There’s been a change of heart in the City of Brotherly Love. Gone are the days of bandaids and so too the panic free-agent signings or reaches in the draft. That mentality and desperation to “win now” has instead been replaced by one key word; development.
Upon the release of the team’s final 53-man roster, plenty of questions were raised. Whether it was pondering the decision behind keeping five running backs, or simply wondering why players who struggled in camp made their way onto the roster in place of those who shined, it was safe to say that there were several surprises after the 4PM deadline had passed. But in an old era, be it Chip Kelly’s strange tenure of the Andy Reid era that just never seemed to deliver the complete package, those questions would have been rightfully asked. This year, things are different.
The insertion of Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl into the fray has changed the entire landscape. The Eagles have built from the ball outward and as opposed to paying big for free agent help, they’re simply ready to allow veterans to “prove-it”. Those winds of change blow deep into the draft process as well. The Ozzie Newsome school of scouting has come through again and again for the Ravens, and for Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas, replicating that success again comes down to one key word; development.
“We also know that it comes for people quick sometimes, and sometimes it takes a while for rookies.” Howie Roseman explained yesterday.
“We’re in a unique industry where there’s really no patience. There’s no other industry where you take a guy out of college and if they don’t look exactly like you’re hoping a month in, you just look to dump them. We want to develop our players. We trust our evaluations and our scouts, and we want to give guys time that we believe in.
Trusting the process is a phrase all too familiar to the Philadelphia faithful, and it’s time to trust it again. The Eagles rebuild is incredibly difficult to that of the Sixers, but an emphasis on building through the draft can be seen in both teams. To build through the draft successfully however, players need time to grow. You simply won’t see a draft class in this league which is compiled of seven picks ready to start on day one. That isn’t lost on Howie Roseman, who told the media on Saturday why that faith in potential is so important.
“I think it’s important for us when we make these decisions, we’re talking about the 46, the 53 and then the 63. We want to make sure our coaches have the best 46 guys that they need to go into Washington. And then from there, there are also guys that we want to develop. [There are guys] that we want to sit there a year from now and hope that they have taken another step. A guy like Marcus Johnson, who deserves a lot of credit for what happened with him developing in our off-season program and working with our guys.”
Perhaps one of the strangest decisions on the outside came at the wide receiver position. After Bryce Treggs led the Eagles in preseason receiving yards and assumed the backup role in the slot behind Nelson Agholor, his value soared. The former Cal product looked likely to land a roster spot. Instead, the Eagles decided to give those reins to Shelton Gibson. The WVU standout who struggled throughout camp with drops and during preseason with production in general. But again, development was preached by Roseman.
“When we drafted these guys, we knew that they were rookies [and] they were a work-in-progress. We knew that if Shelton [Gibson] went back to school and didn’t come out early, he’s probably drafted higher and that we were going to have to spend time to develop him and his skill set. And he does have a trait. He had more 50-yard receptions than anyone in college football last year. He can take the top off. Consistency for a rookie is, obviously, something that sometimes takes some time. But he works really hard. He has the traits we’re looking for to develop into a player.
“We want to take these guys and understand that they need some development. We’re going to try to be patient with guys that we think have talent.”
The 53 players selected by the Eagles may not be the best players to win now. There may be some decisions that spark confusion or a mix of other emotions among fans. But this is the best group of players to build continuity with. Whether that’s stacking running back talent knowing that in one year’s time both LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles are unlikely to return, or going light at corner in the knowledge that the arrival of second-round pick Sidney Jones isn’t too far off into the distance. Whether it’s questioning the offensive line that is built on versatility and the long-term future, or a linebacker spot that features perrenial special teamers to help retain Fipp’s reputation as one of the best ST coordinators in the league. The Eagles are simply trusting the process.
“The conversation we had this morning is, when we drafted every single one of those guys, including some of the guys we let go, we’re not just going, ‘Hey, we just made that pick.’ We’re excited.” Roseman revealed.
“And when we make the decision to pick them, we have conversations like, ‘Hey, this guy may not be ready Day One; this guy may need some time. Here are the things he may need to work on.’ We try to balance that. But we are also going to make a concerted effort to try to develop them and spend the time, not just reading off cards on scout team, but really spending time with them and developing the person and the player and try to help them on some of the deficiencies that maybe they have.”
The Eagles lost some very talented players this week, and that goes way beyond this weekend’s cuts. Jon Dorenbos for one was a cornerstone of the Eagles and was the longest tenured player on the team. But in place of those lost to waivers or trades are players who the front office truly believe will create legacies of their own one day. The thing about legacies is that they aren’t built overnight. They take months, years, even decades. Luckily for the players blessed with the talent to build their own reputations as starters in this league, that’s exactly what the Eagles are trying to do.
Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports