Les Bowen: Start of something big?
Vick's 'dynasty' talk not so far-fetched in light of Eagles' forward-thinking moves
IT'S EASY TO sneer at Michael Vick's unfortunate use of the word "dynasty" in a Comcast SportsNet interview the other day.
It would have been very much preferable for the Eagles' quarterback to avoid inviting national abuse, just 1 year after Vince Young gave his teammates the "Dream Team" label to lug around through a 4-8 start.
But however ill-timed and excessive his declaration might have seemed, Vick was trying to get at something important when he said, "I think we have a chance to develop a dynasty."
This offseason began with major questions about the future of Eagles coach Andy Reid and of Vick, who is Reid's reclamation project. The departure of team president Joe Banner seems to have eased the pressure on Reid, entering his 14th season in charge. The pressure remains intense on Vick, 32, whose contract is structured so he can easily be cut or traded after this season. But if you're Vick and you believe in yourself, you might be more focused on the fact that 13 key Eagles starters are signed at least through 2015, as well as recent high defensive draft picks Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, who aren't starters yet.
Some observers have interpreted a flurry of offseason Eagles moves as an attempt to give Reid one last, best chance to win a Super Bowl, and the Birds (currently at 10-1 odds) seem to be a trendy pick among pundits, in an NFC that features several well-stocked teams, including the defending champion New York Giants. But most of the Eagles' moves are structured to resonate well beyond 2012; if the Birds don't win it all this time, it sure doesn't seem like general manager Howie Roseman expects to fire his coach and blow up the team. (For the record, Roseman said Thursday in an interview with the Daily News that whether Reid gets a new contract this offseason "is not anything I'm involved in, but I feel very fortunate to work with him.")
"When you look at winning organizations, they have a core group of players, most of them that were drafted by the team, that they build with and they commit to," Roseman said. "That was very important to us, to commit to our core group of players and sustain some success moving forward." He said that was his top priority when the offseason began.
Later in the interview, Roseman reiterated how last season's 8-8 disappointment "wasn't good enough for any of us," and said: "I don't think you get the sense around this building that people are cocky. But at the same time, there's a togetherness . . . I think they want to get started and work hard and do whatever it takes to maximize their potential. I think it's a team that has the ability to stay together for a little bit because we have a lot of guys under contract and we're basically a young team."
Roseman, not Banner, now is the face of the front office, as Eagles rookies and select vets prepare to gather for training camp at Lehigh on Sunday, with the full squad scheduled to be in the fold by Wednesday night. He isn't interested in ripping his mentor, but players perceive a different tone in Roseman, as guard Todd Herremans noted in March, after he signed a 3-year contract extension believed to be worth about $21 million. Though the Eagles are still more than $15 million under the salary cap as camp opens, Roseman spent a lot of offseason money to eliminate locker-room distractions like the DeSean Jackson 2011 poutathon. Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Trent Cole, Evan Mathis and Herremans all have new deals or extensions.
"The Eagles have been known for a while as a team that doesn't take care of their draft picks and pays everyone else's picks and players," Herremans said. "I think they're trying to change that stigma."
"I thought it was an opportunity for me to put my own spin on things here," Roseman said, when asked if he was trying to change locker-room perceptions of the organization. "It was important to our football team to commit to the players who have been through it with us, and some of the guys who we've drafted . . . who felt like it was their time, and we agree."
Asked what people might see from him that's different from what has gone before, Roseman said: "There's a lot of banter [with players]. I'm very appreciative of what they do for our football team. It's important for me to show them that we appreciate them. Not that that hasn't been done in the past, but that's something that's a priority of mine."
The Jackson deal might have represented the biggest break with the past. Jackson acknowledged he let concern over the lack of a deal affect his performance last season, as he posted his fewest receiving yards (961) since his rookie year, and the worst punt return stats of his career (6.8-yard average, no touchdowns). The Eagles franchised him and he indicated he was fine with that. The easiest (and maybe most prudent) thing would have been to let Jackson play under the tag in 2012, then revisit a longer-term deal. But Roseman signed Jackson to a 5-year, $47 million deal, with about $15 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.
"We wanted to show him our commitment to him was as strong as we felt his commitment was to the game," Roseman said. "He's part of our core group going forward . . . We all perform better when we feel wanted. I think he's primed to come to camp and work hard and have a productive season."
But Roseman knew he wasn't going to get the Eagles back into Super Bowl contention just by making current players happy. There were holes to fill, as well. Everyone who watched the team in 2011 realized it needed a more dynamic middle linebacker. Fans thought the answer might come from the draft, which featured Boston College's Luke Kuechly.
"It was very important we get a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball," Roseman said. "We had an opportunity to look at the draft prospects, to look at the possibilities in free agency. What we really wanted was someone who had done it before, who had taken a team, really primarily a young team on the defensive side of the ball, and molded it into his own image, and had some success."
The Eagles noted, in their review of other teams' scheme changes, that Ryans had struggled with Houston's switch to a 3-4. They approached the Texans and got a two-time Pro Bowl performer, who turns 28 July 28, for a fourth-round draft pick and a flip-flopping of third-round selections.
Another huge hole suddenly appeared out of nowhere one Tuesday, when Roseman fielded a couple of phone calls as he returned from the NFL owners' meetings. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters had torn his right Achilles'. Roseman had already spoken with Demetress Bell's agent, Ted Marchibroda, just because the Eagles ranked Bell, who had replaced Peters in Buffalo, atop their list of still-available free agents, and it never hurts to touch base. That conversation ended after Marchibroda correctly pointed out that the Eagles had no place to play Bell. A few days later, they did.
"Things changed quickly when Jason got hurt," Roseman said. "I guess we were fortunate at least that we put a little bug in [Bell's] ear, that we had some interest in him."
The April draft might have done more than anything else to create the perception that the Eagles are well-stocked for more than just the immediate future. It's hard to name an NFL team that extracted a more promising haul from the first two rounds than defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and defensive end Vinny Curry. Some of it was luck – Roseman reiterated Thursday that they never expected Cox to drop past the top 10, and the Eagles weren't willing to spend a second- or third-round pick to move into the top 10 from their spot at 15th overall. But they were able to trade fourth- and sixth-rounders along with the 15th pick to Seattle to move up to 12 to get a 21-year-old disrupter who arrives as the most highly touted defensive draftee of the Reid era.
Roseman was surprisingly open earlier in the offseason about draft mistakes he felt he'd made his first 2 years on the job. He admitted reaching for need and getting burned, and vowed that would not happen again.
"We were so determined [to win a championship], and we got in the moment of trying to do that, and it's hard – when you see or perceive a hole, you want to fill it right away," Roseman said Thursday. He said studying successful drafts, of other teams and of the Eagles, hammered home the point that you take the best player. "This game is so fluid," he said. "Two or three years from now, you don't know what you're going to need . . . You get into this role and you think it's all going to come quick. Some things you've got to learn. That was a great lesson for me."
Going 8-8 after last summer's free-agent spending spree was another lesson, one Roseman thinks everyone at NovaCare has taken to heart.
Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.eagletarian.com.