It took Jeffrey Lurie nearly three minutes to finish answering the first question he fielded on Thursday afternoon, but in doing so he also managed to answer most of the other pertinent questions he would soon face.
His expectations for 2017? His expectations for his head coach? His assessment of the Eagles chances in the NFC East?
All of it could be extrapolated from those first few minutes, when a question about the basis for his belief in his general manager turned into a keynote-length commendation so full-throated that it made you wonder if you were remembering last year’s record correctly.
“I think Howie’s done a tremendous job,” Lurie began. “Total confidence in Howie. The last couple years, remarkable franchise-changing decisions. And as I’ve said before, it’s not easy to not tank and be able to accomplish the goals you want to make in the NFL.”
Lurie has always come across as a guy whose interpretation of reality favors his heart over his head, which might sound like a more polite way of accusing him of wishful thinking, but it really isn’t. The Eagles could very well turn out to be the team that their owner depicted while rattling off the moves that Howie Roseman had made in the year-and-a-half since his return to Winterfell.
Alshon Jeffrey could be the player he was in 2013-14, when he averaged 87 catches and 1,277 yards and, most important, did not miss a game. Torrey Smith’s straight-line speed could open up the middle of the field for Jeffrey and Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor could yet prove to have been worthy of a first-round pick. Jason Peters could have another healthy season, and Isaac Seumaulo could play an adequate left guard, and LeGarrette Blount could gain positive yardage more than once every three carries. Timmy Jernigan could be every bit the 4-3 defensive tackle the Eagles envisioned when they acquired him from the Ravens. And, if he is, the Eagles could re-sign him after the season after he becomes a free agent. Jeffrey, too.
And if all that happens, Carson Wentz could take an even bigger step forward in his progression as an NFL quarterback than the normal aging curve for the positions suggests.
All of these things are possible. But Lurie seems to be of the opinion that they are eventualities, that the roster that Roseman and his personnel staff have constructed since trading up for Wentz is so good as to be self-evidential.
“Ever since [trading up for Wentz], it’s been like one domino after another in terms of smart moves,” Lurie said. “Really happy with the additions this offseason, as was last offseason. In today’s NFL, and I’ve said this before, it’s not simply having, OK, this is your scouting, or this is your GM, or whatever. Football operations requires enormous processing and identifying key data, and if you don’t have a great player personnel department, an excellent analytics department, really good sports science, top notch player development, excellent teaching, you’re not going to be the team you want to be.”
Thing is, the Eagles aren’t that team yet. They just aren’t. And those moves won’t be proven smart until they actually translate into wins. The Eagles were supposed to have learned this lesson back in 2012. Frankly, there was a weird little Dream Team undercurrent to some of Lurie’s comments on Thursday. Is Lurie happy because the Eagles really are back on the road to sustainability, or is he happy because he’s having fun again, taking trips to North Dakota with the boys, sitting in the coach’s office shooting the bull and getting a rundown on the game plan, watching his hand-picked GM work the phones in pursuit of the market’s biggest name free agent?
The lesson of 2012 was that the whole of a football roster matters more than the sum of its players’ reputations. There’s a reason Jeffrey was available for one year and $9.5 million, and there’s a reason Jernigan was available for a third-round pick swap, just like there was a reason Nelson Agholor was available at No. 20 and Donnell Pumphrey was available in the fourth round.
None of this is meant to suggest that the Eagles are not a more talented team than they were last year. They are. But their stated goal at the start of this thing was to become a team that is not merely competing for playoff berths. The goal was to rejoin the company of the Green Bays and the Seattles and the Pittsburghs of the world.
Lurie certainly sounded like someone who has already decided they are much closer to that goal now than they were one year ago. If 2017 ends up challenging that assumption, it won’t be the roster’s fault. It isn’t hard to guess whose it will be.