Eagles

Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

usa-doug-pederson-howie-roseman-eagles.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles somehow put together a winner overnight

Team chemistry is such an elusive thing and, once you finally find it, such a fragile thing.

What was the difference between the 2004 and 2005 Eagles? It wasn't talent. It was a solitary wide receiver who was intent on destroying the chemistry of a Super Bowl team because he wasn't happy with his contract.

No sport requires this level of teamwork, and no sport requires this level of unselfishness. With very few exceptions, you really need a special group of people for sustained success in the NFL, and that's why figuring out what kind of person you're getting in the draft or free agency has become just as important as figuring out what kind of player you're getting.

Which brings us to the 2017 Eagles, who by any measure are the best team in the NFL as we arrive at the midpoint of the season.

They're rolling along at 7-1 with a six-game winning streak, with those six wins coming by an average of 11½ points. You know all the facts and figures. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, the hottest quarterback in the league, the stingiest run defense in the league in seven years.

Here's another number: 22.

That's how many new players are on the roster.

And that may be the most remarkable number of all.

GM Howie Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas took a 7-9 team with a rookie coach and quarterback and instead of just hoping that another year together would turn them into a winner, they gutted the thing.

Some 42 percent of the 53-man roster that will face the Broncos on Sunday was not part of the 2016 Eagles. 

Think about all the key guys on last year's team the Eagles cut ties with.

The leading rusher and leading wide receiver. A former first-round pick. Both starting corners. Two defensive line starters who had played at a high level here. And so on.

And think about the new guys. How many key contributors on this team weren't even here last year?

Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Rasul Douglas came in the draft. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Corey Graham and Chris Long signed as free agents. Tim Jernigan, Ronald Darby and Dexter McDougle arrived via trades.

Corey Clement was an undrafted rookie. Jake Elliott was plucked off the Bengals' practice squad. Kenjon Barner was home in California out of work.

We've seen the Eagles make wholesale changes in the past and it didn't go so well. But this group is different. The Eagles managed to rebuild the roster and truly reshape the franchise while also creating a remarkable chemistry and maintaining the unselfish, team-first culture that Doug Pederson has been crafting.

To turn over nearly half the roster and emerge with a singular unit in which new guys and old guys are all working together for the common good is an incredibly difficult thing to do. But Howie and Joe pulled it off virtually overnight. And Doug certainly deserves a ton of credit for taking all these disparate parts he was given and helping mold them into a unified whole.

One thing most of these guys have in common is that they're winners.

Blount and Long won a Super Bowl last year. Torrey Smith and Graham won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Tennessee went 25-14 when Barnett was there. West Virginia was 18-8 with Douglas on the field. Wisconsin was 40-9 with Clement. North Carolina went 19-8 in Mack Hollins' two years as a starter.

This was not an accident. Roseman and Douglas wanted a locker room full of players who not only are talented but also have tremendous character and understand the commitment it takes to win.

Put enough guys like that together and you have a pretty good chance to build that winning culture all coaches and front office executives talk about but very few know how to build.

It's happened here and it's happened faster than anybody anticipated. Even the people that put this all together.

The Eagles went out and found 53 seemingly random puzzle pieces, and halfway through the season, it sure looks like they all fit together perfectly.

Eagles Mailbag: Trading Nick Foles; will Carson Wentz be ready?

Eagles Mailbag: Trading Nick Foles; will Carson Wentz be ready?

Training camp starts next week!

After a shorter-than-usual offseason, the Eagles will try to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champs in over a decade. 

We answered half of your questions yesterday (see story). The rest today: 

To me, this has always been the most likely scenario if Nick Foles were to ever get traded for a few reasons. The first is that by training camp, the Eagles will have a much better idea of whether or not Carson Wentz is ready to play. They can decide to either keep the insurance policy or trade it away. And you’re right, desperation will raise Foles’ price. 

I remember asking Howie Roseman about this exact possibility back in March. 

“I’d say that’s a possibility of anyone on our team,” Roseman said. “We’re going to do what’s in the best interest of the Eagles. I don’t want to make this about just Nick, but anything that can make us better at any time in the year, we have to look at.”

I think it would have to be a first-rounder. The Eagles already didn’t trade Foles for an early second-rounder this year and if Sam Bradford was worth a first-rounder, the Super Bowl MVP damn-well better be. Now, it’s rare to have a Teddy Bridgewater-type situation arise, but if it does, the Eagles will be waiting by their phones.  

(And side note: I don’t think Foles’ restructured contract changes anything.) 

My gut is that he’s ready for Week 1, but I don’t know. On one hand, it’s a really serious injury. On the other, I was incredibly impressed by how much he was able to do in the spring and how well he did it. 

The one thing I know is this: It won’t be a decision. Either Wentz is cleared and he plays or he isn’t cleared and he doesn’t. There can’t be any thought to resting him if he’s cleared to play. These games are too important and they’re going to need him in every one. 

The Rams improved their roster and should be one of the favorites to win the NFC. The Rams already had a quarterback and some key pieces around him and then they won the offseason. 

The brought in Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Now, putting a bunch of great players together isn’t enough — remember the Dream Team — but it’s a good start. And the Rams certainly added a lot of talent. 

This is a fair question after Nigel Bradham’s suspension, but the good news for the Eagles is that Bradham’s suspension is just one game. The Eagles should have had more depth but Paul Worrilow went down for the season in the spring on the same day they cut Mychal Kendricks. That leaves the Eagles with a depth problem. 

I think they’ll try to get a better sense of what depth they have during the first week or two of training camp. Let’s see what they have in Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, Corey Nelson, Joe Walker and LaRoy Reynolds. But I’d imagine the Eagles at least have a couple veteran names in mind. Remember, they did add Dannell Ellerbe late last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if they still have a short list of guys who would make sense. 

Hot dogs. Please don’t ask me if they’re a sandwich. 

More on the Eagles

Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

It’s hard to believe but we’re less than two weeks away from the start of training camp. Doesn’t it seem like the Eagles won the Super Bowl, like, last week? 

Anyway, the entire team will report to the NovaCare Complex on July 25 and the first practice of the summer is the next day on July 26. The first preseason game is Aug. 9 against the Steelers. 

The season opener is Sept. 6 and it’ll be here before you know it. 

Let’s get to your questions: 

If Ajayi puts up 1,200 and eight touchdowns, the Eagles would be thrilled. The last Eagle to do that was LeSean McCoy in 2013. In fact, there have only been seven seasons in Eagles history where they’ve had a running back put up those numbers. Shady in 2013 and 2011, Ricky Watters in 1996 and 1995 and Wilbert Montgomery in 1981, 1979 and 1978. So it’s hard to do. Think about this … as good as the Eagles’ offense was in 2017, they had just nine rushing touchdowns as a team

So I don’t see Ajayi putting up 1,200 and eight, but I’m down with a 1,000-yard season. I think that’s possible. There’s still going to be a rotation in 2018, but without LeGarrette Blount taking carries, I think Ajayi will have enough opportunity. Remember, Blount led the team with 766 yards last year but lost his chance at a 1,000-yard season when Ajayi was traded to the Birds in the middle of the year.

I think with another year under his belt and without Blount taking carries now that he’s in Detroit, Ajayi will get over 1,000 in 2018. 

I’m not ready to completely write Pumphrey off, but I also haven’t seen anything that lets me know he can play in the NFL. There’s no sugarcoating it … Pumphrey was terrible last summer and if he’s that bad again this year, the Eagles might have to just give up on him. But if he shows some promise, things get trickier. Then they might have to find a roster spot for him. 

Either way, it’s hard for me to envision him really seeing time on the field this season. Is he really going to improve enough to take Ajayi, Darren Sproles or Corey Clement off the field? I just don’t see it. 

No, during a handful of spring practices, Sidney Jones hasn’t done enough to take a starting corner job from Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby. And unless one of those two really struggles, I think the Eagles will stick with them. But I expect Jones to prove himself plenty this season and to play a decent amount. I’m a complete believer in his ability and his recovery from injury. Before that Achilles injury, he could have been the first cornerback taken in the draft; he was that good. And even if he needs to shake off rust, that talent is going to show itself. He might not be a starter this year, but he’s the future of the secondary. 

I don’t remember receivers running free in the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings scored seven points in that one. As for the Super Bowl, yeah, that wasn’t great. The Patriots put up 613 yards and 500 of them came through the air. It was just the 16th game in NFL history where a team has put up 500 passing yards in a regular season or playoff game. So not great. 

But that was against the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the Eagles still won the game. I understand why you might rewatch that game and be concerned (actually it’s impressive you can watch that game and be concerned. They won the freaking Super Bowl), but that was an anomaly. They gave up 195 yards passing to the Falcons and 263 to the Vikings who trailed for most of the game. 

The Eagles bring back Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and essentially add a first-round pick in Jones. I think they’ll be good. 

See: Snowball + Hell. 

More on the Eagles