The last 24 months have been absolutely remarkable for the Philadelphia Eagles. How a team can so quickly go from a trainwreck end to the Chip Kelly era to an NFC Championship contender is staggering. There has been a complete culture change in the City of Brotherly Love and it’s set the team up to return to this very stage for many years to come. Regardless of whether the Birds win or lose in the NFC Championship game today, that’s something all fans can hold close to their hearts.
It started with a franchise quarterback and a new Head Coach. Both contracts would last five years, giving Doug Pederson time to develop Carson Wentz into the star that Howie Roseman saw he could become. But building a successful team goes far beyond finding the right man to lead the offense. The Indianapolis Colts for instance may have one of the finest arms in the game with Andrew Luck but we really don’t need to explain the differences between the two teams.
A coaching staff that was constructed from the ground up to inject a new DNA into a team that had all of its attitude ripped away and replaced with the ego of Chip Kelly. An offensive coaching tree built to push Carson Wentz to the best of his ability and a defensive staff that would infuse the fire and aggression that had almost been nullified in the years past. It all started up top…and as the hurdles came and the culture was tested, Pederson stood tall.
Whether it was the incidents before the 2016 season including umbrellas and strip clubs, or the demoralizing defeats that left the effort of players questioned by the Eagles Head Coach in the media, it didn’t take long for Pederson to set a very important tone. It’s all or nothing.
After the 7-9 season came to an end, those who didn’t completely buy into the culture were moved on. A new drafting mindset thanks to Joe Douglas allowed Howie Roseman to patch up the holes when the Draft arrived on Philadelphia soil, while a string of ‘prove-it’ contracts added leadership and an extra incentive for veterans to fight for their spot.
Whether it was building from the ball out, going through some extremely physical training camp practices or simply buying into the ‘letting your personality show’ mantra of Doug Pederson, this was an Eagles team that found a new identity. A new reason to play. It went way beyond simply playing the game of Football, it became a brotherhood. ‘Next man up’ was more than just a phrase used to pass off in press conferences, it became the lifeblood of the team.
Through the incredible highs and the constant disregarding of success from the outside, Philadelphia quickly recognized something. It doesn’t matter how much changes. It doesn’t matter who’s the quarterback or how dominant the defensive line is, Philly will always be underdogs. And just like that, the gritty, ruthless, tenacious persona of Philadelphia teams of years past began to shine through.
To the point where Carson Wentz, the MVP candidate, the ultimate underdog, TORE HIS ACL AND SCORED A TOUCHDOWN TWO PLAYS LATER.
“Listen, I don’t pay really any attention to that, quite honestly.” Doug Pederson said of the outside noise this week. “I drive home at night knowing I put in a full day’s work. I get up in the morning to come in here, and however I can serve this organization and serve these players [that’s what I do]. That’s all I know. I love football. I love coaching football. I love teaching it. I love being around these guys, and I’m going to pour my life into these players. If it’s good enough, great, because that’s all I know I can do and I’ve given it my best effort. So I don’t care about what’s written. It’s kind of like the underdog thing. Our players don’t pay much attention to that. And I’m kind of the same way.”
The Birds are entering a crucial free agency period with little cap leverage and there is reason to be concerned with how the team will handle players such as Nigel Bradham and Trey Burton. But the belief is simple. Build through the draft and sign veteran free agents who bring the character and production needed to help the locker room flourish until that talent is ready. With that mindset, there is very little reason to doubt how the Eagles will broach the offseason ahead.
The core of the team remains the same. The scary part is that Carson Wentz, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery are all signed through 2020. Build. From. The. Ball. Out.
On defense, the scenario is the same. Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry are signed through the same period. Did we mention Sidney Jones or Rasul Douglas being in their first season? How about Derek Barnett?
The core of this Eagles team may be the strongest in the NFL. Their underdog mentality which was previously thwarted is what always has and always will make them so special. When you combine those two things together, it’s easy to see that regardless of today’s outcome, this is just the beginning for the Eagles.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports