If I’d have asked you seven months ago how you felt about the Philadelphia Eagles, I’m sure many of the words in response would’ve been expletives. The team was coming off a disastrous 2020 campaign that saw everything that was once golden being burned to the ground. It’s almost scary to think how far the team has come since then, but on the fringe of a new NFL season, it’s probably a good time to do just that.
Week 17 was probably the biggest sign of a complete downfall. Prior to that, there was almost this sense of clinging onto Jalen Hurts as the team’s final hope, and his eccentric performances injected life into a soulless offense, giving fans all the more reason to get behind him. But the second he was pulled from the game against Washington, the rug was pulled.
Shortly after that game, an image of Zach Ertz, Jason Kelce, and Carson Wentz, all sat next to the field together for what many presumed to be one final time, put everyone in their feelings more than Drake’s new album. It was as if an era had well and truly ended. A teary Zach Ertz met with reporters shortly after and all but confirmed that the party was over. No more Super Bowl hopes, no more hungry dogs running faster, just dogs who were burned out.
What happened next was always going to be a coin flip. Reports of a ‘pissing match’ between Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz painted a narrative that the team’s owner, Jeffrey Lurie, would have to pick between coach and quarterback. Wentz was shipped off to the Colts, and the retooling begun.
Just like it was at the end of the Chip Kelly era, it was important to vanquish any toxic remains and find the right foundations to build the new era. Realizing that this coincided with a ridiculous Salary cap mountain to climb, there was only one option – go all-in on the youth, prioritize draft capital, and find the right coaches to develop that talent. A trio of tasks the team had failed miserably at over the past few seasons.
Nick Sirianni’s hire was an important one. Many were quick to write off the former Colts offensive coordinator due to the youth and inexperience of both him and his new staff, but the Eagles weren’t. Sirianni had a history of getting the most out of the wide receiver position and brought with him a mentality that he would bend his offense to fit the talent on the team, not the other way around. This in itself was refreshing and enabled Roseman to go all-in on a new motive of his own – finding freakishly athletic players for the staff to develop and looking for athletic upside as opposed to collegiate stats.
This started a few years ago with the most prominent product of this being starting LT Jordan Mailata, who was drafted in the seventh-round, and things really picked up this offseason. After finding plug-and-play veterans on cheap deals to fill voids, Howie went after players who were not only athletic monsters, but had been recognized as captains during their collegiate career, had ties to the Eagles, or had even grown up fans.
Character had been a big concern throughout the Doug Pederson era. From the very early days of contractual holdouts and umbrella incidents, right the way through to ‘anonymous sources’ and social media struggles. They say winning cures everything, and it’s just as well that the team did win under Pederson. If they didn’t, things would’ve probably gotten a lot uglier, a lot quicker.
The good news is that those appear to be problems of the past. In the space of just a few short months, Roseman has laid the foundations for Sirianni to build a culture based on cultivating competition. It’s all about improving 1% every day, and for one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, entrenching the values that will ensure they have along and successful NFL careers.
Training Camp came and went without any off-field distractions, which feels like the first time in forever, and in its place came highlight plays and breakouts. Rises from players like Quez Watkins and Tyree Jackson headlined a summer of growth, which, looking back, has not been the case for the Eagles over the past few years. It was all positivity coming out of the NovaCare Complex, with veterans going out of their way to help younger players, coaching them up and becoming leaders.
Zach Ertz, who had been reportedly dangled around the league all offseason, was back and in the thick of it helping out guys like Tyree Jackson. In what felt like a total 180, Ertz met with reporters recently with nothing but smiles on his face and positive things to say about the state of the locker room and the upcoming season. If that doesn’t symbolize just how drastically things have changed, nothing will.
The Eagles may not be in direct contention for the NFC East this year, or maybe even next year. But the fact that this team was on the brink of destruction and has not only stabilized, but arguably taken a bigger step forward to leapfrog where they were last offseason, is incredible when you think about what it took to even get here.
Eagles football is back and for the first time in a long time there are very few reasons to be anxious and even fewer to be apprehensive. In what promises to be an exciting new era of football for the Eagles, the only trajectory is upward.
Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire