I Knew It

Tommy Lawlor:

Regular reader Jyot heard former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah on the radio out in Seattle. Jeremiah said that the Eagles wanted to draft QB Russell Wilson in the 3rd round if he was available. The Seahawks took him ahead of us and the Eagles then went for Nick Foles.

Andy Reid basically spilled the beans on this during a press conference right after the draft. I was surprised he was so candid about how much the team liked Russell Wilson.

The most interesting dynamic is that you couldn’t find 2 QBs less alike. Wilson is short, but athletic. Foles is tall, but unathletic. Wilson struggles in the pocket. Foles is a pocket passer. Both guys did transfer, one from the Big Ten, the other out of the Big Ten.

I definitely called this right after the draft. #NotSoHumbleBrag

Eagles Draft More Linemen Than Anyone Else

Great numbers by Jimmy Kempski over at Blogging the bEast. Turns out, the Eagles have drafted more total offensive and defensive lineman in the last five years than any other team. Alright, so they’re not actually first by percent of total picks, but still, Andy Reid values numbers in the trenches.

Note that the Eagles have taken 18 linemen in the last five drafts. That’s the same as the Redskins and Cowboys combined.

Adam Schefter Stirs the Lurie-Reid Pot

Adam Schefter, when asked if Bill Cowher might be a candidate to replace Reid in the undetermined future:

My belief is that Reid will stay on in that job as long as he wants. Jeffrey Lurie will not fire him. When the time comes for Reid to go, whenever that is, it will be because he opts to go.

People seem to be getting worked up about this because they’re taking Schefter’s words too literally. He’s obviously wrong that Lurie won’t fire him. In fact, the owner has backed himself into a corner this year where if the team doesn’t improve from “unacceptable,” he’ll have little choice but to fire Reid. What Schefter’s words reiterate is simply that Lurie doesn’t want to fire Reid. Give him a playoff win and he’ll be happy keeping the status quo.

In other news, Reid (or someone else at NovaCare) apparently convinced Jason Babin that running with the bulls isn’t such a bright idea.

Has Michael Vick Already Peaked?

Michael Vick

Last week, Ron Jaworski went on SportsCenter and talked about Michael Vick’s potential in 2012:

“Vick has shown he is capable of throwing the ball exceptionally well from the pocket,” said Jaworski. “His overall throwing skill set can be top five in the league. His objective in 2012 must be to play that way more often. It becomes an availability issue. You can’t be an elite NFL quarterback if you can’t be counted on every single week.

“I am really excited to see Michael Vick in 2012. A more disciplined player will result in fewer turnovers. I would not be surprised if we’re getting ready to see the best year of Vick’s ten-year career.”

While Jaws supposedly watched every 2011 snap of Vick, his conclusions seem half-baked, especially compared to Sheil Kapadia’s epic breakdown of Vick’s game for the Eagles Almanac (plug alert!). For example, Sheil noted all of Vick’s injuries came on hits in the pocket, not because he was running around. Availability seems to be less of an issue (an NFL team loses its starting QB, on average, for three games a season) than accuracy and decision-making.

Regardless, Jaws’ sentiments are those I think a lot of fans hold. Vick had an amazing season in 2010, then fell back to Earth in 2011. But, we are told, his first full offseason as the starter with Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will push him back to the top. It’s not a crazy opinion, but it is an optimistic outlook, and one that I’m not sure there’s any more evidence for than that Vick has already peaked, and he’ll never again reach that height.

In the spirit of a series of posts I did about Donovan McNabb two years ago (yeesh, that long ago?), I put together a new graph showing where Vick ranked on key statistics, during the years he was the main starter. By focusing on the rankings, rather than the stats themselves, we can see how well Vick has done compared to his peers — since the last ten years has resulted in a better passing environment pretty much across the board. QB Rating is slightly bolded because it’s more of an aggregate indicator than a separate statistic.

Michael Vick Career Stats Ranks Graph

Obviously, Vick’s passing career has been less than stellar overall. Through 2006, he was below average across the board, and especially terrible in completion percentage. He went on his two year hiatus, came back as a wildcat threat in 2009, and resurrected triumphantly in 2010.

The question of “what’s next?” remains, though. There was a big drop off from 2010 to 2011, approximately from Aaron Rodgers-level to Jay Cutler-level. Was that a temporary bump in the road, soon to be righted after an offseason of hard work? That’s certainly the conventional wisdom right now.

