Howie Roseman is a careful dispenser of information. Of all the news that came out of his season-ending, state-of-the-team news conference Wednesday - and there wasn't much - his reticence was the least surprising. ATM's hand out stray $20 bills more freely than the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations divulges the inner thoughts of the organization.
That's an understandable position for a guy in his chair, but it didn't do much for fans interested in how the team specifically figures it will get from here to there in the hierarchy of NFL teams. What positions need to be upgraded? Will some veterans have to take a haircut in order to make the salary cap work next season? What are the priorities heading toward free agency and the draft? Any changes contemplated for the stadium code of conduct?
"We certainly don't want to give the answers to the test to anyone watching or listening to this," Roseman said, guarding closely the secret about the team's wide receivers and cornerbacks.
What did come through clearly, however, and perhaps isn't all that comforting for followers of the team hoping for blue skies ahead, is that Roseman doesn't think the Eagles are particularly close to achieving elite status. He said the goal isn't to patch and fill, finish with a 10-6 record, and simply make the playoffs. It probably wasn't a coincidence that outcome represented the high-water mark of Chip Kelly's term here. In fact, if you wanted to pick an overall theme from Wednesday it was: If Chip did it, it didn't work, and we're still paying the price.
Roseman said 10-6 "isn't good enough," and set the goal at winning enough games to earn a first-round bye and as much home-field advantage as possible. Again, it isn't breaking news that 12 or 13 wins is better than 10, but the path to get there represents a higher degree of difficulty and a greater risk that the outcome won't be successful. The higher fruit is tastier, but it's a lot harder to pick.
"I think that when I look back at some of the mistakes I made, they were about just trying to get into the playoffs and believing that once you get into the playoffs, maybe you have a chance every year because it's a shorter field, and you can just get hot," Roseman said. "Are there opportunities at some point to do one-year, stop-gap, hold-the-forts? Sure. I'm not sitting here saying there won't be any of those, but we have to manage our risk."
The sobering assessment that an immense amount of work (and, by definition, time) is still to come, and that, in Roseman's accounting, the team's only outstanding assets are "a 24-year-old quarterback" and "a 25-year-old highest-paid player" was a counterpoint to the giddy view from the coach and locker room that prosperity is right around the corner.
Doug Pederson and the players looked at the season and pointed out, repeatedly, that six of the team's nine losses came by seven points or fewer. Their mantra was that the Eagles are that close to being a legitimate contender with what they have. A play here, a play there. A player here, a player there. That close.
The argument would be more convincing if the same things weren't said by so many teams with mediocre records. Thirteen NFL teams finished with seven, eight, or nine wins this season and, in combination, they failed to win 62 games decided by one score, or an average of four per team. So, by extension of the Eagles' logic, every one of them actually had the potential to be 11-, 12-, and 13-win teams.
Take the Buffalo Bills and the New Orleans Saints, both of whom finished with the same 7-9 record as the Eagles. The Bills also lost six games by seven points or fewer. The Saints lost seven games by six points or fewer, including four of them by a field goal or less. Is anyone talking about the Bills or Saints being right around the corner? No, and there is even an official league term for teams that lose close games: losers.
Roseman, to his credit, is aware of that, and promised the organization would do more than just put "Band-Aids" on open wounds within the roster.
"Yeah, I think when you look at how hard the team is playing for [Pederson] and how many close games we're in . . . love that perspective from our coaching staff and our players. We have a little different role here in the front office," Roseman said. "We're trying to compete with the best teams in the National Football League. We're certainly not there right now as we stand but feel a lot better than where we stood last year at this time."
Making that progress cost the organization a lot in assets and salary-cap flexibility, respectively, to draft Carson Wentz and re-sign Fletcher Cox, the two blocks around which Roseman promised the team will build. Regaining those footholds will be neither easy nor rapid. Next season? Unlikely.
"It's hard to figure out exactly what we're going to be, because we don't know what the offseason is going to hold for us," Roseman said. "We could have a great plan, but it's also subject to other things."
There is uncertainty and risk in setting out for the higher branches of the tree. The climb also takes a while. If nothing else was revealed Wednesday, Roseman made sure to let that one slip.