confusion that seemed to be ongoing during Reid’s tenure). It’s Howie’s show and his show only because Lurie has made that call.
Lurie ultimately is responsible for the direction of this football team and if Howie isn’t the right guy, and if Chip Kelly was a gamble they should have avoided, it won’t be realized for several years.
The questions surrounding this franchise right now far outweigh the amount of solid answers. Could Howie be a personnel genius? Sure. Could Chip Kelly be the most innovative offensive mind to hit the NFL since Bill Walsh? Sure. Could Foles or E.J. Manuel or whoever develop into the quarterback that can lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl? Yeah, I guess.
But, as of right now, I have to think – based on empirical data – that the Philadelphia Eagles are headed for the dark ages of 1998.