PHOENIX – This is Year 2 of The New Era, with head coach Doug Pederson paired with quarterback Carson Wentz as the Eagles continue the big build. The goal is to build something sustainable, similar to the Andy Reid-led run from 2000-04, with a couple of more wins included at the end. Every single day, then, the goal is to improve every day.
And the Eagles did improve during the four days they spent at the luxurious Arizona Biltmore, site of the NFL Annual Meeting. They spent time with the other 31 teams and no doubt had casual and, perhaps, not-so-casual conversations that could come into play in the next month leading up to and including the NFL Draft. They signed two players to come in and compete for playing time in a defense that has needs – Chris Long to push the pile at defensive end and Patrick Robinson to add depth at cornerback.
Now it's time to really, really dig in.
"We are going to address the roster and keep adding players who can help us across the board," Howie Roseman said. "We're always keeping our eyes open."
Other than the additions of Long and Robinson and some new rules to consider for the 2017 NFL season, there was no breaking news from the Meeting. No trades were made. Pederson debunked the prevailing murmurs about center Jason Kelce being dealt or released (in fact, Kelce is very highly regarded among the coaching staff and is projected to once again be the starter). Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie was at ease and, in fact, in a great mood talking about how things have changed in a year's time with his football team. Clearly, having the franchise quarterback on the roster brightens the perspective of a football team. In case you haven't noticed, the Eagles think that Wentz has a chance – and at this point, after only one season in the league, nothing is taken for granted – to be a very special star, to be a player the Eagles haven't had at the position since the glory days of Donovan McNabb.
With that all-important piece in place, the Eagles are intent to build around him. Roseman's foresight last offseason signing two fistfuls of veterans on the roster to contract extensions provided stability to the core. Then the Eagles added a couple of key pieces in free agency in 2016, namely safety Rodney McLeod and offensive guard Brandon Brooks. They had a draft that produced some immediate impact, starting with Wentz. They had an up-and-down-and-then-up-to-end-it 2016 season, and have been efficient and creative in free agency in '17, adding key pieces to the offense (Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Chance Warmack, and Nick Foles) before addressing the defense this week.
"I am more than excited about the direction of the franchise," Lurie said on Tuesday. "It's great to walk around here having the feeling that I do, surrounded by a terrific, young quarterback, a coach who really captured the locker room.
"I couldn't be more excited about the direction of the franchise."
At the same time, the message from the Eagles throughout the offseason has been "we are going to build this the right way, and that's going to require some patience for all of us." It's really more than patience, as Lurie said. He emphasized the idea of "multiple good drafts in a row" and discipline to stay in that philosophical lane. Lurie said the Eagles have "lots of holes" and then he said it again just to make sure the point was absorbed.
There were no answers provided in the week that was, and there aren't going to be any leading up to the draft. The truth is, we won't know and the Eagles won't know how all of these moves they've made will work to get the team closer to the Super Bowl.
The tenor from the leaders of the football team – Lurie, Pederson, Roseman – is one of optimism and momentum, and also the understanding that the team is still some distance away from being at the top of the heap in the NFL. It's OK to feel good about the direction in which the Eagles are headed, but they've got to continue to make the right decisions
One year ago, the Eagles had a new head coach in Pederson and they had a murky future at quarterback, with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel on board and no young gun in the pipeline. Now they've got Wentz and they have in Pederson a coach who worked through some rocky times in his maiden voyage as an NFL head man to win over the locker room and earn respect from his players.
All of that is a prelude to the extremely important draft in late April. The Eagles have been judicious in their free agency shopping and the on-paper analysis of their moves has largely been positive. The Eagles are a better team now than they were on January 1. And they feel good about the steps they've made. The entire mood of the franchise changed once Roseman got the Eagles into position to draft a quarterback, and then they selected Wentz and saw a full season of play from the rookie.
So you add it all up and this is where the Eagles are right now: Trending up. Understanding they aren't there yet. Challenging themselves to improve each day. Hopeful that when the roster is complete and the games begin for real in September, the Eagles show they are better than 7-9 and ready to challenge in the NFC East.
No answers. Just an organization-wide understanding, from those who have lived it previously, that the Eagles are back on the right track with a bright future within reach.