Jeffrey Lurie addressed a camera and a virtual audience of media members nearly one calendar year ago – January 11, 2021 to be exact – and discussed a move he didn't want to make. As he announced the end of Doug Pederson's tenure as head coach and pondered the organization's next steps, Lurie mentioned how he viewed the state of the Eagles' roster and vision for the 2021 season.
He chose his words carefully, and specifically, understanding the subtleties of the meaning he wanted to project.
"We're in a real transition period, and it's not unlike 2016," said the Eagles' Chairman and CEO only days after the team completed a 4-11-1 campaign. "We have to retrench and rededicate and allocate resources to what can make us the best possible team in the mid-term, in the long term, and hopefully compete in the short term because I think we can, but honestly, that's really where we're at. I have real confidence that our football operations, led by Howie (Roseman), can not only repeat the performance of 2016 until now, and once again, create a dominant football team that can really maximize every aspect of its potential. I think that's the transition period we're in."
Key words in a message full of them were "transition" and "compete in the short term." Lurie had the vision – and it isn't an easy one to execute in the NFL – that the Eagles could both continue to turn over the roster and become younger, and at the same time play good football and compete for a playoff spot in 2021. The Eagles didn't know who would be their next head coach and they didn't know what would become of quarterback Carson Wentz, the starter since 2016.
We know how it all played out. The Eagles traded Wentz to Indianapolis and received back a second-round draft pick last spring and a first-round draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. After a thorough search, Lurie and the search committee hired Nick Sirianni, a relatively unknown commodity who had been impressing the league's coaching ranks as the offensive coordinator with the Colts the previous three seasons.
And the Eagles, led by Roseman, addressed a roster with a 2021 Draft Class that brought immediate dividends, with a free-agent strategy to bring in veterans on one-year contracts to add players to immediately fit the scheme and help on the field, while, at the same time, not bind the Eagles into any long-term commitments. With very tight salary-cap wiggle room, the Eagles brought in a handful of veterans who were able to contribute right away – corner Steven Nelson and safety Anthony Harris, among them – and lend some leadership to the youth populating the locker room.
Roseman meanwhile kept his eye on the future and acquired key NFL Draft assets from the Wentz trade as well as a pre-2021 NFL Draft deal with Miami from which the Eagles procured the Dolphins' first-round draft pick in 2022.
Sirianni and his coaching staff worked on the Five Principles of Nick Sirianni – connect, compete, accountability, fundamentals, and football IQ – to build chemistry in a locker room that welcomed a new approach following the disappointing 2020 performance.
All of these months later, the Eagles are 9-7 and heading to the playoffs. The "transition " – it was never dubbed a "rebuild," for Lurie and the Eagles were never going to settle for a rebuild knowing the talented group of veterans in the locker room demanded more – landed the Eagles in the postseason. The present, then, is extremely promising. At the same time, Roseman and the personnel department brought in another wave of talented young players around whom to build and also put the Eagles in a position of power in the 2022 NFL offseason. The Eagles have those three first-round draft picks (their own, plus Miami's and Indianapolis') and 10 total selections along with a potential to have a boatload of room to operate within the 2022 NFL salary cap of $208.2 million.
This accomplishment, one not often seen in the current NFL world of constant change and tumultuous fortunes, is one to appreciate. I know that the fans are thinking about this week and what the Eagles should do with their lineup against Dallas on Saturday night and about which first-round playoff matchup best suits the team, but for a moment before investing in what's ahead, recognize what the Eagles have done.
Like every NFL franchise, the Eagles had a dip after winning Super Bowl LII in the 2017 season. Even with the step back, the Eagles reached the postseason in 2018, won a game, and were likely finishing off one offensive drive away from reaching the NFC Championship Game again. In 2019, the Eagles swept the NFC East in December and hosted a playoff game, only to see Wentz go down and stay down nine snaps into the Wild Card game against Seattle. Last season, 2020, was a total downer, and that's why Lurie made the difficult decision at the head coaching spot.
But now the Eagles are up, and the arrow is decisively heading in a positive direction. They have weathered a "transition" season and responded with a 7-2 stretch following a 2-5 start. Sirianni has hit on every one of his Principles and his "one percent better every day" mantra has largely proven to be a perfect encapsulation of what the Eagles are all about. As a gameday head coach, Sirianni has proven adaptable, quick, and accurate with his decision-making, strong in his usage of timeouts and challenges and all the things you look for in a winning head coach for the most important 60 minutes of the week.
To bounce back after, really, one down season and to be back in the playoffs is an impressive feat. Combine that with the draft capital the Eagles have moving forward and the flexibility they have within the salary cap and, yes, it's OK for you as an Eagles fan to be absolutely giddy about what the Eagles have going on and how bright the future looks. Go ahead, feel great about things.
The mood at the NovaCare Complex is much more muted, of course. While the Eagles have reached the postseason, they know they have more ahead starting with Saturday night's game against Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field. The "next phase" of the season is here in terms of planning how to play it on Saturday night and how to prepare for the playoffs. Sirianni and his coaching staff and the personnel department had their moment on Monday morning after watching Green Bay win on Sunday night to clinch it for the Eagles, exchanging handshakes and high-fives. And that was it. There is work to be done. The Eagles have their agenda set for what's ahead.
A full calendar year in the making, the Eagles are back in the playoffs. They plan to keep this rolling – for the remainder of the 2021 season and for many years to come.