The other answer, while not necessarily disastrous, is significantly less Super Bowl-worthy. That possibility suggests that Vick simply regressed to his career mean. His numbers were still up from 2006, but one might attribute that to slightly improved play and a much better supporting cast. Vick never had DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and LeSean McCoy in Atlanta.

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a prediction engine for player performance. Vick may really benefit from these months of personal tutoring, allowing him to overcome the blitz-happy adjustments many teams made against him last year. Or, at 32 years old, it may be too late for him to completely change his ways. Jaws’ statement about Vick’s talent and potential are the same things people have been saying about him for the last decade.

One’s personal expectation probably has a lot to do with your thoughts on Mornhinweg and Reid’s mentor skills. In my experience, you doubt their abilities to coach and gameplan at your own risk. But I also wonder how much this ballyhooed “first full offseason as a starter” will really make a difference. Vick has been playing at a more mediocre rate since the end of the 2010 season, and we’re supposed to believe the three of them haven’t had time until this offseason to go over that?

For now, among the cautiously optimistic analysts, consider me more cautious than than optimistic.

Photo from Getty.

Let’s Talk About Jeffrey Lurie

Jeff lurie

Since Joe Banner was forced out decided to leave the Eagles organziation for anyone who will take him a new, more difficult challenge, most of our focus has been on the Banner’s former underlings — Andy Reid and Howie Roseman. But what about his boss and friend, owner Jeff Lurie? Where does this firing departure leave him?

I think one of the critical things to understand about Banner is what his role was over the years. You could call him Lurie’s right-hand man, but that would understate his impact. Lurie didn’t run the organization, Banner did. Lurie certainly had input into many things, and involved himself in major decisions, but for all intents and purposes he has been the chairman of the board, not the CEO.

Banner was Lurie’s only real direct report and therfore was his default proxy in all aspects of the business — from the stadium to the football and everything in between. Everything flowed to Banner first, and the vast majority of concerns certainly never needed to make it to the owner’s box.

But now Banner is gone. In his place are three different people. Dan Smolenski, the new president, doesn’t have his former boss’s scope. He will be in charge only of the business aspects. As to what happens on the field, it’s unclear exactly what the structure looks like between Roseman and Reid, but it doesn’t seem like either one purely reports to the other.

What does that mean for Lurie? It means he’s gone from being strategically divorced from day-to-day operations by screening everything through Banner to being more involved in every part of the team. The dual wings of the organization can probably operate independently, but Lurie has placed himself in the unavoidable position of chief executive.

Ultimately, one might write all this off as basic palace intrigue, but active ownership from Lurie is something we’ve never seen before. After the 2011 debacle, he was clearly disturbed by the way his Eagles were performing on the field and being perceived in the city at large. What steps might he take to remedy those problems, especially after he already made the tough choice to fire accept his childhood friend’s decision to leave?

I doubt Lurie’s looking to model himself after peers like Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder, but there’s a wide expanse of potential influence he can exert on operations before reaching that extreme. Whether he does so will be important to keep an eye on going forward.

Photo from Getty.

The New Look Eagles

They were this close to sneaking in a “next question” joke.

Details on this, ahem, partnership from the WSJ:

On Monday, Rovio and the Philadelphia Eagles are announcing a partnership that will include an Eagles-centric Angry Birds game to be launched in the fall and a marketing push that will include everything from social media initiatives to integration on local team television shows and even in-stadium displays.

For instance, according to the team, if defensive lineman Trent Cole sacks New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the stadium’s video board will dump the traditional sack animation for a new one–an animation in which Angry Birds character “Big Brother Bird” Terence knocks Manning over. In short, for Angry Bird-addicted football fans, there will be no escaping your thumb-hurting vice this fall.

Highlights From a Chat with 'Coach Reid'

Jeff McLane moderated an online fan chat with Andy Reid on Philly.com, which is a cool idea, although I’m not sure why he felt the need to call him “Coach Reid” all the time. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s not like Reid is McLane’s coach.

Some choice highlights:

Comment From Philly In DC: Coach, you look great with the loss of weight. Did you have a specific goal or heath objective in mind coming into the season?

Andy Reid: Where I sat at the end of the season, my goal would be equivalent to winning five Super Bowls in one season. There was a big challenge and it will continue to be a challenge.

Comment From Matt: Are we going to see more of McCoy in the slot this year like Westbrook used to do so well?

Andy Reid: We started easing there in certain situations and even starting lining him outside away from a three-man look. So, yeah.

Comment From Guest: Andy, what is your favorite meal ?

Andy Reid: Right now, today: cottage cheese. pre-diet: great cheesesteaks of Philly.

