It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the whole window conversation became an annual offseason topic.
You know the one I'm talking about. It revolves around the Eagles' window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl. After the 2001 season, when the Birds reached the NFC championship with a third-year coach and a 25-year-old quarterback, the window seemed like it would be wide open for years to come (and really, it was).
But pretty much every offseason thereafter, the question was asked: What do the Eagles need to do to win now?
Given the roster turnover we've seen in the past few seasons (Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Brian Westbrook, Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard and so on), it makes sense to visit that topic once again.
Before 2010, Eagles management refused to use the word rebuilding around the Novacare Complex. Yet, after the playoff loss to the Packers, Andy Reid's message was a little different.
"Very few teams can retool the way that we retooled and still compete, put yourself in a position to compete for a championship, and we were able to do that," he said.
And so the question must be asked. After a season of retooling, are the Eagles built to win right now? Will they be legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2011? It's a complex question that I want to look at from three different angles: personnel, coaching staff and offseason uncertainty.
Let's examine the first (and the biggest) one today and the other two on Tuesday.
Do the Eagles have the players right now to compete for a championship, and how long will the core be together? I've identified a specific group to examine based on two factors:
1. I expect each to be starting for this team in 2011 (assuming there's football). This means their jobs are secure, they're under contract (or are expected to be) and they're healthy.
2. Each is capable of playing at a high level and has demonstrated that in the past year or two.
Here's a chart with those players listed, along with age and contract information. Note that age pertains to the projected start of the 2011 season.
||Signed through 2012
||Signed through 2011
||Signed through 2013
||Signed through 2014
||Signed through 2016
||Signed through 2014
||Signed through 2013
||Signed through 2013
||Signed through 2013
Before I get to what the table shows, let's acknowledge some players who were left off. Because of the offseason uncertainty, we do not know how things are going to play out for guys like Quintin Mikell and Stewart Bradley, who are not under contract. I included Vick though because I have trouble envisioning a scenario where he is not the starting quarterback in 2011.
There were some tough decisions to make on defense. You could make the case for Antonio Dixon or Mike Patterson to be included, but given the way the Eagles rotated defensive linemen in 2010, I didn't include either guy. And injuries have to be accounted for also, which is why you don't see either Brandon Graham or Nate Allen listed. Both players showed promise, but they suffered season-ending injuries, and I wasn't comfortable saying either is a sure bet after one season.
One more thing to keep in mind when looking at the last column of when players are signed through. That doesn't mean the player will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract. We don't know what their exact rights will be until the CBA is resolved.
Let's move on to the players who are listed. As you can see, seven of the 10 are signed through the 2013 season. And from the numbers I saw, those aren't really backloaded/deceiving contracts. The one exception could be Samuel, who's scheduled to make $10.4M in 2013 at the age of 32. Then again, he's coming off his best season as an Eagle.
Vick is a tough player to project. He'll be 31 later this year, and while he's unsigned, the Eagles are fully expected to use the franchise tag on him to keep him here in 2011. Remember, just because they tag Vick doesn't mean a long-term extension won't be worked out. So it's a distinct possibility that he's the starting quarterback through at least that 2013 window. We don't know how much (if any) his body benefited from not getting hit for two seasons while in prison. We also do not know how he will react to different defensive schemes being thrown at him now that teams have a year of film on him in the Eagles' system.
Jackson is only signed through next season, but extending him will likely be an offseason priority (once the Eagles are able to do so). McCoy is an interesting case because he'll be in a somewhat similar situation to Jackson next season. He's working under a rookie contract that will pay him $490,000 in 2011 and $575,000 in 2012. Like Jackson, McCoy is represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Keep in mind, though, that he'll only be 24 when his rookie deal runs out. Assuming he doesn't take some kind of giant leap backwards in the next two years, it's reasonable to assume he'll be with the Birds through another contract.
You'll notice that eight of the 10 players I listed are on offense. That group is built to win now. Guys like McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, Avant, Celek, Peters and Herremans should all theoretically be in their primes. And Vick is coming off his best season.
McCoy, Jackson, Maclin and Celek are nowhere close to 30. The only three offensive positions not accounted for in the above table are center, right guard and right tackle. Winston Justice was signed to an extension during the '09 season and is under contract through 2013. He had an inconsistent 2010 that resulted in the benching against Green Bay, and the Eagles will have to decide whether he can start at right tackle for the next few years.
Center is an unknown with Jamaal Jackson recovering from injury and Mike McGlynn having had an up-and-down 2010 season. However, Jackson is also signed through 2013. McGlynn is scheduled to be a free agent after next season.
At right guard, Max Jean-Gilles is not under contract. Neither is Nick Cole.
So overall, the offense is in very good shape to be a championship-level group through at least 2013. At that point, Vick will be 34.
The defense, of course, is another story. There's a lot of uncertainty on that side of the ball.
Up front, Trent Cole is a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end, and Dixon also played at a Pro Bowl level last season, even though he was not used as an every-down player. The Eagles have three other guys who were first-round picks: Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Graham. That's where Jim Washburn comes in. The Birds are counting on him to get the most out of this group. Of the players mentioned here, only Bunkley is likely to become an unrestricted free agent before 2013.
Linebacker is a complete crapshoot. Bradley, Akeem Jordan and Ernie Sims are scheduled to be free agents, although we don't know what exactly their rights will be until after the CBA is resolved. I can't imagine they'd bring Sims back though. Meanwhile, JaMar Chaney and Moise Fokou are playing on rookie contracts so the Eagles control their rights. Having said all that, I'm not sure that there are three starting linebackers among this group.
And finally, the secondary. I mentioned Samuel above. Mikell is a free agent, and Allen is on his rookie contract so he's not going anywhere. Right cornerback is a position that has to be addressed (hey, didn't we say the same thing last year?). And Joselio Hanson is signed through 2013.
So what's the bottom line here with personnel? Offensively, the Eagles are in position to compete at a Super Bowl level in the next two-to-three years. That window could probably be extended, based on a variety of factors (contracts, health, draft, free agency, etc.). But without taking any of those into account, the Eagles have several talented players that should be in their primes (and under contract) through 2013.
The defense is filled with question marks. Last year's group certainly was not Super Bowl-caliber. If Graham, Allen and Chaney make significant leaps in their second seasons, if the Eagles add a talented linebacker (or two) and a capable right cornerback, if Juan Castillo proves to be a better fit than Sean McDermott and if Washburn can get more from the defensive line, maybe it could be. But then again, those are a lot of ifs.
In the second part of this analysis, I'll take a look at the offseason coaching changes, the draft and free agency.
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