An Eagles fan named Ron Erdman, who lives in Dallas and makes his way to Philadelphia for each home game and also gets to a handful of road games every season, emailed me last week and asked me about writing the "WE WILL BE BACK" story for the 2019 season. Wrote Ron: "We as fans, believe there isn't that much "tweaking" the Eagles have to do to get back to the Big Show Next year."
OK, Ron, it's your time. The Eagles WILL BE BACK in 2019 after reaching the NFC Divisional Round this season, but it remains to be seen how much "tweaking" the team has to make in the months ahead. Given some of the challenges that free agency could present and understanding some of the questions the Eagles have to answer on a few aging players, the "tweaking" could be something more substantial.
Let's understand one thing first, though: This team is not in "rebuild" mode. That isn't part of the Eagles' thinking.
"There is only reloading. There is only re-tooling," Howie Roseman said in the days following the playoff loss in New Orleans. "We are not in a 'Let's get younger, let's rebuild (approach).' We want to win every year. I see that being our philosophy for the foreseeable future. Every year we're going to say, 'What are the steps we need (to take) to be the best we possibly can be for this year?' Now, we're also going to make sure that we're not sacrificing everything for one year and we're building also as we go. We feel we can balance that and also give ourselves a great shot to win a championship next year and also put in a situation where we're not sacrificing so much of the future that we can't do that in 2020, 2021."
Roseman says the Eagles' collective foot will be "firmly on the gas pedal" in the offseason, so expect the team to be, as usual, creative and aggressive. Still, there are some legitimately difficult decisions ahead, starting with a picture at quarterback that need to be cleared up – specifically, what happens with Nick Foles, who has a contract for 2019 at $20 million should the Eagles opt in in the next couple of weeks – and then moving on to a large handful of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins on March 13. The list of players includes defensive ends Brandon Graham and Chris Long, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Jordan Hicks, D.J. Alexander and Paul Worrilow, cornerback Ronald Darby, safety Corey Graham, running backs Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi and wide receivers Golden Tate, Jordan Matthews and Mike Wallace.
That is an extensive list and it contains some key players. When you look at this list and then think about the NFL Draft – the Eagles have nine draft picks and could be awarded 1-2 compensatory picks – you wonder just how much this roster will be "tweaked." Roseman says that, on average, an NFL roster turns over 15 to 20 percent every year. The Eagles could potentially up that percentage significantly.
We'll see. It's a fascinating time for a franchise that one year ago was in Minneapolis preparing for Super Bowl LII. What happened on February 4, the win over New England, changed the course of Eagles history forever, and the Eagles emerged with the mentality – which Roseman has had forever – of staying aggressive, of challenging the roster. The five-wins-in-six-weeks-run to push the Eagles into the postseason, where they won in Chicago and came up just short in New Orleans showed that the team was right there once again. The Eagles expect to compete for the Super Bowl in 2019 and for the years after that.
But first, there is some business to handle.
"You want to have the right kind of balance of having some youth because we do have a salary cap and you do have to deal with that," Roseman said, "and also having veteran leadership so that guys are learning the right way."
Ron, there you go. I don't have the plan. The Eagles haven't finalized their intentions. We're in the early stages. The salary cap situation is complicated, but Roseman says, "We're going to add good players. We're going to make sure that the opportunities work. We're not going to use the salary cap as an excuse to not get better." The draft is huge, with three selections among the first 57 picks, and the Eagles have to hit on those assets in a draft that is said to be rich along the defensive line and at running back, two areas in which the Eagles could use some help.
One year later, the Eagles are preparing to get back to the Super Bowl, not play in it. The memories of that week in Minneapolis and everything required to reach that peak and then win it, they serve as the motivation to return. This is not going to be easy, but yes, Ron, the Eagles "WILL BE BACK." It just could be more, and maybe much more, of a "tweaking" necessary to get the roster to where Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson want it to be. A busy offseason is ahead of all of us, but the Eagles know they've got a lot to work with, including a strong core, and a burning desire to get back to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible.