This one won't go away. Everyone still feels numbness after the loss in Arizona. It is more difficult to wake up and get moving. The adrenaline from the past few weeks is long gone. Free agency and the draft feels like they start in a million years. I want to sleep all day. I'm sluggish, anyway. I'm miserable.
This is the way it feels after that loss. Still. Nearly a week after.
"Yeah, I feel it too," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson on Friday. "I wish we were still playing. Sometimes it's hard to believe that we're not still playing."
Jackson hasn't been through this before. He hasn't felt what Eagles fans feel now, and how they felt in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Such a void. Such a letdown after being so emotionally high the last three weeks.
So empty ...
This is the first weekend without football since July. I can't help thinking about what might have been, or even what was last weekend in Arizona. I can't help that hollow feeling that has replaced the incredible buzz and excitement of weeks past. I know it will return, I just know it. The Eagles have a strong team in place right now and they have assets in the draft (10 picks in all, including two first-round selections) and they have what Team President Joe Banner describes as a "very good" situation in salary-cap dollars to spend. There are a lot of young players who are ready to emerge into big-time standouts, and the defense has never been in as sturdy a shape as it is now, with as many bright prospects already in place.
I believe in the organization and the resolve it has for moving forward and seeing things honestly. There are hard decisions to make. Some popular veterans are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents -- Brian Dawkins, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Correll Buckhalter among them -- and not all of them will return.
"Making those decisions, with players who have given so much to the organization and who are so popular with the fans, are probably the most difficult decisions we have to make," said Banner. "We have to evaluate them based on how well we expect them to play in the future, not based on how they have played in the past. It is not going to be easy for us, but that is part of the business."
The wheels are in motion here. Just now, the team is in the process of formally wrapping up the 2008 season, of putting their final grade on every prospective free agent and of ranking those who might be available at 12:01 a.m. on February 27. The Eagles will have their strategy in place before free agency begins. Will they be active? They have the resources and they have obvious needs; the question is how many quality players will actually hit the market. Should the Eagles desire, they can go out and be among those teams looking to overpay one or two of the premier talents who are free agents, if the right players get that far.
Most of the energy in the coming weeks, prior to February 27, will be given to signing their own. There are certainly some among that handful of veterans due to be unrestricted free agents that the Eagles would like to have back, and if history serves as an indicator, the Eagles will keep those players off the market and will announce a deal before free agency begins. We can only wait for that.
In the meantime, we take it take by fragile day. Yeah, it was a wonderful run, and nobody can take back the feeling we had on that magical December 28 when the planets aligned and the Eagles had a win-and-they're-in game against Dallas, and the team went out and pummeled their most bitter of rivals. And the win in Minnesota was a good start to the playoffs, a vital step for this team. Beating New York in the Divisional round of the playoffs served as notice that the Eagles had taken back, in a way, the NFC East. Two wins over the Giants and another over Dallas in the final two months of the season restored the Eagles to the top of the division, if only in a symbolic way.
I'll remember that feeling of pure joy after whipping the Giants, and I'll remember how everybody pulled together after a 5-5-1 crossroads moment in the season. The Eagles re-discovered what it takes to win, and to win big, and to win at crucial times. Maybe that will carry over to next year, but more likely, as we have learned from the past, there is really no payback from one year to the next.
Everybody is going to be OK. The Eagles will be back. They will be an outstanding team in 2009, and hopefully we will also get right back to that fevered emotional pitch right away. It's just that right now, once again, we are all feeling the lonely pain of no Eagles football for such a long, long time.
I'm going to enjoy this weekend. I'm going to spend time with the family and I'm going to count my blessings. But deep down, in moments of quiet, I'm going to long for the game, for the thrill of the chase.
**NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- Still no word from the Eagles on a replacement for quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, who is now the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. When we know, you will know.
- Lots of crazy twists and turns out there with all of these coaching changes throughout the NFL. The NFC East has been in upheaval, with both the Cowboys and Giants changing defensive coordinators. Very interesting stuff. I feel really good about the structure of this coaching staff and its ability to add quality coaches to replace those who have moved on or will move on. Andy Reid is always thinking ahead in that respect.
- One of the positions to watch in the off-season is fullback. The Eagles have not had a "true" fullback in place for some time now, although Dan Klecko made rapid improvement during the year. Kyle Eckel is likely to get some reps there in the summer, too. What kind of job did Klecko truly do, in the eyes of the coaching staff? How the Eagles approach the position in free agency and in the draft will tell us all we need to know.
- Has Brent Celek earned a starting job at tight end? I think so. I count Celek as one of the most improved players on this team in the last year. At the same time, the Eagles need another tight end, at least. L.J. Smith will be an unrestricted free agent on February 27, leaving just Celek and Matt Schobel on the roster at the position. It would be a boost to see a big, strong blocking tight end here, as well as someone who can get down the field and create matchup problems for the defense. Tight end needs to be a major weapon need season. Celek showed he can handle a lot, but he also needs some help.
- I hear a lot of people say that Reid has devoted so much of his energies toward building the offensive line, but that isn't entirely true in this sense: In Reid's era, the team has used only four first-day draft picks on offensive linemen. Here is the list: Doug Brzezinski, third round 1999; Bobbie Williams, second round, 2000; Shawn Andrews, first round, 2004; Winston Justice, second round, 2006. That is over a span of 10 drafts, folks. The Eagles have had a strong offensive line, in large part, because veteran tackles Thomas and Runyan have been so good, and because line coach Juan Castillo has developed some young players like Jamaal Jackson, Todd Herremans, Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles to go along with Andrews inside. Clearly, this group is going to need some attention in the off-season.