A year ago Thursday, the Eagles fired Chip Kelly. They were 6-9 heading into the season finale - as they are this year. Despite the similar records, both seasons have generally been viewed through different lenses.
The 2015 Eagles were expected to contend, at least based off the success of 10-6 teams in the two previous years. But when Kelly's team regressed after a personnel coup, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided that the team was headed in the wrong direction and "the end result was mediocrity."
Lurie said then that he didn't see the Eagles as having to start over or rebuild, though, and mentioned some of the existing talent on the roster. The Eagles certainly attacked the offseason as if they only needed to add several pieces to compete in what was widely considered a wide-open NFC East.
Trading for Carson Wentz and trading away Sam Bradford certainly altered expectations. And few could argue with the moves. They were the best personnel decisions the Eagles made this year. But so much else was done in the interest of winning now, and a good deal of it backfired.
Doug Pederson said it himself on Friday when asked to assess a season that would result in the Eagles failing to make the postseason for the fifth time in the last six years. "Everything was still there right in front of us," the Eagles coach said.
A 3-0 start may have unrealistically raised the bar, but the Eagles were 4-2 after beating the then-5-0 Vikings and 5-4 after topping the playoff-bound Falcons. But a five-game losing streak followed, and with it talk of the future. Pederson wouldn't dare mention the word rebuilding - it's forbidden in the coachspeak handbook - but he often used codes words like "young" and "experience."
And then before the eventual loss to the Ravens on Dec. 18, there was an NFL Network report not to "expect major changes," re: Pederson. The Eagles "knew before the season this was rebuilding. Hope was to build for long-haul."
That certainly wasn't the message before the season, even after Teddy Bridgewater's broken leg fortuitously allowed the Eagles to cover for their Bradford mistake. They would continue to serve two masters even if starting a rookie quarterback suggested that the season would be more about the future.
"It would be a discredit to our veteran players and really our whole football team to discount them and the effort that they've given us," Howie Roseman said on Sept. 3. "We have a lot of talented players on this roster. At the same time, we're trying to build something great."
Roseman obviously had to be careful with his words. The Eagles executive wouldn't have wanted to lower expectations and further alienate veterans on the team. But what he said in September was consistent with what he said in April after he gave up so much to get Wentz.
And up until the trade with the Browns, the Eagles' offseason was consistent with offseasons from their previous five years. The Eagles were making decisions based upon the present. Many of the signings, whether in-house or via free agency, were also designed to nod toward the future. But there were also in the interest of immediacy, some more so than others.
If the Eagles were rebuilding all along, then why ink Bradford to a two-year contract? Why overpay backup quarterback Chase Daniel thinking that he could push Bradford? Why bring back Brent Celek, Jason Peters and Ryan Mathews? Why sign free agents Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens?
Why enter the season with the fifth oldest roster in the NFL?
The Eagles had a roster to fill, and so many draft blunders to cover, that free-agent additions were inevitable. But most of the successful franchises build from within. When the Eagles signed Brandon Brooks and Rodney McLeod to long-term deal they didn't know that a series of moves to land Wentz would forfeit three picks this draft.
Dealing DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso may have been viewed as necessary moves to get Wentz, but the Eagles weakened three positions, especially the first two, in which depth was a season-long problem. Murray, Maxwell and Alonso, whether you agreed with their departures at the time or not, would go on to have what were widely considered strong seasons.
Roseman, thus, helped foster the narrative that his return to personnel supremacy was almost as much about correcting Kelly's errors as anything. And there were certainly plenty of them, but it got to be gratuitous, especially after trading second-year cornerback Eric Rowe.
Kelly royally screwed up last year's top draft pick by selecting Nelson Agholor, but it's not as if Roseman didn't have an opportunity to upgrade the position. Randle and Givens were cut during the preseason and Dorial Green-Beckham has mostly shown why the Titans gave up on their 2015 second-round pick.
Every year in the NFL is precious. Free agency and the salary cap have made rebuilding all but moot.
"Everything happens a lot faster now," Eagles defensive coordinator and former Lions coach Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. "There's no five-year building plan."
The Cowboys went 4-12 in 2016. But they added a rookie quarterback and running back to largely the same group from last season and have gone 13-2. They certainly had more existing talent than the Eagles on offense, but not on defense or special teams.
Wentz, in the end, wasn't close to being the main reason why the Eagles didn't contend. There were a host of issues, prominently the lack of a competent supporting cast.
"That's our job," Roseman said on Nov. 18, "to make sure we're getting a team built around him so that we got a chance to compete."
But can Roseman, who also gave out questionable contracts to homegrown players like Vinny Curry that could hamper further moves, be trusted to construct that roster after yet another season has been painted as rebuilding? Wentz and Pederson's first years will grant him that time, but when will Lurie no longer tolerate "mediocrity?"