It’s been a transformational offseason for the Philadelphia Eagles. New faces both on and off the field have helped to solidify a clear future and a stern direction for the team, but it hasn’t been all smiles and hope. The Eagles traded away Jordan Matthews to Buffalo in exchange for Ronald Darby and most recently sent veteran LS Jon Dorenbos to New Orleans for a future seventh round pick. Football is a business. Nobody is doubting the logic of the moves. From trading an area of depth and strength to enhance an area of weakness, to seeking value for a veteran long snapper safe in the knowledge that there’s youth and experience on their side, the decisions that drove these trades are hard to question. But the fire that left that locker room, the presence they had and the hearts they touched…it’s something that is bound to affect the team.
It’s not so long ago that we were having this same discussion. Chip Kelly’s fire sale of talent cut the hearts of players, coaches and fans alike. There is a unique bond between Eagles players and their fans, as their is between players in the locker room. Trying to re-invent the wheel with system-talent wasn’t Chip Kelly’s ultimate downfall, but it didn’t help. The team were crushed by the Detroit Lions in the heart of his final season that was followed by players becoming reluctant to speak and a press conference that lacked leadership. For Doug Pederson, he will be tested now more than ever…and it’s something he’s ready for.
“Yeah, it can definitely affect the team.” Pederson told the media following the Dorenbos trade. “It’s my job to coach those guys. There are things I like about the NFL. There are things I don’t like about the NFL. What I don’t like about it is the business side of it. Guys are going to come, guys are going to go. It’s the nature of the business.”
“I shared with the guys this morning how I was cut six times in a 14-year career, and I moved on. You learn from them, obviously, not only as coaches, but also players.”
“These guys, the two that were big, big guys in the locker room, around the players. Guys really respected them and liked them. And now they can influence another locker room, and they can take what they’ve learned here to another organization, another franchise. [I] wish both of those guys well.”
“But it can affect guys, but it only affects you if you let it. That’s my job, not to let that happen.”
There was already a heap of new pressure on Doug Pederson this season. With such a strong offensive roster and a dominant defensive front, hopes are high for the second-year Head Coach and his exciting young quarterback. But now his emotional side will be tested yet again. What felt like an indestructible core built on chemistry and potential has suffered two major blows to the Heart…and Pederson is simply the glue that has to keep the team together and focused.
If you’re to take Pederson’s expected improvement in play-calling aside, the Eagles Head Coach has walked a similar tightrope before as Chip Kelly once did. After a loss to the Bengals that saw Carson Wentz endure a savage lack of help around him, the Eagles spirits were crushed. Malcolm Jenkins, a perennial leader of this team left the stadium without talking to reporters. Jason Peters declined to speak and Carson Wentz kept his post-game activity short and sweet. The Head Coach? Doug Pederson kept reporters waiting 30 minutes after the game for his presser.
The team rebounded with a chip on their shoulder and were able to fight until the bitter end against Baltimore after falling six points short of a win over Washington. Pederson rallied his troops and ensured they kept his vision, focus and composure as the final games drew closer.
In times of adversity players look to their coaches for guidance. They look to their coaches for inspiration. The Eagles have lost two incredible locker-room personalities. Jon Dorenbos was the Eagles longest tenured-player and as we all know, the bonds Jordan Matthews had with both his quarterback and a positional group he had to lead were unbreakable.
So much so that Matthews had actually taken in one of the Puppies that Carson’s dog Henley had given birth to. There’s no doubting that losing such a strong personality will have a big impact on the players that looked to him…and the same goes for Jon Dorenbos. His inspirational story and ability to keep a team glued together with such strong efforts of friendship off the field will be missed.
It is absolutely crucial that Doug Pederson keeps this group tightly packed together. If Jordan Matthews and Jon Dorenbos can be traded in the blink of an eye, it sets a very stern tone that there aren’t many guys at all in that locker room who are safe. With an abundance of pending free-agents and limited cap space, this will only heighten the questions over long-term security for players who are beyond deserving of an extension.
The Eagles are a young team. A team filled with potential and a team willed with talent. But with two key leaders from two different units of the team now traded, there is going to be a deafening silence at times to begin with for players. Looking next to them to see friends and colleagues who they have built a brotherhood with there no more will hurt. And it’s in these moments where Coaches earn their money.
Doug Pederson is renowned for his emotional connection to players, but after the front office stripped away two key-cogs, the former Chiefs Offensive Coordinator has to put the team his back and prepare them for a season which could bring them tremendous success, or upsetting disappointment.
NFL athletes are professionals and they are paid very well for their efforts…but they still feel and they still hurt. If this Eagles team is going to step up to the plate and become the NFC East winners that many see and feel in every beat of their heart, then it falls on Doug Pederson to ensure that outside decisions do not factor into how the teams play on Sunday. Something Chip Kelly failed to do.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports