It's a conversation to have every day, and an answer that we learn only when the games start in September. How far away are the Eagles from being a Super Bowl team?
They've had back-to-back 10-6 seasons under head coach Chip Kelly, with one NFC East title. A 9-3 opening three quarters of the 2014 season melted into a 1-3 slide and a sideline view of the playoffs. Where do the Eagles go from here? It's going to be quiet time for the most part until free agency starts on March 10, when we'll see the team's plan play out.
Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie spoke of three areas to improve upon when the 2014 season ended: Turnovers, a category in which the Eagles led the NFL, red zone offense, where the Eagles scored touchdowns on 49.1 percent of their trips inside opponents' 20-yard line to rank 23rd in the league, and the defense's susceptibility to the big passing play, specifically the "X" play, described in the NFL as a plus-20-yard gain. The Eagles allowed the most big passing plays in the NFL in 2014.
Those are the specific need areas for the Eagles to improve upon in 2015, but Kelly has made it clear that every facet of the roster and the coaching staff and the scheme will be examined.
What's realistic to improve in the span of one offseason? It's clear that the Eagles have a lot of very good things working here. The offense, despite the turnovers and the injury that sidelined starting quarterback Nick Foles for half a season and limited the effectiveness of the offensive line, still scored points (the Eagles ranked third in the NFL, including points scored by the defense and special teams) and ranked third in the league with 63 20-yard-plus plays in the passing game. Running back LeSean McCoy ran for 1,319 yards. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and some young pass catchers, specifically Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews, showed signs of huge, huge things to come.
Defensively, the Eagles gave up way too many big plays in the passing game, but they also have some positives to work with on that side of the ball. The front seven has great promise, led by All-Pro end Fletcher Cox, Pro Bowl linebacker Connor Barwin and emerging standout Mychal Kendricks.
The special teams made plays all season and ranked at the top of the NFL list in total effectiveness. Dave Fipp's group should come back as strong as ever in 2015.
So where to improve? How to improve? The Eagles didn't make the playoffs because they had familiar stumbles in their six losses -- failures in the red zone in losses at Arizona and San Francisco, turnovers and missed opportunities in home defeats against Dallas and Washington and the inability to step up against the outstanding play from Green Bay and Seattle, the litmus-test teams in the NFC.
How far away are the Eagles? Is it a matter of measuring it in terms of players -- the Eagles are 1-2 players away on offense, maybe 2 impact players and another starter or two away on defense -- or is it a matter of playing better situational football? How does a team improve in the turnover department? What lessons does the coaching staff take from 2013 -- when the Eagles were plus-12 in turnover ratio --to what happened in 2014 -- when the Eagles were minus-8 in the same department? Why did the Eagles regress in the red zone offensively from 2013 to 2014? Is it as simple as equating it to the lack of continuity at the line of scrimmage and the injury to Foles? How much would the defense benefit from a personnel overhaul in the secondary? Or is the technique and scheme in need of a tweak or three?
Look, the Eagles are going to pursue upgrades in the months ahead in both free agency and the draft. Who they target and what direction they take has yet to be finalized. There are holes on this roster that have been discussed many times. The Eagles need to utilize their assets -- reportedly good salary-cap room, eight draft picks, a good roster already -- and have a strategic and effective course of action.
I don't think the Eagles are far away from being a Super Bowl contender, but they have some key areas to improve and on-field positions that must gain. The losses at Green Bay and to Seattle were eye-opening afternoons that clarified the gap the Eagles must cover between now and September.
The NFL's postseason moves into its final game and the Eagles are chasing the top of the conference and, in fact, the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. "Not far away" is far enough away to know that the Eagles must make the right moves in the offseason to get the roster right, and then the Eagles must rise to play their "A" game every week once September comes.