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The NFL's firing season officially kicked off Tuesday in Jacksonville, where Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver announced that he was getting rid of coach Jack Del Rio and, oddly enough, himself.
There are a whole lot of Eagles fans wistfully screaming, "We've got next!"
Some of those fans were the ones chanting "Fire Andy" at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field last Sunday as the Eagles absorbed a 38-20 defeat to the Patriots, dropping Philly to 4-7. That, of course, was in reference to Andy Reid, who was hired as the Eagles' head coach in 1999 and is the longest-tenured person in his profession.
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Reid's ouster may happen, especially given the meltdown quality to Sunday's defeat, which included a sideline shoving match between two of his assistants, the benching of disgruntled and arguably disengaged Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson(notes) and the all-but-official elimination of a team that openly loaded up for a Super Bowl run.
I can see why Eagles fans are demanding change – it's obviously needed. However, I don't think firing Reid is the best move for the franchise, nor do I think he's the person who deserves the bulk of the blame.
The first thing to consider is that Reid, while influential in the organization's football hierarchy, is not nearly the force he once was. In recent years the balance of power has swung to team president Joe Banner and the young general manager he groomed, Howie Roseman. They're the ones who constructed this current Eagles team, engaged in the contract-related stare down with Jackson and unwittingly messed with the camaraderie within the locker room.
Reid, to his credit, rolled with the changing times and kept the Eagles competitive through last season, when he produced what might have been his greatest coaching job. That included a sudden but prescient audible from entrusting the post-Donovan McNabb(notes) quarterbacking duties to carefully groomed successor Kevin Kolb(notes) to riding the sublimely revived Michael Vick's(notes) scorching-hot passing hand.
The surreal trip ended in the first round of the playoffs, when Philly suffered a narrow defeat to the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers. As they looked ahead to 2011, all three of the Eagles' power brokers were understandably convinced that an elusive title was within their grasp.
So Banner, Roseman and Reid decided to go after it by any means at their disposal. The lockout essentially left them paralyzed through most of the offseason, except for the tweaks Reid made to his coaching staff, including the firing of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and the surprising naming of offensive line coach Juan Castillo as his replacement. That turned out to be a move that hurt the Eagles on both sides of the ball – Castillo has struggled in his new role, and his replacement, Howard Mudd, has had trouble reaching Philly's younger linemen – and it's absolutely on Reid.
The rest of the moves, however, were driven by Banner and Roseman. Once the lockout ended, as Roseman had predicted, the action was fast and furious. The Eagles were the unquestioned aggressors of the compressed free-agency period, landing former Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) and a slew of other well-known and highly regarded players. Roseman also traded Kolb to the Cardinals for a second-round draft pick and talented cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes).
When one of those high-profile acquisitions, former Titans quarterback Vince Young(notes), threw out a cavalier comment likening the Eagles to a "Dream Team," the outside world seized upon it, and a slogan was born. Many of us bought into the hype, though in my case there was a caveat: The Eagles as they'd been in 2010, even without any of the splashy additions, would have struck me as a serious Super Bowl contender.
Not that the caveat really matters. I picked the Eagles to win the Super Bowl. Obviously, I was wrong, and now it's time to deconstruct.
First of all, we should have known better: In the 21st-century NFL, that whole winning the offseason thing is a sucker bet, as Philly's NFC East rivals, the Redskins, are painfully aware. Like Washington owner Daniel Snyder a decade ago, Roseman is a fresh-faced, well-intentioned executive eager to make a name and build a winner. I don't fault him for having been aggressive, but I believe his inexperience may have blinded him to some side effects.
That brings us to our second issue: money. The Eagles' shopping spree bolstered the bank accounts of newcomers like Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins(notes) and Jason Babin(notes), who suddenly were commanding loads more cash than some of the team's established standouts. This is hardly a unique phenomenon in the NFL, but in this case it was amplified.
While the franchise committed to Vick, giving him what amounted to a five-year, $80 million contract extension, Banner and Roseman didn't make a serious push to give Jackson the extension he sought. They correctly assessed their leverage but didn't consider the broader implications.
Jackson, an undersized star in a brutally physical sport, had obviously outperformed his rookie contract heading into its fourth and final year. He had a legitimate case for seeking long-term financial security, and he is a highly emotional employee. A breathtaking scoring threat on offense and special teams who had literally won games for Philly, Jackson suddenly welcomed a teammate (Asomugha) making roughly 24 times his 2011 salary. This was not going to go well.
Stonewalled in his efforts to get paid, Jackson admitted to reporters that his overriding goal for 2011 was to stay healthy. The downward spiral that has since ensued was predictable. While not as ugly as Terrell Owens'(notes) similarly motivated spat with the team in 2005, Jackson's acting out has included a missed meeting that led to a one-game deactivation and, last Sunday, a fourth-quarter benching after he seemed to give less than maximum effort on a pair of potential scoring catches.
Jackson's attitude has alienated many of his teammates; however, the majority are sympathetic to his perspective, especially given the general degradation of the intra-team fabric.
Remember, the Eagles didn't just stock up on new players; they discarded a lot of old ones, too. Even before the league year began, Banner and Roseman had decided not to try to bring back any of their free agents, a crop that included a pair of popular locker-room leaders, safety Quintin Mikell(notes) and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley(notes).
