Sunday, April 4, 2010

Are the Philadelphia Eagles About to Become the New Lions?

Denver Broncos v Philadelphia Eagles

The winds of change continue to gust throughout Lincoln Financial Field. With the team now handing franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins and the ongoing purge of accomplished veterans, the Philadelphia Eagles are clearly transitioning away from the most successful period in team history.

Figuratively, it is like watching a historic statue being slowly chiseled to pieces and then taking a sledgehammer to it to finish off the job.

It all begs to ask the question whether the Philadelphia Eagles are about to become the NFL's new Detroit Lions?

Many have asserted that the team is in a rebuilding phase; however, that would presume the organization has the ability to construct something worthwhile out of the growing pile of rubble. Closer examination of the situation leads me to believe that this notion is highly presumptuous and probably unrealistic.

Although the trade of the best quarterback in franchise history and the outright release of one of the organization's all-time greatest running backs has drawn the most attention, the chisel has chipped away at many different places over the past few years.

Gone are many of the individuals that played leading roles in the most prosperous decade in franchise history. Furthermore, there is little evidence to suggest that viable successors have been put in place or are about to be acquired.

When stepping back away from the individual transactions to take a look at the big picture, there is ample reason to believe that the team is about to become one of the NFL's perennial doormats.

The gale force winds of change that have blustered through "The Linc" have pounded all areas of the organization. And the owner, much like that of the Detroit Lions, appears to be operating on blind faith that his top lieutenants have a plan and know what they are doing.

Additionally, this offseason's activity suggests that the team is more interested in the bottom line than winning a Super Bowl. With the minimum payroll requirement not in play due to the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, it looks like the Eagles have chosen to purge salary and forego any substantial expenditures on established free agents.

The recent contract renewal of president Joe Banner further signals a shift of power his way. Although Andy Reid frequently reminds everyone that he has full control of personnel decisions, that may be less true than ever in the past.

When former GM Tom Heckert departed in January to join the moribund Cleveland Browns organization to take on the same role, the Eagles elected to promote young Howie Roseman to fill this position. Besides his minimal experience, the fact that he does not come from a football background, but rather a legal background, signals that contracts and finances are the top priorities in the organization.

As Banner's protégé, Roseman would seem to provide the team president with the necessary tie-breaking vote in the team's three-headed monster governing body.

There have also been very substantial changes in regard to the coaching staff. Most notably, the Eagles lost one of the NFL's great defensive coordinators prior to last season with the passing of Jim Johnson. Youthful Sean McDermott performed reasonably well stepping into those very large shoes, but is it even realistic to expect that he will approach the mastery of his predecessor?

Surely, Johnson was a huge component of the team's success in the Andy Reid era. He was considered a pioneer by many throughout the league that is rarely replaced. Although I would hate to tag McDermott at this point, I can't help but think of Bill Walsh and George Seifert.

On the other side of the ball, Marty Mornhinweg took over as offensive coordinator prior to the 2006 season. Despite his man crush on Brett Favre, predecessor Brad Childress certainly seems to be a notch or three above Mornhinweg. Other notable losses over the past few years include John Harbaugh and Steve Spagnuolo.

And, last but not least, the team is about to turn over the last of the key contributors in this era on the field. Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Brian Westbrook, Shawn Andrews, Sheldon Brown and now Donovan McNabb have all exited.

Even casual followers of the team know that these players formed the core foundation of the Eagles success. Those closer to the team also know that this is pretty much (sans one) the team's "who's who" list of leaders in the locker room and in the heat of competition.

In their place, the Eagles have brought in players such as Michael Vick, Asante Samuel, Jason Peters, and Stacy Andrews— none of which seem to be the type of personalities or role models to emerge as leaders on a winning football team.

The Eagles overcame adversity in 2009 to find themselves sitting atop the NFC Eastern division with an 11-4 record before their infamous collapse in Dallas in successive weeks. The crash ending seemed to highlight some clear weaknesses that the team needed to address in order to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Instead—Reid, Banner, and Roseman have elected to dismantle the squad by dumping veteran salaries. What appeared to be a team with a few holes that could be addressed with a free-agent signing and a solid draft, is shaping up to be a bottom feeder in the NFL.

Many have looked on in wonderment as team management has banged away on the chisels hoping that there is a grand master plan. Every day that passes further erodes my confidence that there are any blueprints that will win anything other than great financial returns.

At the top, decision-making is being led by two non-football guys and the same coach that comes under heavy criticism for his strategic approaches, game planning, in game management, and lack of transparency. Is it reasonable to assume that he is otherwise a genius as a part-time general manager/personnel director?

Or, is it more likely that the club's success in his tenure has been the collective work of a talented core in the personnel department, coaching staff, and on the field?

It is my belief that it is the latter. This situation is further compounded by the somewhat subtle shift towards placing a premium on managing the purse strings.

A realistic assessment of the Eagles' roster, especially with McNabb traded, shows the team is seriously devoid of star power and leadership.

DeSean Jackson will be the biggest name remaining on the offense, but seems much more likely to become a diva than a team leader. Also, the longevity of the output of a slightly built wide receiver who needs to make his living on short slants across the middle without a quarterback capable of throwing the deep ball is in question.

Asante Samuel is the most prominent name on defense, but is pretty much a one-dimensional ball hawk cornerback. Players such as Stewart Bradley, Brent Celek, Jeremy Maclin, and Trent Cole are promising.

All in all, what is left after the purge would seem to less resemble the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints or Cowboys— and be a closer match to the Detroit Lions. Slowly, but surely, the difference makers are disappearing.

From this vantage point, it appears that there will be little NFL excitement in Philadelphia for some time to come. And, unfortunately, that is really saying something coming from someone who has always taken a "glass half full" perspective on Philly sports teams.

This is enormously frustrating considering the wasted potential over the past 10 years and now fans are looking at going back to square one. Whether it was limiting the team by steadfastly refusing to improve the NFL's worst receiving corps or make any adjustments in approach, it seems that it all could have turned out much differently.

So—who's the top player projected for the 2011 draft?

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