Lurie willing to gamble to take Eagles from 'good to great'
In March, Jeffrey Lurie said that he was willing to gamble to take the Eagles from "good to great." The Eagles were still nearly five months from the start of the regular season, but an offseason of remarkable change was nearly complete. Lurie had restructured the front office, and the man he placed at the top of the pyramid - Chip Kelly - had taken a blowtorch to a roster that had won 10 games.
In March, Jeffrey Lurie said that he was willing to gamble to take the Eagles from "good to great."
The Eagles were still nearly five months from the start of the regular season, but an offseason of remarkable change was nearly complete. Lurie had restructured the front office, and the man he placed at the top of the pyramid - Chip Kelly - had taken a blowtorch to a roster that had won 10 games.
The Eagles have still not played a meaningful game. They open on Monday night in Atlanta against the Falcons. But they have practiced since April, and since May with the entire squad after the draft. They've gone through training camp. And they've completed a preseason in which they convincingly won three of four games.
Lurie has been there for almost all of it. The Eagles owner lets his football people run the team. But he's been in the NFL for 21 years now. He has to have some inkling of whether Kelly has taken the good team from his first two seasons and made it great, right?
"I have no idea," Lurie said on Friday during an impromptu news conference - his first since March. "I think what we have is a really great culture, really great, hard-working team, very committed group, great summer, excellent preseason, but that doesn't correlate. You've got to play when it's really prime time and the regular season.
"But what the ingredients are look great. It looks wonderful. But now we need to go out and beat Atlanta."
OK, so it wasn't quite "the gold standard," or Joe Banner's "best roster in football," or even Vince Young's "dream team." For Lurie's purposes, he did well not to raise already-lofty expectations for a team that hasn't won a playoff game under Kelly and a franchise that hasn't won in the postseason in six years.
But, somehow, the Eagles have become one of the trendy Super Bowl picks for prognosticators. Some of the pundits, like Banner, who is now a talking head for ESPN, have links to Philadelphia. But some don't and seem to be basing their predictions on a small sample of preseason snaps with Sam Bradford at quarterback.
"It's just noise to me. It doesn't really impact me," Lurie said, before he paraphrased a popular Bill Belichick saying: "I'm on to Atlanta."
Five months ago, some of those same people - minus Banner, who has been on the bandwagon from the beginning - were calling Kelly reckless. At the very least, they were forecasting a boom or bust season after Kelly swapped LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Evan Mathis, and Nick Foles, among others, for DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, Bradford, and others.
Lurie acknowledged the potential risks with integrating so many players at crucial spots. Overall, the Eagles added 15 new players to their 53-man roster.
"You're always going to have 12-16 new players," Lurie said. "We have them in certain really key positions. They're major players in the league. How do you integrate them right away? What's the chemistry going to be? It's been superb."
The most important assimilation has come at quarterback. It was slow going at first as the Eagles eased Bradford back from the second torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. But when he got rolling in camp and, most impressively, in two preseason games, Bradford looked everything Kelly said he could be.
"Everything you'd want as a quarterback and as a face of the franchise, potentially," Lurie said.
Potentially. The Eagles tried to extend Bradford before the preseason, but the window on getting a team-friendly deal closed when he completed all 10 passes at the Packers. It is possible talks could resume as the season progresses and if Bradford remains healthy.
Lurie hasn't had a "franchise" quarterback since Donovan McNabb. He understands the relationship between winning and having one - "The scarcest resource in the league is having a franchise quarterback," he said - but he wasn't yet ready to deem Bradford his next.
"It's a sport riddled with injuries to quarterbacks, from Tom Brady to Peyton Manning to Drew Brees to Sam," Lurie said, skipping the fact that Brady and Manning won Super Bowls before their one-season injuries, or that all three have had significantly longer careers and haven't missed nearly as many games as Bradford. "You just hope you have some luck."
As for his initial January gamble, stripping former general manager Howie Roseman of his player-personnel responsibilities and handing them to Kelly and vice president of player personnel Ed Marynowitz, Lurie said the communication between the three has been "fantastic."
"It's been that seamless overlay of player personnel and coaching we hoped for," Lurie said.
Roseman may think differently. It's difficult to know for certain - he hasn't given an interview since his demotion. He hasn't been anywhere near as visible as he was before. He's technically still in charge of the salary cap, but team and league sources have said that his connection to football operations is minimal at best.
"He does a lot," Lurie said of Roseman. "He's in charge of all the salary-cap management, the negotiations, a lot of strategic initiatives. He's also very responsible for a lot of the decisions we made in terms of choosing a head coach, player personnel."
Choosing Kelly and overseeing player personnel were past accomplishments, though. If Lurie's gamble nets that elusive title, he likely won't need Roseman to help him search for another coach.