BY VIRTUALLY all accounts, we are days away from the end of the Andy Reid era of Eagles football. Someday in the future, when all the angst over missed opportunities and blown drafts has subsided, people will speak of this time as an amazing run of success, and Reid as a consistent winner, albeit not of the ultimate prize.
What is less certain is how history will record the man who hired him, amid the boast of a "gold standard" that now hangs over every move and public appearance Jeffrey Lurie makes, and the many he does not make, as well.
Joe Banner is gone. Now, if the owner's preseason directive becomes reality, Andy Reid will be, too. Jeffrey Lurie's two greatest buffers, the evil architect and the fan-unfriendly coach, will not be there next season, or even for this draft, as his human shields. In their place will be Howie Roseman and whoever is hired to replace Reid, and it is those two who likely determine how Lurie will be perceived by future Eagles generations.
Does he know what he is doing? Or did the business acumen of Banner and the lunch-pail success of Reid hide the reputation he built in his previous incarnation as a recurrent producer of motion-picture and television bombs?
Did Lurie stick this long with Reid out of loyalty or in fear of the uncertainty he now faces? Will Roseman dictate the new hire? Or will the existence of a young, inexperienced general manager limit the choices and/or impede the process?
People see the inevitable firing/forced resignation of Reid sometime next week as an act of finality. In truth, that probably happened during the fourth-quarter meltdown against the Lions in Week 6, and the events that occurred afterward.
As if seeking to salve a mysterious disease, Reid fired his good friend, Juan Castillo, as his defensive coordinator and promoted Todd Bowles. We know now, or at least have a good hint, that the illness all along was the wide-nine strategy employed by overvalued and overempowered defensive-line coach Jim Washburn, a strategy that encouraged, if not embraced, a divisive, me-first attitude that created disharmony among both players and coaches.
By the end, it all seemed so un-Reidlike, so Ray Rhodes-esque or even Rich Kotite-esque. Right to the end, players pledged their lives to their embattled head coach - then went out and played dead. It wasn't so much that they lost, but how they did it. Recurring fumbles, missed wide-open receivers, annoying penalties along both lines suggested a team lacking in fundamentals. It is telling that one of its greatest successes over the last few weeks was in not jumping offside on fourth-and-1 against the Redskins on Sunday.
We can never know how much of Reid's success was due to the riverboat defenses of Jim Johnson or the undeniable athleticism of Donovan McNabb, but he clearly has never come close to replacing either. Those who predict great success for him elsewhere continually overlook this, as they do the fact that he is no longer among the NFL's young guns but rather the old salts.
Lurie has made two head-coaching hires since parlaying his personal wealth into NFL ownership in 1994. His hire of Rhodes, one of only two black head coaches in the NFL at the time and only the fourth ever at the time, suggested a risk-taking - perhaps even innovative - owner, and the nobler aspects of Lurie's ownership in terms of charity and the environment suggest a soul beneath the smile.
But in terms of football? His 2003 "gold standard" claim was clearly based on the successes of the past and present, and not any projection of the future. The West Coast offense, a phrase coined during Bill Walsh's successful days with the San Francisco 49ers, has mutated over Reid's tenure to the point that nearly every NFL team now runs some form of a pass-first offense.
It is no longer a golden ticket into a Super Bowl - if it ever was. Since Reid's hire, teams have been led to Super Bowl triumphs by as many tepid offenses attached to dominant defenses as the other way around.
You could look it up.
So it will be interesting to see where Lurie gets his next coach from, and what kind of risks he takes this time around. College coach? Because of more complicated systems, it's no longer the recipe for disaster it once was. Well-thought-of coordinator? Well, whether you're talking about Steve Spagnuolo or Todd Haley, there are plenty of misses there, too.
The only certainty is he will be on the clock the moment Reid no longer is. This time, the time is all his. And we will judge him not by what has already happened, but where it all goes from here.
On Twitter: @samdonnellon