If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles have been getting some serious love in the offseason (what’s new?) from the national media. The latest comes from Don Banks (again) from CNNSI.com, who brings a solid piece on how the Eagles are poised for a Championship run (gulp):
Also, if you regularly check in with Jonathan Tamari of the Inquirer, he brings some serious skillz in his weekly “What they are saying about the Eagles” piece, which gives a run down on all national tidbits about the Eagles. Thanks Jon. Now, I don’t have to waste all afternoon at work digging out these tidbits. Kidding aside, the commentary has been pretty resoundingly positive about the Birds.
Geesh, you think these guys would have learned their lesson last year. That said, I think they might be right. Let us count the ways:
1) Re-signing core pieces, eg. Jackson, McCoy, Herremans, and Mathis: Words cannot describe how much the re-signing of Desean Jackson changed the vibe surrounding this team. Will it pay off? Who knows. I still have concerns as to whether Jackson will ever be mature enough to be consistent in the NFL and live up to a large contract. Also, one has to be concerned about him staying healthy. Doomsday aside, the move unquestionably changed the mojo behind this team from toxic to infinitely positive. This can really mean something in the NFL, and professional sports in general. For instance, just look at the last three champions in baseball (Cardinals), football (Giants [sound of me hurling]), and the hockey (Kings). Belief can take a team a long way these days. Certainly talent is important as well, namely, you have no chance without it, but increasing evidence suggests non-tangible factors such as belief, want-to, inspiration, or whatever you would like to call it, are changing the dynamic in professional sports. So, signing the gentlemen above, particularly Jackson, was a step in the right direction here. The alternative would have been a soul sucking loss.
2) Distancing from Banner (albeit not intentionally): Similar to the above, the Eagles distancing from the Banner scorched earth negotiation policy undoubtedly had a lot to do with turning around the Jackson situation (which looked tremendously grim at the end of the season). That said, I don’t buy all of this nonsense about a power struggle and don’t know that this was by specific design, but probably more of a natural process and quite fortuitous. News to everyone (particularly people who cover the team daily for several years- yes, I’m looking at your Daily News writers), Reid has always had total control over the football decisions related to the team. Nothing has been proffered that runs counter to this. Banner did, however, handle negotiations, and from what we have read and witnessed, it was a hard driving style I became altogether too familiar with in the private sector. Basically, you know the guy on the other end is a prick from the first issue being discussed. Let’s just say, this usually doesn’t go over too well. Now, can it be effective? Sure, in that particular instance perhaps, but over the long haul you are going to burn bridges with people and that is not exactly something you want to do in the business world. This was obvious from comments coming from former Eagles about Banner and from his horrendous relationship with the fans.
Still, my take is that the Eagles made a decision to pass the torch to Howie and Banner no longer had a role after this. The torch passing appeared to take place last year, as evidenced by the orgy of free agent signings that took place last year (does this sound like Banner to you?) Believe it or not, what they said seems entirely natural and plausible, and they appear completely honest about it. The stadium and practice facility are built, the Eagles are a Top 10 organization, and this is a place where players WANT to play. So, Banner did his job, and he did it well. He worked for the Eagles for almost 20 years in that role, and he moved on, and passed the torch to his hand picked protege. This happens in the private sector all the time with executives. Nothing new here. But, of course, our resident conspiracy theorists want to make it a RUTHLESS POWER STRUGGLE ON THE PART OF REID. Ok, if it makes you feel better, go ahead.
Anyway, serious kudos to Banner. He is hated in this town for the aforementioned hard nosed negotiations and for general douchiness, but hey, there is a place for a guy like that in the corporate world (unfortunately) and he got it done very well. Some of the younger folks around here forget what it was like for Philadelphia to be a back water football wasteland that no players wanted to play for. Well, Banner turned that completely on its head through savvy contracting, and getting huge business deals done to dramatically upgrade the stadium and practice facilities. The guy practically wrote the book on cap management, allowing the Eagles to stay competitive for the last 12 plus years. It was not a coincidence that last year when the NFL was going to the bargaining table with the players, they brought Joe Banner along, so that should show you the level of respect he has around the league. So, Banner haters, give some props when props are due.
3) The Expanded Offseason: Yes, I imagine you may be nauseous of the Eagles talking about this one, particularly our buddy Juan Castillo. But, you have to admit this is going to pay off for the Birds. Last season, the Eagles were breaking in a new D coordinator who was a former O-line coach, all news assistants, including new D-line and O-line coaches in a grossly shortened offseason (making it all the more perplexing that Juan Castillo would have gotten the job in the fist place. Sigh). Not to mention, the offseason and training camp is Big Red’s forte, as we have seen over the years. So, there is no question there will be improvement on this front. For instance, I think this is where the Asomugha signing finally begins to pay off, and the D-line and O-line have the chance to go to the next level, after already impressive first seasons under Washburn and Mudd respectively. Also, you cannot help to be encouraged by the reports of Vick putting in a yeoman’s effort and setting the example all offseason. As compared to last year, this is going to be night and day. The Big Man will be in his element, and the team will only benefit from it.
4) Shoring up the middle: Similar to the Jackson signing, the signing of Demeco Ryans completely changed the dynamic where the Eagles greatest weakness was. See my previous post about him being the savior if you are interested in more here: Demeco Ryans is the Savior
So, we can start printing up those Super Bowl tickets, right? Not so fast, there are few conclusions I definitely don’t agree with in Banks’ article:
1) Don’t count on the rookies: We have undoutably been here before. Each year, one thinks: “Geesh, with Rookie X plugged in at Y position, and Rookie Z helping with the pass rush too, we’ll be god darned unstoppable.” Ok, maybe no one really thinks in those actual words, except for maybe Big Red. But, you get my point of being down this road before. Yes, the early returns from Cox, Curry (especially), Kendricks, and even Boykin are tantilizing. But, as some like to say, let’s not go sucking each other’s Posicles about the draft just yet. No one has even strapped on a jock yet. Thinking these guys will equate to additional victories has turned out to be foolish in the past, and I am not ready to fall for it again. Do I hope I am wrong? Hell’s yeah, I’m just not bringing it into the equation just yet.
2) The Eagles will fly under the radar: Just because the Redskins got RGIII they are suddenly more of a story than the Eagles? Eh, not buying it, try winning some games for a change. Nothing about the Eagles in this town flies under the radar, nor does our convicted felon QB. If Vick believes they are going to sneak up on people, and not be under the same scrutiny, he is sadly mistaken.