Reigning Super Bowl champions. That’s quite the title to head into a new season with. Whether or not a franchise avoid the dreaded ‘Super Bowl hangover’ often dictates how the next few years will pan out. Truth be told, there may be no team better prepared to make the big dance in 2018. It’s year three for Doug Pederson and his star quarterback, Carson Wentz and a lot has changed since the moment he first walked into the NovaCare Complex. But that doesn’t mean old habits won’t die hard.
In his first year as Eagles Head Coach, Doug Pederson had quite a lot on his plate. From a quarterback controversy that led to Sam Bradford missing voluntary workouts and an eventual trade that changed the landscape of the team just days before the season opener, to seeing Nigel Bradham endure two arrests, Nelson Agholor face a sexual assault allegation and the most dominant defensive tackle in football holding out for a big payday.
It was life after spring where things became difficult however. Franchise right tackle Lane Johnson had been hit with a four-game suspension for his second PED substance violation, meaning that the Birds were going to be without arguably their most important cog on the offensive line…the question was, when?
It’s almost absurd to think then that one year later, the Eagles didn’t have a single drama. In their Super Bowl winning season, there were no off-the-field controversies. There were no arrests. No strange or questionable actions from players. The players kept their head down, avoided distractions and left it all out on the field. Having talent is one thing, nurturing that is a very different task and often where most fail.
During the course of the 2017 season, the Eagles didn’t have a 1,000 yard receiver. No 1,000 yard rusher. No 10+ sack artist. No lockdown cornerback. Just a humble and hungry locker room who are willing to go to the ends of the earth for one another.
Sustaining that culture then should be easy, right? With limited cap space and draft capital, Howie Roseman waded the offseason waters surgically…or so it seemed. Michael Bennett would become a headline acquisition, with the three-time Pro Bowler bolstering the trenches with versatility and explosiveness. This move prompted the Eagles to feel comfortable enough in letting Vinny Curry go, shedding his huge cap hit and going all in on a veteran presence while focusing attention on developing talent through the draft. That was until he was arrested.
Bennett came with red flags. The arrest following the alleged Super Bowl 51 assault was not his first run in with the law, nor the first time he’s made headlines. With the support of Malcolm Jenkins and company, the Eagles are an outspoken team who let their voices on issues that matter to them be heard. It’s what makes the franchise so different. There is no locker room divide over protests of social injustice, but instead an owner who takes to the field with his players to unite them in their belief. However, red flags with the law are always worth noting…and Howie Roseman knew the risk he was taking.
Most recently, Daryl Worley was arrested. The second Eagle in less than month to be arrested by police, the cornerback was found passed out in a car at 6AM by Police, when he became combative. A gun was also recovered at the scene and Worley was indicted. His career with the Eagles came to a sharp end before it had a chance to start.
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Many are overlooking this because of the nature in which Worley was acquired. Traded to the Eagles in exchange for Torrey Smith who carried a much heavier cap number, Worley was regarded as a talent with upside who could have a hat in the mix to become the team’s new starting nickel corner. But again, Howie Roseman knew what he was getting into.
Why would the Panthers trade a 23-year old corner on a rookie deal, for a 29-year old wideout with a hefty cap hit who the team were probably going to release anyway?
There was a concern that Worley, a native of the city, would be more prone to find trouble because of his homely surroundings.
Actually the expression used RE Worley was, “He liked the nightlife.”
— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 15, 2018
After Panthers traded Worley, team source told me part of it was concern over his focus/commitment. https://t.co/djfYclpvJN
— Joe Person (@josephperson) April 15, 2018
Now, this is of course a little odd to surface nearly a month after the trade, but again, character checks are always key. With something like this where the trade seems so lopsided, there’s a reason why Carolina were so quick to pull the trigger.
While the likes of Haloti Ngata, Richard Rodgers, Paul Worrilow or Mike Wallace have all contrasted the negative connotations associated with the Eagles offseason moves, this has to serve as a stark warning.
The Philadelphia Eagles have become a team who pride themselves on culture. Being the underdog, going against all odds and eliminating all unnecessary distractions has been the name of the game. The days of Josh Huff and Dorial Green-Beckham are long gone and the team simply cannot afford to let complacency or controversy set in at any stage. It has been a tireless rebuild to shift a culture from a fragmented mess left behind by Chip Kelly, to a well-oiled, fantastically coached and unified machine.
The future of Michael Bennet remains uncertain and the Eagles were lucky in the way that Worley was acquired as they won’t experience any dead cap space. But this has to serve as a red warning. Red flags are simply too risky at this stage in a wondrous new era.
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports