Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeff Lurie has the deed to a team that has gone 126-81-1 in the regular season since head coach Andy Reid was hired in 1999, but with no playoff wins since the 2008 season and after a very disappointing 2011 campaign, Lurie has put his cards on the table. If the Eagles don't transcend last season's 8-8 record, Reid may be looking elsewhere for work.
Asked before the Eagles' 28-10 win over the New York Jets to close their preseason whether another .500 season would be enough to point him in the direction for a new contract, Lurie said that "substantial improvement" would be needed.
"I don't have a level or anything like that," Lurie said Thursday during his annual state-of-the-team media conference. "I want to be clear about that. You try to make the best judgment you can after the season."
The Eagles acquired cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha via free agency and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for Kevin Kolb, and were thought to be the preseason favorite to win the NFC East as the result of great talent throughout the roster. But they ran off four straight losses from Week 2 through Week 5, and stood at 4-8 on Dec. 1 before winning their last four games when they were basically out of the playoff equation. New defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who was retained, struggled to put the right players on the field at the right times and in the right places, and quarterback Michael Vick's inability to stay healthy also bit the Eagles; they went 1-2 in the games that Vick didn't start.
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"You've just got to make the best decisions you can after the season," Lurie said. "As I said, 8-8 was unacceptable. ... Yeah, I guess, if two-thirds of the team is not playing, there's always exceptions."
Soon after Reid's son Garrett died at the team's Lehigh training camp facility on Aug. 5, Reid's agent Bob LaMonte arrived at training camp and said publicly that Lurie had told him that as long as Lurie owned the team, Reid would be the head coach.
Things change, however. The Eagles won at least 11 games each season from 2000 through 2004, and lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the New England Patriots at the end of the 2004 season. Since then, the Eagles have posted double-digit win seasons just three out of seven possible times. And with playoff wins further away in the rear-view, the pressure is clearly on.
"There's no question what I said — we need substantial improvement," Lurie said. "We have a very good team, I think, on paper. Paper doesn't get you that far if you can't maximize it."
''I don't care about that stuff,'' Reid said. ''He has high expectations. I have high expectations. Let's go play. We surely won't be satisfied with 8-8. We're striving for better than that. I'm not worried about it. I understand the business. I have a great relationship with Jeffrey.''
Lurie also pointed to Vick as the key to the Eagles' season, and advised the quarterback to be smarter about the way he plays. Lurie signed Vick to a six-year, $100 million contract in August of 2011.
"We expect Michael Vick to have a terrific year," Lurie said. "That's why he's the starting quarterback. That's why he's been signed for a number of years. I have to say that Michael has been everything we could have asked and more in terms of the intangibles. Now we just need him to maximize that incredible God-given talent, stay healthy and deliver the kind of offensive performance that great quarterbacks can. This is a quarterback-driven league, and we will go as far as our quarterback play can take us, assuming that the rest of the team plays well."
Reid convinced Lurie to sign Vick in 2009 after the quarterback's conviction for his part in operating a dogfighting ring and suspension from the NFL. Vick has been electric at times, but his playing style leads to injuries, and he's started only 16 games once in his career — his 2006 season with the Atlanta Falcons. One year later, Vick was in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
"No matter who the quarterback, but with Michael, it's very important that he do everything that he possibly can to try to stay healthy," Lurie said. "It's not a precise science, and so you're going to have Matt Schaub going out for the year and Tom Brady a few years ago and Peyton [Manning] last year. You're going to have things happen, but you just try to up the odds of making sure it doesn't happen. I think there's things that Michael can do to lower the chances of injury, but it's a volatile game, and that's a rough and tough position."
In the end, Lurie said, this is about competition and maximizing the talent one's been given. "I feel like we're there," Lurie said, when asked about where that talent level currently stands. The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters for at least the first six weeks of the season to an Achilles' tendon injury, and traded cornerback Asante Samuel to the Atlanta Falcons in April.
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