Comment From Guest: would you ever consider allowing the behind the scenes show Hardknocks to film the Eagles? Would be awesome as a fan to see how the team operates behind the scenes and get a sense of player/coaches personalities. Or do you feel its too much of a distraction?

Andy Reid: I understand the part about it being great for TV and it’s a tribute to HBO for doing it. From an organizational standpoint it ends up being a distraction.

Comment From TRO: What is your favorite meal your wife cooks you for dinner?

Andy Reid: Does a great fried pork chops, mash potatoes and corn, chased with Mississippi Mud for dessert.

Comment From Guest: Andy, what is your bedtime?

Andy Reid: In-season, extremely late. Out of season, I’m in bed by midnight because nothing good happens after midnight, as I tell my players.

Epic non-answers:
* On what steps he took to improve game management last year.
* On whether Dion Lewis would win the back up RB job.
* On Romney or Obama (as if that’s a choice for him).
* On Eskin or Bowen (ditto).

Still Andyworld, Until It's Not

Les Bowen wants to know whether, in the absence of Joe Banner, the Eagles are dealing with “Howieworld” or “Andyworld.”

Remember, Jeffrey Lurie, in his anguished postseason address, sounded almost ready to fire Reid, but when reporters asked about Roseman — who certainly had a lot to do with all the silly Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith-type signings last summer, not to mention some poor draft decisions — Lurie got indignant. He made it clear that Roseman was not in any sort of trouble.

That’s why I kinda think it might be Howieworld. And I’d love to know what Howie really thinks of Reid.

But it’s more complicated than that. I don’t think that Roseman, unlike Banner, has the power to fire Reid. Based on the constant references to Reid’s final say on all football matters, he clearly has the upper hand on his young colleague when they disagree. Lurie knows that if he wants Reid gone, he has to do the deed himself.

In that sense, the Eagles are still Andyworld — his word is still law at NovaCare. Where things get interesting is in the future. Reid has the power now, but he’s also in a more precarious position than Roseman. If the 2012 season goes poorly, there’s little chance he returns. Roseman, meanwhile, is sitting pretty. He’s not as powerful as Reid right now, but all it would take is another losing season and he’s the man in charge, getting ready to pick a coach of his own.

When Conspiracy Theories Trump the Party Line

Joe Banner

You can label the Andy Reid-Joe Banner power struggle an unfounded conspiracy theory. And you can buy the general storyline presented for Banner leaving. But you have to admit that there are serious holes in that party line.

According to Jeff McLane’s report, which might as well be the official press release, Banner approached Jeff Lurie a year ago about a succession plan. Why would he want to leave the Eagles, a team he built for the better part of the last two decades, a team owned by his childhood friend and in which he was the unquestioned CEO?

The official line is that he wants to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team.” Geoff Mosher got Banner on the phone and the former team president said that he has been less involved over the last few years:

"I spend a lot of my time right now managing people that report to me and a modest amount of time doing things myself. More passive role than this same job was not long ago. I wanna be so busy I don’t have time to breathe. That’s my personality."

Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Less than ten months ago, Banner was at the forefront of the Eagles efforts to sign one of the most heralded free agent classes in modern memory. You can’t listen to this interview with Mike Florio and tell me that Banner was not personally involved in every aspect of those decisions and negotiations. “More passive role”? I don’t think so.

The changes clearly began this offseason, as Les Bowen wrote and McLane papered over. The extensions for longtime Eagles, the new willingness to talk with DeSean Jackson, the relatively quick deal struck with LeSean McCoy — all of it was done with Banner completely unseen. Howie Roseman became the point person for negotiations and Reid took an unprecedented, larger role.

Drew Rosenhaus’s comments about his negotiations over Evan Mathis, Jackson, and McCoy set a lot of the Banner talk in motion, and Paul Domowitch went back to him today in a great story:

"Howie really handled exclusively the negotiations for DeSean and Evan and LeSean," Rosenhaus said. "Joe wasn’t directly involved in any of those discussions from the start of the offseason. I actually negotiated (undrafted free agent safety) Phillip Thomas’s contract with Joe. I remember him calling and joking about the fact that he wanted to work on at least one deal with me this offseason."

"We struggled up to this offseason really to get the club to work on an extension with DeSean," Rosenhaus said. "The team really wasn’t aggressive as it related to DeSean’s negotiations until this offseason. I don’t know if there was a power struggle or not. There’s no way for me to know that. But I do know that things changed in terms of the Eagles’ approach to DeSean after the season."

