There weren't a whole lot of Eagles entering this dismal, uncertain offseason who looked back on 2015 and said, "Gee, that went pretty well." But there were a few. The ill wind that blew through the organization as it fell from high expectation to low performance did manage to fill the sails of some lucky players.
Everyone's list would be different, and if you care to mention Darren Sproles or Zach Ertz, or even Walter Thurmond or Bennie Logan, feel free to add them to your list. Here are the top five guys on my list. They benefited in different ways, but in a season of losing, these players were clearly winners.
Malcolm Jenkins. He played a number of roles for the Eagles' sagging defense and he played all of them well. He was often employed near the line of scrimmage in slot coverage or as a mini-linebacker. Jenkins led the team in tackles (120) and solo tackles (92), and he showed up every game.
What made the safety's season special, however, was his emerging role as leader and spokesman for the locker room. He came into the year defending Chip Kelly's offseason moves - particularly against the perception that they were racially motivated - but he wasn't afraid to criticize some of Kelly's methods, particularly the balkanized meetings that kept the secondary from knowing what the linebackers were doing. By the end of the season, Jenkins had risen to almost the stature of a Brian Dawkins among his teammates. (I said almost.)
In any case, heading into the final year of his three-year contract, his play and his persona make bringing him back a no-brainer, even though the team would save $5.5 million if it did not. Moving forward without Jenkins simply isn't an option, and he might even get an extension to prevent a dive into 2017 free agency.
Sam Bradford. After a slow start, and despite missing two games in the middle of the season with a non-throwing-shoulder injury and concussion, Bradford had a great year. Number one, he had zero problems with his twice-repaired left knee, and that was the big question he had to answer for the Eagles and other teams around the league.
Bradford set a franchise record by completing 65 percent of his passes, despite having limited weapons and playing in a goofy system that limited his ability to audible. In his last seven starts, Bradford completed 68.2 percent of his passes and his yards per attempt jumped from 6.45 to 7.59. He closed out the season with a 30-for-38, 320-yard performance against the Giants that represented the highest single-game completion percentage (78.9) in Eagles history for 30 or more attempts. Not a bad finish for an unrestricted free agent.
Whether here or somewhere else, Bradford will be a starting quarterback in 2016, and he will be getting paid. Neither of those things were certain when the 2015 season began.
Fletcher Cox. Like all young players who develop quickly, Cox was a bargain for the Eagles for four seasons. The team has already picked up his 2016 option for $7.8 million, but the defensive end could be a free agent in 2017. After the monstrous season he had, that won't happen.
Cox finished with 91/2 sacks and 32 hurries, but his value was far greater than just what he brought as a pass rusher. He disrupted the line of scrimmage and forced opponents to double-team him constantly. If the defense had been better overall, or not gassed by the 72 plays it faced every week (NFL average: 58), Cox's effect would have been even greater. As it was, he still had a great season.
Jordan Hicks. This might seem an odd selection, since Hicks was lost to a pectoral injury midway through the season, but, man, was this ever a great year for the rookie. Consider: If inside linebackers DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, and Kiko Alonso had not suffered injuries, Hicks wouldn't have played a down on defense. He was slotted as a special-teams player and nothing else.
When he got his chance, Hicks stepped in and looked like a veteran right away. In his first start, he had a team-high 14 tackles against the Jets, intercepted a pass, and recovered a fumble. In the last of his five starts, Hicks returned an interception for a touchdown, but that was also the game in which he suffered his season-ending injury. The most incredible stat regarding Jordan Hicks? The Eagles were 4-1 in his starts.
His big payoff is a couple of seasons down the road, but the reward next season will be in playing time, and he's going to get a lot of that.
Caleb Sturgis. This is more on a personal level than a team level, because the Eagles are just as likely to bring back injured Cody Parkey next season, but Sturgis earned himself an NFL job in 2015. Sturgis arrived, along with a bunch of other hopefuls who travel the country in a pickup with a bag of footballs; survived a tryout; survived a shaky first game; and became steadier as the season progressed.
Sturgis made 30 straight point-after conversions in his final 11 games, and missed only one field goal attempt (a 50-yarder) after Nov. 15. Pro-rated for the full season, his percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs was slightly above the league average, and he converted 16 of 18 field-goal attempts inside of 50 yards.
He might not be Stephen Gostkowski, but Sturgis is an NFL kicker. Of course, without a dime of guaranteed money for 2016, he'll have to prove it all over again. Some team will sign him up before training camp, however, and, for one year, he can take the bag of balls out of the pickup.
Looking back fondly on 2015 won't be a popular pastime around here, but for those guys, even if they celebrate it quietly, that was definitely the case.