Eagles fans don’t like to remember or make reference to the 2011 NFL season.
There are many Eagles seasons that fit that description, to be sure, but 2011 ranks right up there in its everlasting distaste. Once the league and the players’ association agreed on a collective bargaining agreement in August of that year, ending a 132-day lockout, Howie Roseman, Andy Reid, and the team’s brain trust treated free agency as if they happened to be alone in a supermarket at the moment the clerks restocked the shelves with hand sanitizer and bathroom tissue.
They spent and spent and spent, and much of what they bought, they couldn’t possibly use. They thought they had built – in the infamous words of one of their signees, Vince Young – a “dream team.” What they got instead was an 8-8 mediocrity, one of the most ballyhooed and disappointing clubs in franchise history, and the beginning of the end of Reid’s tenure with the team.
Here’s the thing about that failed experiment, though. If you’ve already begun establishing expectations for the 2020 Eagles – and once the team traded for cornerback Darius Slay on Thursday morning, it’s a safe bet you got out of bed and changed out of your PJs so you could spend the rest of your day establishing some expectations for the 2020 Eagles – 2011 ought to be your primary reference point.
Not because Roseman will go buck-wild Nnamdi-style again, but because that 2011 offseason featured similar conditions and circumstances to this one. It presented a particular set of challenges, just like this one does, and based on those challenges, you and I and everyone else should probably temper our hopes and expectations for these Eagles, just like we should have tempered them for those Eagles.
The first of those challenges is one that the Eagles created for themselves, independent of any external league-related factors or societal crises: They have to construct a roster around a franchise quarterback with a new, expensive contract.
In August 2011, just weeks after the lockout ended and the CBA went into effect, the Eagles signed Michael Vick to a six-year extension that could have been worth as much as $100 million. That new contract, according to the database OvertheCap.com, bumped up Vick’s salary-cap hits to $14.4 million for 2011 and $13.9 million for 2012 – figures that don’t seem exorbitant now, in the wake of rapid salary escalation among quarterbacks, but were more cumbersome then, when the per-team cap number was around $120 million.
Vick’s extension was part of a whole lot of check-writing – Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Young – that Jeffrey Lurie, Roseman, and Reid did at that time. Though the presence and the need to pay a franchise quarterback again is informing the Eagles’ approach, their tactics are and have to be different now.
They want to get younger, and getting younger necessarily means relying on less-expensive players, whether those players are recent draft picks such as Miles Sanders and Andre Dillard, undrafted free agents such as Greg Ward, or the prospects the team will select in this year’s draft. And one of the reasons, maybe the reason, the Eagles need to rely on those players is that Carson Wentz agreed to a four-year contract extension in June.
Wentz’s cap number jumps from $18.7 million in 2020 to more than $34 million in 2021 and stays above $31.2 million each of the subsequent three years, per OvertheCap. As much as the NFL salary cap will increase over time under the just-signed CBA, it’s unlikely the Eagles will be able to acquire, either through free agency or via trades, as many pricey veterans as they could while Wentz was on his rookie contract.
That transition of strategy, from the busy free-agency periods since Roseman’s return to power in 2016 to this slower one, is already happening, and it leads to a second challenge that the Eagles faced in 2011 and face now: Circumstances will have reduced the time, opportunity, and resources available to them to prepare for the season. The lockout led to a free-for-all of player acquisitions and a mad rush to get ready for Week 1, and the coronavirus pandemic has forced the league to close all its teams’ facilities for two weeks and cancel next month’s team activities.
Even if we’re fortunate enough to get the outbreak under (relative) control and allow our institutions to return to their (somewhat) normal operations and routines, every team’s schedule is already compressed. Those younger players on whom the Eagles will be counting will have less time to get ready, and Doug Pederson and his staff will have less time to get them ready.
That promises to be a complication for any team and for the Eagles in particular, and everyone should take it into consideration before getting his or her hopes too high.
Of course, if – after a spring and summer of canceled and postponed competitions and disrupted baseball, basketball, and hockey seasons – the NFL manages to begin the 2020 season on schedule or close to it, football fans, especially the ones around here, won’t be inclined to temper anything.