The Eagles tried to walk the most difficult NFL tightrope this season as they undertook a modest rebuilding process while attempting to remain fully competitive. It was the right play, with so many core players remaining from the Super Bowl team, and with Carson Wentz still one season removed from eating a substantial portion of the salary cap.
All organizations say the goal is to be a contender every year and the Eagles are no different. The truth, however, is that a roster can be patched and filled for only so long before a major repaving project is necessary. That wasn’t the case for the Eagles this season, but the heavy machinery might be moving into place for the next.
It’s worth remembering that the Eagles didn’t have a bad plan; they just got poor results from their job of executing it. The most-pressing needs were obvious: the running game needed an infusion of talent, the wide receivers were missing a deep threat, both lines required additional depth, and there was a hole at linebacker where discarded Jordan Hicks used to be.
As a result, in the door came Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Andre Dillard, Malik Jackson, Vinny Curry, Zach Brown, and a few other less notables, like Hassan Ridgeway and Andrew Sendejo.
Some were free-agent signings, some came in trades, and some were draft picks. The team didn’t get appreciably younger, but a case could be made that the potholes had been addressed, and another meaningful postseason run was likely.
Well, that didn’t happen. The Eagles hit on less than half their acquisitions and they couldn’t remain consistent when injuries and poor play necessitated changes to the starting lineups.
There are still playoff possibilities for the Eagles somehow, but there’s also a mathematical chance Dallas could lose its final six games and still win the division with a 6-10 record. Not likely, but possible, and that speaks for itself. Whichever of them gets invited to the party, they won’t stay past the hors d’oeuvres.
When the front office takes a sober look at the situation during the coming offseason, the roster-building philosophy should change. The Eagles need to get younger and more talented fast.
It will probably be a two-year process of off-loading assets for cap space or draft picks or both, and it is very likely the team’s performance will suffer before it improves. Putting together another young core, and moving past stalwarts like Jason Peters, who will turn 38 next month, has to happen, or 2019 will repeat itself.
As the saying goes, everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. The Eagles will have to die a little before they can return to the celestial heights of 2017.
There will be veterans on the roster who aren’t keen to go through a true rebuilding. Malcolm Jenkins will turn 33 next season. Brandon Graham will be 32. Will they stay? Will they look to be traded? Will they choose another option?
On that same list is center Jason Kelce, who wrestled with the idea of retirement before this season. He will also turn 33 during the 2020 season. He would leave money on the table if he hung it up this time, but he has already made good money, has just started a family, and is aware of the long-term effects his profession can inflict.
When the locker room door at the NovaCare Complex swung open for media availability on Wednesday, the first since Sunday’s loss to Miami, only a small handful of players were there to accept accountability for the team’s predicament. Kelce was the only “leader” among them.
“You take accountability yourself and you hold others to the same standard, regardless of what’s going on,” he said. “I think weak leaders start pointing fingers when times get tough. Strong leaders …try to lift others up. You’re going to point fingers, but if you hold everyone to the same standards, that’s what accountability is.”
The Eagles have not been performing to anyone’s standards most of the season. It is one thing to not be good enough individually, and another to not do the things necessary to be as good as one can be. From the outside, knowing which has been the bigger problem is impossible, although there have been indications the locker room is divided in some ways.
After the earlier loss to Dallas, tackle Lane Johnson said he expected “a callout session,” to address “little stuff that slides during the week, late to practice, late to meetings, stuff that will be held accountable for.”
We don’t know if that ever happened, or if the call by locker room leadership to straighten things up was heard or ignored. We don’t know if the anonymous sources who questioned the front office and the franchise quarterback were the exceptions or the rule.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said after his October release.
“I don’t feel like there [are] cancers or people who are refusing to do things because they don’t believe in it. That’s when it’s pretty bad,” Kelce said. “It’s been a frustrating season so far. It doesn’t matter what you expected, the reality is what it is, and we’re in the situation we’re in now because of how we’ve played.”
Offensive linemen are the best at separating wishes from reality. Their jobs are too harsh to see the game any other way. Kelce, who delivered the greatest oration in team history, may wish for a return to prominence during his playing lifetime, but that doesn’t cloud the cold calculation of whether it will happen.
Maybe these last few weeks aren’t the end for all of the players at the top of the seniority list, but it is definitely the end for some of them. The stubborn ones may hold on here a little longer. The motivated ones might find another team. One or two may walk away and not look back.
The man who has been at the literal and figurative center of so much for nine seasons probably hasn’t decided yet. That wouldn’t be his way of doing things. But remember to take a good look at him while he’s still here. When he goes, the hole in the team will be bigger than just the one in the middle of the offensive line.