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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Philadelphia Eagles' Big Off-Season

Questions abound:

1. Will owner Jeffrey Lurie fire Andy Reid?
2. If the answer to question 1 is no, will Jeffrey Lurie make Reid choose between being the GM and the head coach?
3. If the answer to question 1 is no, will Andy Reid fire or demote defensive coordinator Juan Castillo?
4. If the answer to question 3 is yes, will perhaps soon-to-be-former Rams head coach, former Giants' defensive coordinator and former Eagles' linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo become the Eagles' defensive coordinator?
5. Will the DeSean Jackson return to the Eagles?
6. Will the Eagles demand that highly paid QB Michael Vick learn how to slide (unbelievably, he dissed the concept of sliding at a recent post-game press conference, hubris to the initiated because the odds are that if he continues his bold ways he'll become a one-dimensional cardboard cutout propped up on the sidelines and talked of in the "he coulda been a contender" type of way)?
7. Will the Eagles get some leaders who set the tone for the team?
8. Will Asante Samuel return?
9. Will the Eagles get some linebackers?

There are probably more questions than that, but those are the big ones. Lurie is loyal to Reid, and one of the fundamental issues in human resources is that you don't replace someone who has been a good performer unless you can get someone who is better. So, with respect to the biggest question -- the one about Big Red -- who could Lurie get to replace Reid? And before you start that Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher both are available, remember that no coach has won a Super Bowl with two teams (the closest were Dick Vermeil and Bill Parcells). So, if you want an up-and-comer, the best one in a while coaches in San Francisco, and it's hard to say whether Nick Saban would succeed or not. After all, some coordinators for legends have failed, and some relative lesser knowns (Mike McCarthy) have succeeded. So, the bet here is that Reid stays -- gulp -- in both roles.

That leaves an open question about the defense. It's hard to see Castillo remaining, and it would be interesting to find out whether, if Reid were to remain, that a condition was to fire Castillo and hire a veteran defensive coordinator (Jack Del Rio, the deposed Jaguars' coach, also is available). The bet here is that the Eagles have a new defensive coordinator.

Jackson will return, Samuel will go, Vick will learn how to slide for 3 games before forgetting and being turned into one of the pretenders that fought Rocky for the title in Rocky III, and the team will make some moves that will get it some vocal leaders and perhaps a linebacker or two not named Ernie Sims or Takeo Spikes (two guys who were supposed to have the special sauce but failed in Soft Pretzel City). It is hard to believe that for all the money they paid these guys, that neither Nnamdi Asomugha or Michael Vick is a leader. Cullen Jenkins, the DT acquired from Green Bay, is vocal, but the dearth of leaders for such a highly paid squad is striking.

Right now, the Eagles are a disappointing fantasy football team, a team in disarray, a team without any zing and oomph that has enough talent on a given day to beat anyone but a pronounced difficulty to succeed in life's red zone, let alone the NFL's. There are only so many times that you can blow a second half lead before fans will just give up hope that you can close the deal. The Eagles, plain and simple, need finishers. (And I think that DeSean Jackson, for all his warts this year, is one of them, as are Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy).

So the Eagles will play the Redskins this weekend, probably win by two touchdowns, have an 8-8 season, with Reid's trying to take a victory lap of sorts for a strong finish while acknowledging that the failure to make the playoffs starts with him, that it's all his fault and that he failed to do enough before the season to prepare the team for making the playoffs. It will all sound very good, until you do a compare and contrast with teams like the Packers, Saints and 49ers and realize that each of them has twice the giddy up that the Eagles do. Reid and his front office can do all the scouting that they wish, but somehow they miss out on the guys with the "gotta/wanna/have it" as Sal Palantonio of ESPN calls it. (As an aside, they thought that they had one of those guys with 26 year-old first-round pick Danny Watkins of Baylor, who admitted prior to the season that he was overwhelmed. Many fans' responded with a "how hard do they try to find guys like this?").

This season was a train wreck for the Philadelphia Eagles. Normally, I would bet the mortgage money that Jeffrey Lurie would back Andy Reid 100%. But as I write this I have more doubts than ever before. Lurie opened up the checkbook to sign big free agents, gave Michael Vick a big contract, brought in two expensive position coaches in Jim Washburn (defensive line) and Howard Mudd (offensive line) and signed Michael Vick to a big extension. He also acquiesced to permit Reid to hire Castillo as defensive coordinator. In short, he indulged every whim and desire of Andy Reid, with disastrous results. If Lurie were ever to can his beloved head coach, he might be tempted to do so now. It might not be the right move, but it would be a popular one with the fans, most of whom have concluded that while Reid is a good coach, he might not win a Super Bowl, at least not here.

It's funny, when you spend the big bucks, ignore popular wisdom that your perennial shortcomings can bite you (read: this season, safeties, Vick's blind side and linebackers) and you hold yourself out as the team that outfoxed everyone else with respect to having bandwidth for signing free agents after the lockout, that instead of making yourselves the envy of the league, you make yourself the biggest target and the one subject to the most derision when you fail. I hope that in there off-season Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner do a root cause analysis -- with a root cause analysis expert -- as to what went wrong and then begin to fix the team based on that analysis.

And I hope, also, that they get some linebackers, too.

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