Speed. Every team wants more. It is the rage of the NFL and has been since – contrary to those who believe the league is introducing a new way to win – the Dallas Cowboys won with Jimmy Johnson as the head coach in the 1990s. Speed is coveted now, no question.
So is size. And strength. And all the measurables that we're going to see strewn across the information universe in the many weeks leading into free agency (March 18!) and the NFL Draft (April 23!).
The Eagles are looking for the same thing as every other team in those categories.
But they're also looking for something more – intangible qualities that aren't apparent by the click of a stopwatch or the rep count in the weight room.
So, we saw what happened last season when the Eagles were forced, because of injuries, to use a heaping handful (two handfuls, actually) of players promoted from the practice squad. The word of the month in December was energy.
"I think the thing you see," quarterback Carson Wentz said during the course of the four-game winning streak that won the NFC East for the Eagles, "is a lot of energy. You see these young guys playing with a lot of desire. That kind of helps everybody."
The Eagles called it "energy." You can also use terms like "urgency" and "hunger" because that's what is required to win in this league. The Eagles need to have a roster filled with "energy" and "urgency." This is a trait the Eagles are looking for in the months ahead. Everybody in this league has talent. Sometimes, many times, players who have a higher level of energy on a consistent basis are the ones who win.
Tempo is everything in this league. In December, when the Eagles rejiggered the offensive structure, they won because they played hard and urgent football. They had players who had been on the fringes of the gameday roster for years, in some cases, and when those players had their chance to get into a game, they played fast football. They played with "energy." Expect that to be an Eagles buzzword in the months ahead.
Who wants to compete every single day? Boy, it's hard to find players who truly understand that concept. You need to bring it to earn playing time. For a team with so many veterans who have been through so many battles in the NFL, the Eagles of 2019 seemed to be a team that felt it could flip the switch when needed. Same as the 2018 team.
If there is any hint of a Super Bowl LII hangover, well, it's not apparent. If a player still thinks that way, he's in for a rude awakening in 2020. As Howie Roseman explained in the postseason press conference back in January, the Eagles had a core team in the years 2017-19. That may not be the case looking at 2020.
"We have a lot to do going forward. When we look at our team from 2017 to 2019, we knew that we had one team. Really, a team that we were basically going to stick with," he said. "We didn't have a lot of resources in terms of draft picks. That's on me. We made trades for some veteran players to go win. We stick to that. We're glad of those decisions.
"But going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team. We have 10 draft picks. We think we're going to have 10 draft picks in this draft and we're excited about that. When we look at what the young players did for our team down the stretch, it's a great tribute to them, it's a great tribute to our coaching staff, and it's a great tribute to our developmental program that we take a lot of pride in."
Just. Bring. It. Every day.
You know the word I hear around the NovaCare Complex more than any other when people describe how the Eagles won the Super Bowl? You got it – "chemistry." The Eagles overcame injuries and won it all. It worked because the locker room – the entire organization, really – believed in the same thing and had the same team-first goals and the Eagles weren't going to allow injuries to ruin the ride.
Since then, well, the swimming has not been as simple. The injuries have mounted. The Eagles have had to change the roster on the run. It isn't been ideal, but the team has been able to adjust and make the postseason in each of the last two seasons.
You wonder, going back to Roseman's above statement, how much "youth" the Eagles can "infuse" into the roster. This isn't going to be a rebuild. It's a retool situation. If the chemistry is great, the wins follow. High character and an excellent locker room chemistry are always big priorities here, and that doesn't change looking into the near future.
Jim Schwartz wants his cornerbacks to play in nickel situations. He wants his defensive linemen to play inside and outside. He wants his linebackers to play all three positions. The offense in Philadelphia consists of linemen who can move up and down the line of scrimmage, running backs who can catch the football, tight ends who can move around the formation, and wide receivers who can play any of the three spots.
The Eagles aren't necessarily looking for one-trick ponies to add to the roster, if you will. They want players who can create favorable matchups on both sides of the football. Of course, if a player does one thing exceedingly well, you let him do his thing. But, by and large, versatility is a huge plus in today's NFL and the Eagles are right there with the rest of the league in desiring that ability.
Let's get back to a basic tenet in this game: The more physical team generally wins games, particularly in the trenches. You can have all the speed you want – and, yes, the Eagles are looking to add that element at every level of the roster – but you have to have players who are going to win in the physical battle.
It's important, then, that the Eagles add to the roster with players who embrace the physical part of the game. Offensive linemen who mash. Defensive linemen who bash. Wide receivers who block. Cornerbacks who support the run defense. Safeties who can both cover sideline to sideline and also slide into quasi-linebacker roles, if needed.
Everyone is focused on the idea of adding speed to this team, and I get it. But there are other characteristics the Eagles want to add, ones that require a deep dive in the pre-acquisition information-gathering process.