EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie emerged from a hallway adjacent to the visiting team locker room at MetLife Stadium and stood in the middle of the dressing area to offer an honest assessment of the 2014 season and the future for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wearing a gray sport coat with a black mock turtleneck, Lurie had "dual feelings" at the conclusion of his 20th full season as the owner of the franchise. On the one hand, Lurie is "very enthused" by the nucleus that has been built and the direction of what is largely a young team with a lot of "up-and-coming" stars who are 27 years old or younger. At the same time, the Eagles shared the best record in the NFL on Thanksgiving and to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in after losing three of four to finish the season was "gut-wrenching" for Lurie.
"You've got to go from good to great. We're at the good, but we don't want that. We want to be great," Lurie said. "That's where we've got to simply get better."
There are three very specific reasons why, in Lurie's estimation, the Eagles are not playing postseason football in 2014.
"There were some Achilles heels that in the end were not salvageable. That's what derailed us," Lurie said. "It was the three obvious things throughout the season. Turnovers, number one. You can't be a Super Bowl team if you're going to lead the league in turnovers. Two, red zone offense, from the beginning, especially harken back to SF and Arizona. We had a chance to have the best record in the NFL at that point. That would have given us a cushion to go 12-4. And third, giving up the big play on defense. Great, great front seven. Outstanding improvement on D all over. Giving up the big ball, you can't do that.
"We've got nothing but ourselves to blame."
The Eagles have now finished 10-6 in back-to-back seasons, the first two of Chip Kelly's tenure as head coach. Going into this offseason, Lurie said that the Eagles have a better sense of where the team must get better in order to take the proverbial next step.
"We have a better picture of where we need to upgrade. I think you have to wait and evaluate every game and be careful that you don't make rash decisions at the end of the 16th game, but I think there's a clear path to improving the team and getting better and better," Lurie said. "It's an upward path, really optimistic. I think we've got excellent people in place and a really young nucleus. We've just got to get better and there are clear areas to upgrade. We've got to find every possible way and avenue of upgrading."
The Eagles conclude the 2014 season at MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants with an eye on reaching 10 wins for the second straight season ...
Lurie praised the work done by Kelly in taking over a four-win team and going 20-12 in the first two seasons despite being forced to start multiple quarterbacks both seasons. Lurie recognizes that even the best teams in the league must go through a growing process. Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champions, went 7-9 in each of coach Pete Carroll's first two seasons before breaking through to make the playoffs and eventually win the title. Lurie knows that he has the right man in Kelly to lead this team.
"He's an excellent coach. He's so dedicated to making us better and better. His life is all football and creating an outstanding football team. That's what he's all about," Lurie said. "There's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be bumps in the road. If there's not, then I've never seen it in the NFL."
The work of general manager Howie Roseman and president Don Smolenski was also lauded by Lurie. From a personnel standpoint, the Eagles had five players selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014 - linebacker Connor Barwin, center Jason Kelce, running back LeSean McCoy, returner Darren Sproles and tackle Jason Peters. Another five players were named as Pro Bowl alternates. Only one of those players, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, a third alternate to the Pro Bowl, is a free agent at the end of this season.
Lurie's approach to the team's ability to procure players in the draft is to evaluate after each draft after three years. The Class of 2012 produced defensive end Fletcher Cox, a player whom Lurie believed should have been named to the Pro Bowl, as well as linebacker Mychal Kendricks, defensive end Vinny Curry, cornerback Brandon Boykin and quarterback Nick Foles.
"Howie's done a great job," Lurie said.
Lurie acknowledged that he wished he had the opportunity to see Foles play the entire season. After a 2013 season for the ages, Foles missed the final eight games due to a fractured collarbone. He had completed 59.8 percent of his pass attempts for 2,163 yards with 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions for an 81.4 passer rating. The Eagles were 6-2 in games that Foles started.
"He's 14-4 (with Kelly) and that's pretty damn good. He's a hard worker, great guy. We'll just have to see," Lurie said. "Very frustrating that he only played half of the year. He played when our line was banged up at its most. Won most of the games, but we've got to limit the turnovers and that's part of the issue on offense. We cannot lead the league in turnovers."
The 2014 season is over. Lurie is approaching the Eagles' future through a prism of optimism. The Eagles have a good group of coaches, personnel staff and young nucleus. It's a matter of improving in the areas that need to be upgraded to help turn the Eagles from a good team into a great one.