The longer Jeffrey Lurie’s tenure as the Eagles’ owner goes – and that tenure logs in at more than a quarter century now – the better a coach Andy Reid becomes. You can look at the Eagles’ 23-17 loss Monday to the Seahawks as just the latest bad night in a bad season, bad for Carson Wentz, bad for Doug Pederson, bad for a team that, as hard as it is to remember these days, won a Super Bowl less than three years ago. Or you can look at it in the context of the entire Lurie era. And once you do, something becomes clear: You’ve seen this before. The Eagles have been here before.
Lurie has hired four head coaches since taking over the franchise in 1994, and among them, a pattern has developed that only Reid has managed to break. From 5-11 to two 11-5 seasons to two 12-4 seasons to 13-3 and a Super Bowl appearance, Reid may have frustrated people with his mumbly press conferences and fondness for throwing the football. But through his first six seasons here, the Eagles improved until they reached a lofty plateau among the NFL’s top teams, then stayed there. Neither his predecessor nor his successors can say that, and it’s time to acknowledge the common thread here: If you’re not one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, which Reid is, there’s a way that things are going to go for you when you coach the Eagles under Lurie.
Ray Rhodes was the NFL’s coach of the year in 1995, when the Eagles went 10-6 and won a playoff game. The team went 10-6 in his second season, too. Then the Eagles went 9-22-1 over his final two seasons, including a 3-13 embarrassment in 1998, before Lurie fired him.
Chip Kelly was 10-6 in 2013, and the Eagles won the NFC East. They were 10-6 in 2014 but missed the playoffs. After Lurie gave in to Kelly’s power play, the Eagles went 6-9 under Kelly in 2015 before Lurie, fed up, fired him.
Now, there’s Pederson, and though he reached the one incandescent goal that his mentor never could here – winning a championship – he has proved to be no better than Rhodes or Kelly in avoiding the inevitable regression, complete with the instability at quarterback. For Rhodes, it was Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer, and Bobby Hoying. For Kelly, it was Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford. For Pederson, it’s 2017 Wentz, 2018-19 Wentz, and 2020 Wentz – with Jalen Hurts waiting for his turn.
Understand: What’s happening with the Eagles now is predictable – not Wentz’s descent into confusion and the baffling nature of his poor play, but the logical presumption that his descent will cost Pederson his job. It’s true that, for a couple of weeks now, Pederson has been answering questions and calling plays and making decisions like a man who either wants to be fired or has a pretty good feeling he’s about to be. There’s a reason for that. He had to know that, ultimately, that victory in Super Bowl LII would buy him only so much time, because Lurie was grading him on an additional scale, one that, in the eyes of an NFL owner, is often more important than victory in the only NFL game played each February.
Pederson’s primary assignment was to develop and protect Lurie’s most prized asset: Wentz. When an NFL owner pours $128 million into a player who is supposed to be the face of his franchise, who is supposed to be a star for a long time, that owner wants his money’s worth. Pederson’s job was to make sure that Wentz justified Lurie’s investment, just as Reid had years ago with Donovan McNabb, and it looks more and more like Pederson hasn’t done what was required of him.
You can blame him. You can blame Wentz’s recklessness and plain bad luck for the injuries that have hampered him. You can blame Howie Roseman for his failure to draft well enough to surround Wentz with enough talent to succeed – and every one of DK Metcalf’s 10 catches and 177 yards Monday was a painful reminder of Roseman’s failure in that regard. At some point, though, you have to ask why the pattern remains a pattern. It is Lurie who insists that the Eagles, at all times, pursue a throw-throw-throw, score-score-score strategy, regardless of their offensive personnel. It was Lurie who reportedly undercut Pederson after last season when it came to retaining some assistant coaches. (Has Mike Groh gotten his apology yet?) It is Lurie who wants the Eagles to be seen as a smart, trendy football operation, always ahead of the curve, and who has trusted himself and Roseman most in creating that perception.
“My approach has always been to have weekly dialogue, weekly involvement with all aspects of our operation, and at the same time have enough respect and trust in our head coach, general manager, to let them make the decisions,” Lurie said late August, just before this season began. “That’s just the way we operate.”
Here are the fruits of that approach: a 3-7-1 record, a quarterback lost, a rethinking necessary. Yes, the Eagles have been here before under Jeffrey Lurie. We’ll see if he has finally learned enough to prevent them, another three or four years from now, from ending up here again.