Near the front of the long, narrow locker room at the NovaCare Complex, there was the traditional pile of cardboard boxes and supply of black, industrial-strength trash bags. It was moving day, and the players packed up equipment to be shipped back home for the offseason or merely stuffed what they wanted into a bag and tossed it into the back of their cars.
The Eagles cleared out the shirts, shorts, socks, shoes and unfulfilled aspirations of the 2016 season on Monday. They weighed out, got their offseason training regimens - not so fast there, Lane - and left a room that will never be exactly the same again. NFL players only rent their lockers, and there's no predicting when the lease is up.
"From a personnel standpoint, I'm sure there will be some changes, some turnover, but that's for Howie and the guys upstairs," safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
Howie Roseman, the executive vice president of football operations, has some work to do between now and September. That's true every year, but this time at least he doesn't have to lead a coaching search. Six NFL teams are looking for a new head coach, a number that could grow to as many as 10 depending on the validity of various rumors, so it's a good year to like who you have.
One season into Doug Pederson's term, and one season into Roseman's re-ascendance, the organization believes real progress has been made. The Eagles were 7-9 in 2015 and were 7-9 again in 2016. They were the 10th seed in the NFC in 2015 and the 12th seed in 2016. The progress is obviously to be found somewhere other than the standings, and the Eagles choose to measure it by the fact that they hung around in almost all of their nine losses, and that things simply feel differently now.
"It's way different. The culture is different now. Chip is a different guy, and Coach Pederson is a different guy," defensive end Brandon Graham said, and he struggled to keep from laughing out loud at the comparison. "When you've got a good coach like Coach Pederson you want the best for a guy like that."
Suffice it to say that wasn't the locker room's consensus regarding Kelly. And while 7-9 is 7-9, and 20 of the league's 32 teams did better than that mediocre record, the glass is perceived to be half-full this time around.
"I felt last year we were trending in the wrong direction at 7-9. Now I definitely feel we're trending up," Jenkins said. "It makes a lot of difference when you've got stability in the head coaching job, stability in the quarterback position. Now, we've just got to build around that and add a few things here and there. The feeling is different after this season than in years past. Hopefully, we'll have an uneventful offseason for once."
Major changes to the hierarchy of the franchise or the core of the locker room aren't anticipated, but "a few things here and there" is understating the roster makeover that must be continued.
"I don't want to repeat the narrative of, 'If we'd just done this in this game . . .' That's neither here nor there. It's the wins and losses," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "Coming into this year, if somebody would see what we had, and some of the obstacles, and we said we'd win seven games and really compete against really good teams, I think most people would have still counted us out. We've got some things to build off of."
That narrative is flawed, in any case. The Eagles did lose six of their games by a combined 25 points but were outplayed in all but two of them, at Detroit and at New York, and maybe the home game against Washington. Does flipping those games with a play here or there make them 10-6 and a playoff team? Sure, if football worked that way, which it does not. The Eagles also finished with wins over New York, despite being badly outgained (thank you, Eli!), and over Dallas, which rested its starters. So, the league gives, and it takes away.
"We were pretty much in every single game," Matthews said. "We took some bad ones the year before where we were, like, 'We're not in this game at all.' Things changed from saying, 'This team needs to get a lot better,' to, 'This team needs to finish games.' That's a completely different thing."
They hope that's the case, anyway, and hope isn't a bad thing to regain. A year ago, drifting in the swirling eddies of Kelly's departure, they didn't know what would happen next. Now, they know the coach. They know the quarterback. They know the system and the routine. They don't know exactly who will return to the locker room, but the end of every season has some of that.
Late in the day on Monday, the last box was packed, the last bag was dragged down the hallway, and the door shut behind the Eagles on 2016. It wasn't very good, but they are still quite sure it was better.