The Eagles Are Rebuilding

Why didn't Joe Banner know that?

Joe Banner, as smart as he is, should have seen this coming. I sure didn’t. I was snowed by the blizzard of new talent that arrived as the Eagles training camp was getting underway. So I’m as dumb as everyone else who thought we could sit back and enjoy the ride to the Super Bowl. But Banner should have known better.

Before the season started, Howard Eskin asked the Eagles’ president whether holes the team still had—at linebacker, for example—meant we should temper our expectations.

“All Super Bowl teams have flaws,” Banner said.

Message: Look at all the talent we’ve put together! We’re gonna roll …

In fact, Banner and Howie Roseman and Andy Reid did a brilliant job of setting up this year to have the financial room to spend money and then spend it. Free agents clearly wanted to play here. No NFL team has ever had an off-season of talent landed so fast and furiously.

But Banner still should have seen this coming.

Because football, especially, isn’t just about assembling athletic royalty. Baseball is different: It’s much more a solitary act. A pitcher, a hitter. Football is comprised of a bunch of moving parts. It’s complicated. (Although the Eagles love to overcomplicate to show how smart they are.) It takes a collective force, and that doesn’t happen with the snap of a few brilliant player acquisitions.

Reid obviously feels cornered at the moment, the dual hammers of expectation and reality pummeling him, and he’s been even grumpier than usual with the press. So be it. But part of the problem is that he’s been done in by his bosses waving that Super Bowl flag in training camp.

When Banner was asked about backup QB Vince Young calling this collection of talent a “dream team,” here’s what he said:

“That’s a scary term, but I think we’ve put together a team that somebody wrote the words ‘The Eagles are all in’ – that’s how we look at it. We’re doing anything and everything we can. … I’m glad the players are excited as well about what they see being put together and their own optimism and excitement about seeing themselves surrounded by other high talent, and as importantly, people that really, really want to be here and really, really want to win. They’re not afraid of a goal as high as we must win the Super Bowl to feel satisfied with the season.”

But the team was confronting a huge amount of change, in players and coaches, with no off-season of mini camps. If it was all going to work, success wouldn’t be immediate. It would take a half season, maybe a whole season.

This is, in fact, a rebuilding year. Even with all that new talent–in fact, because of all that new talent, it’s a rebuilding year. It takes time, to work out new coaching schemes and figure out how to mask flaws still there, and most important, for a team to develop, for that collective force to emerge. The offense reflects Mike Vick—it’s very good, and mistake-prone. At the moment, the defense is a bunch of fast guys running around not much interested in getting dirty. There’s no there there, as that great football mind Gertrude Stein would have put it.

Rebuilding? That’s not a word that Banner would ever use, especially not after he and Howie and Andy got all these great players to come to South Philly. But consider if Banner had said, instead, something like this on the eve of the season: “Nobody wants to win a Super Bowl more than I do, and I’m really excited about all the additions to our team. But it may take some time for the team to gel, given all the changes we’ve made—that’s the nature of football. It will certainly be interesting to watch.”

Would that have received a few howls of protest from Super Bowl-mad fans? Absolutely. But it would have been better than where we are now. Because we’re in a rebuilding year miscast as the year. A year from now—with time for the team to develop, with an off-season to plug the oh-so-obvious holes—the Eagles would have been very good.

Now, with the burden of how wonderful this year’s version was supposed to be out of the shoot, who knows? If Reid doesn’t immediately turn things around, he’ll be gone. That’s the position his bosses have put him in. Next year—with a new coach, a new system, more new players to fit that new system—might still be a mess.

This is a rebuilding year. It’s amazing what Joe Banner and company did, assembling all that talent. It’s also amazing they didn’t understand that talent alone is not the answer.