There is no question that the Eagles have stuck to the blueprint they put together once the 2011 season ended. It was a disappointing year, to be a sure, but within the season the Eagles learned that they have a lot to work with on the roster and that all of those free-agent signings weren't meant to vanish after one year.
Head coach Andy Reid believes, and has said so in the offseason, that he was impressed by the way his players approached the last four games of 2011. The Eagles were lagging at 4-8, the playoffs a distant hope. And instead of tanking the final four games, the Eagles put together four dominating performances to at least exit the year with a winning taste in its collective mouth heading into the offseason.
Then, rather than dismantling the roster in the months that followed, the Eagles worked hard to keep it all together. They retained wide receiver DeSean Jackson and offensive guard Evan Mathis in free agency, extended the deals of offensive tackle Todd Herremans and defensive end Trent Cole, restructured Cullen Jenkins' contract, kept defensive tackle Derek Landri and offensive tackle King Dunlap for depth up front and acquired a difference-making linebacker in DeMeco Ryans.
That set the stage for an extremely positive and productive environment at the NovaCare Complex.
"They won back the locker room," said ESPN analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski. "That's extremely important. A year before the Eagles acquired all of that talent, and with the lockout and an abbreviated offseason, the chemistry just wasn't there.
"Now you see that all of those signings weren't designed for just one year. There is a greater plan in place. And by keeping the roster intact, they've sent the message that, 'Hey, we're going to take care of our own.' It makes a difference for players to see that."
Last week's contract extension with running back LeSean McCoy likely capped the activity for the foreseeable future. There are a couple of other contract issues to deal with down the line -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who moves into a full-time starting role at cornerback enters the final year of his contract and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has two years left on his rookie deal -- and the Eagles have room within the salary cap and the foresight to do as they choose to keep the roster intact.
As the Eagles open full-team Organized Team Activities this week -- they begin on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex -- the mood is decidedly upbeat. The Eagles think that 2012 has a chance to be a special year and they know that a lot of hard work remains.
Those four wins at the end of last season didn't push the Eagles into the playoffs. They probably saved some jobs in the big picture and they without question improved the temperament in the building and in the locker room. Once the Eagles exhaled and played football, they were terrific.
Participation in Barry Rubin's offseason conditioning program has been 100 percent and the players have approached every phase of the "slow" months aggressively and with a purpose.
What will that mean come September? Well, let's see how the practices in the spring and in training camp go. Let's see how healthy the Eagles are when they line up to play in Cleveland on September 9.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- Nothing new on the unsigned draft picks, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and quarterback Nick Foles. The signings could happen at any time. It seems like there is a structure in place for both players based on signings that have happened around their draft positions.
- Disappointed that the Eagles didn't sign safety Yeremiah Bell last week? Don't be. If the Eagles really wanted Bell, they would have signed him. If they really felt they had a need at safety, they would have addressed the positions more aggressively in the offseason. The Eagles want to see how their young safeties mature and these next couple of months are crucial. There are and will be other veteran safeties available should the Eagles want to add one. Bell signed with the Jets for a reported guarantee of $1.4 million this season. Can he still play at a high level?
- I'm guessing, and this is just a guess, that the two draft picks who emerged from the rookie camp with the best chance to step in and play right away in a major role were linebacker Mychal Kendricks and cornerback Brandon Boykin. It wouldn't surprise me to see Kendricks as a starter at SAM linebacker this week. By the way, both Cox and defensive end Vinny Curry were terrific, but they have a ton of veteran competition in front of them.
- My understanding is that running back Bryce Brown really impressed at the rookie camp with his hands and that he "caught everything." I have a very good feeling about Brown. With him and Chris Polk and Dion Lewis, the Eagles have three young, talented backs fighting to back up McCoy. Fun stuff.