Those comments suggest that Banner has been marginalized since the end of the disastrous 2011 season, a season for which he was directly responsible for many of the controversial decisions — free agency splurge, stonewalling DeSean, angering Asante Samuel (basically everything up to Juan Castillo). You can connect the dots.

Domo reads the tea leaves and argues that Reid wanted Jackson extended and blamed much of last season’s locker room troubles on Banner’s inaction on that front. Les’s piece today takes a slightly different route, arguing that Lurie “was genuinely at his wits’ end over the Eagles’ sour image in Philadelphia, the inability to connect with the fan on the street.” His solution was to isolate Banner and loosen up Reid.

Either theory makes more sense than Banner’s self-proclaimed reasoning. If he had dropped out of football to pursue his philanthropic interests, one might understand. But if you want to stay in football, you don’t leave that job willingly — especially without a new, seemingly better position already lined up.

I’m sure it was painful for Lurie to take the reigns away from his friend, but that’s the kind of decision he has to make as an owner. And by delaying the announcement and concocting an elaborate and not-entirely-convincing exit story, Lurie gives Banner as gracious a departure as he can manage. The new “Special Advisor to the Owner” even has a fall-back job at NovaCare for as long as he needs.

We will never know the full truth, but let’s not be naive. There’s the official story, and then there are the explanations that actually make sense.

Photo from the Philadelphia Eagles.

After 18 Years, Joe Banner Out As Eagles President

Jeff McLane has the team-ordained scoop, with interviews with all the major players, who insist that Banner, Jeff Lurie’s childhood friend, wasn’t fired or pushed out in a previously rumored power struggle:

Lurie and Banner gathered with Smolenski, Roseman, and Eagles head coach Andy Reid to announce the finalization of what they are calling a “front-office succession plan,” one that the owner said began when Banner approached him last spring.

Banner, 59, said Wednesday that he hoped to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team.”

Certainly, more to come on this news.

On Mike Caldwell's Culpability

Sorry, Les, but this just isn’t true:

From Caldwell’s perspective, obviously, you’re a position coach, you don’t pick the players. You didn’t tell anybody the Eagles would be just fine with fourth-round rookie Casey Matthews opening last season in the middle. Your job is to do the best you can with what they give you.

Of course the buck stops up the line with Juan Castillo, Andy Reid, and Howie Roseman. But you don’t go into the season with just a fourth-round pick as your starting middle linebacker unless the position coach either thinks it can work or shuts his mouth and nods whenever a higher-up tells him what’s what. In either case he is at least partially responsible for the resulting disaster.

After all the time spent discussing the sway that guys like Jim Washburn, Howard Mudd, and Ted Williams have on evaluating and teaching players, how can we wipe away any culpability that Caldwell has when his unit fails so miserably?

A Changed Attitude in the Eagles Front Office

Andy Reid

In the aftermath of the relatively quick and painless contract agreement with LeSean McCoy last week, the scuttlebutt has centered on the changes in the Eagles front office. All the key figures remain the same, but Joe Banner was nowhere to be found and words during and after the press conference suggested that Andy Reid had an increased role in the negotiations.

So what, exactly, has changed? For that, we have opposing takes from rivals/colleagues Les Bowen and Jeff McLane. Bowen takes the angle that Banner is increasingly isolated from the public eye and, seemingly, negotiations. This marks a relatively large change in the organization. McLane sees it differently:

Most of the changes within the front office have centered on public relations and can be summed up as such: Andy Reid has been more accommodating, Howie Roseman has been nudged into the spotlight, and Joe Banner has taken a step back behind the curtain.

The key thing that McLane omits (or, I suspect, willfully ignores) in his contrarian analysis is that changing the public perception and the outward attitude is a change in strategy. Of course we’re not talking about a radical front office change of direction — it’s all the same guys at NovaCare, after all. But the idea that Howie Roseman is handling negotiations because he’s less of an abrasive jerk at the table means something. Reid’s presence may be a facade placed on top of the same front office, but if it changed how McCoy, Roseman, and Drew Rosenhaus interacted, that matters.

Whether Reid and Banner purposely created or merely fell into their good cop/bad cop roles, it was obvious that they believed it worked. I expect that the combination of DeSean Jackson’s sulking and Asante Samuel railing against the guys upstairs prompted a reevaluation of that strategy. After such an awful season, revisions were required both on the field and in the front office — a marginalization of Banner and alignment of Reid’s player-friendly attitude with Howie Roseman’s less intimidating demeanor serves that goal.