You hear a lot of talk about chemistry, and it's undeniable that Philly's has suffered. The newcomers, for the most part, have been more aloof and less integrated than the players they replaced, and there is less socializing among teammates away from the field.
On game days, this translates into a decrease in trust among some of those players lined up next to each other, and something less than a maniacal devotion to the collective cause. That, more than any statistic or physical skill, is football, and it's no surprise that the Eagles have become a fantasy team prone to experiencing harsh reality on Sunday.
With all of that said, there have been numerous times during Reid's largely successful tenure when the team has run into rough patches and contended with potential crises. On most of those occasions, the players have fought their way out of it, spurred by a collective belief in the system in which they were schooled – and, not insignificantly, in their head coach.
This year, that's not happening. In my conversations with veterans who've spent significant time with the franchise, there's a sense that there simply aren't as many players versed in "The Eagle Way," and it's hampering the recovery process.
At this point, the newly acquired players aren't alone in failing to rally behind Reid. On Sunday, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and defensive line coach Jim Washburn had to be separated after pushing and shouting at one another on the sidelines.
Witnesses said the confrontation began when Mornhinweg, pacing along the sideline, refused to yield to an animated Washburn, one of the assistants hired by Reid after last season, and escalated when Washburn questioned the offensive play-calling. One player called it "the most unprofessional thing I've ever seen in my life" and said that on Monday Reid rebuked his assistants and told them they'd embarrassed him.
Is it too late for Reid to reassert his authority and repair the frayed relations in the locker room? For this year, perhaps, but I think it's doable for 2012 and beyond. And while Jackson's situation may be unsalvageable, a clear-the-air session and a fat signing bonus could go a long way, and stranger things have happened.
If I were Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, I'd give Reid another shot, for two very important reasons.
First, Vick was truly transcendent last season, and I don't think there's any doubt that Reid was largely responsible. Vick has said that his desire to play for Reid was a significant factor in his decision to sign with the Eagles after serving nearly two years in prison for his role in a federal dogfighting scandal, that he wishes he'd been with Reid his entire career and that he hopes to stay with him until he's finished playing. Foist a new coach, and possibly a new system, upon Vick, and the quarterback to whom the team is financially committed could significantly regress.
The second reason is that, though this year is likely a lost cause, I don't think Philly's roster is deficient. If Vick regains his 2010 form, or even approaches it, in 2012, and the intrasquad vibe improves, a title run seems entirely plausible.
If I were Lurie, I'd look to another NFC East rival, the Cowboys, for inspiration. Dallas was the league's most disappointing team in 2010, a perceived Super Bowl contender for whom things got ugly early. After a midseason coaching change from Wade Phillips to Jason Garrett – yes, I know, I'm advocating for the opposite here, but this was a different situation – there were signs of improvement, and Garrett was retained.
Still, most people believed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would be aggressive in free agency and attempt to upgrade a roster that underachieved so spectacularly the previous season. Instead, Jones resisted the temptation, making a few acquisitions that barely garnered any attention, but essentially sitting out the free-agent frenzy that the Eagles dominated.
Thus far, that approach has been vindicated: Dallas (7-4) leads the NFC East and appears to be peaking as it heads into the regular season's final month.
To me, this year's Cowboys should be the model for next year's Eagles. They won't be the Dream Team, but don't sleep on their potential.
And Reid, in my opinion, is the coach most capable of restoring order and undoing the damage of this lost season.
For now, you'll find the Eagles in the middle of our top-heavy, query-filled sandwich of NFL delectability. Dig in:
2. Baltimore Ravens: If the Ravens lose as a road favorite for the fourth time in the wake of an impressive victory over a good team, can I officially chastise them for dumping Gatorade on coach John Harbaugh after beating the 49ers on Thanksgiving night?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: After Al Michaels compared the Steelers to "old East Germany" during Sunday night's victory over the Chiefs, will the organization consider fielding a really, really muscular cheerleading squad ?
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12. New York Giants: Why do I get the feeling Drew Brees remembers this quote from Antrel Rolle(notes) with the same lack of fondness that I do – and how bummed is he that the second part of a Brees-Rodgers doubleheader awaits him Sunday?
13. Detroit Lions: Before Ndamukong Suh called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to express remorse for his behavior during last Thursday's game against the Packers, did he reject a Vince Young-style text apology?
15. Denver Broncos: When Tebow delivered his "Ironman" sermon the night before Sunday's victory over the Chargers, did any of his less evangelical teammates consider blasting some Black Sabbath just to, you know, balance things out?
20. Washington Redskins: As smooth as Roy Helu's(notes) hurdle over the Seahawks' Roy Lewis(notes) was during the rookie's 28-yard touchdown run Sunday, why do I get the feeling he wouldn't have tried it against Ray Lewis?
22. San Diego Chargers: How absurd is it that Dean Spanos' master plan is to groom his son to preside over football operations – and why aren't Chargers fans more appalled by that needless stroke of nepotism than they are by Norv Turner's coaching?
29. Minnesota Vikings: If defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and some of Leslie Frazier's other assistants are indeed "dead men walking", can someone kindly crank up the Eddie Vedder/Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn duets?
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