The results, despite what McLane says, haven’t been the same:

That’s been the blueprint for years. Last year’s free-agent frenzy wasn’t the first time the Eagles spent freely. This year’s taking care of their own wasn’t the first time they rewarded their best loyal charges.

That’s accurate in general. But in recent years the Eagles have often seemed disinterested in renegotiating veteran contracts (Cole, Herremans) or extending young stars (Jackson, McCoy). And last season’s free agent splurge was especially out of character. The team is always in the market for top players, but rarely have they gone out and bought multiple veteran starters. Nor did the front office pretend that anything was business as usual with that last training camp.

Making extensions a priority this year, even for players for whom they could have forced to play for their current deals, shows a re-focused strategy that stems from the re-organization at the top. It’s only a change in attitude, but that more positive demeanor makes a difference. Just sticking with McCoy, Bowen is correct in his counterfactual Banner-led negotiations. Things probably wouldn’t have gone quite so smoothly:

They could have stuck to their guns on the fact that Houston’s Arian Foster, whose deal proved to be the benchmark, had negotiated that contract as a restricted free agent, a crucial difference. They could have made McCoy choose between either signing a contract that was a solid financial notch below Foster or risking injury this season, to possibly end up being franchised, with no long-term commitment at all. They could have pressed their advantage a lot harder.

Jackson looked like he was headed for a Jeremiah Trotter-esque walk out of town. Cole might have grown as unhappy as his former teammate Sheldon Brown. And McCoy seemed destined for a classic Brian Westbrook holdout. That none of those things came to pass speaks to a positive change within the organization. You can try to hide it behind a “business as usual” or “just public relations” tagline, but the results say otherwise.

Photo from Getty.

Andy Reid Gets LeSean McCoy’s Deal Done

LeSean McCoy

Big sigh of relief, everybody. LeSean McCoy signed a long term contract extension with the Eagles yesterday: five years, $45 million, and $21 million guaranteed. Rather than be a free agent next season, McCoy is locked up through age 29 — even if some of the money toward the back is likely to be restructured at best.

It’s a day to celebrate the Eagles keeping yet another valuable contributor — and not just retaining Evan Mathis, or making Trent Cole happy. This is a vitally important move on the field and in the locker room. DeSean Jackson’s situation last year was no fun at all, and it’s good to see that the front office learned from their mistakes and locked up McCoy before things got ugly.

That’s actually the biggest behind-the-scenes news of the day. Not the actual contract, but what it took to get there. As Les Bowen reports, Drew Rosenhaus made it clear that Andy Reid, not Howie Roseman, made this deal happen:

"When we we were working on this deal, coach Reid was sitting in on the meetings. It wasn’t so much that he was taking sides, he just wanted to see it get done. So I think coach Reid really was the difference."

So much for “on the hot seat.” In what was apparently an unconventional move for him, Reid participated in the McCoy negotiations. There’s only one conclusion you can draw from such news — that Reid has actually consolidated power over Roseman this offseason, rather than relinquishing it.

It’s a common refrain that players like to play for Reid and think he’s on their side. Asante Samuel was the most recent example of this phenomenon: bashing the front office (Roseman and Joe Banner), while reserving only sweet words for his coach. It’s easy to break that down as players falling too easily into a good cop-bad cop situation, where Reid is just as cold-hearted behind the scenes but maintains a happy demeanor in the locker room.

Unless it’s actually true. Maybe Reid really does care more about his players, would rather give up a few million extra in contract talks than see things get acrimonious. Maybe he doesn’t need to feel like he “won” the negotiations, as Rosenhaus described Roseman yesterday.

One might say that’s weakness, and it is to a degree. But after all the drama the Eagles have gone through in the last year, putting free agents ahead of their own stars and reaping the rewards for that, it’s a weakness they could probably use a little bit more of.

Photo from Getty.

DeSean Jackson and the Red Zone Offense

Tommy Lawlor:

I’d love to see DeSean Jackson make a RZ impact, but I’m doubtful. He’s just not at his best moving in traffic and confined spaces. He can be a good decoy.

I know DeSean is at his best running past defenders 30 yards downfield, but the Eagles inability to get him open in the red zone continues to shock me. This is not a player with just straight-line speed; we’ve all seen him make insane moves in small spaces on punt returns. How can Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg not find creative ways to get him open down by the goal line?

Furthermore, if the Eagles red zone offense really hinges on the performance of backup tight ends, fourth wide receivers, and practice squad-caliber fullbacks, that is a coaching failure to the highest degree.