The goal entering the official offseason was to get better. And boy did the Eagles ever live up to that standard. In a matter of a few days the team added a couple of good pass rushers, two very good cornerbacks, and a very talented backup quarterback. Mix in the addition of undrafted free agents, signing of rookies, and even getting a couple of mid-level veterans and you can see where the Eagles are much better than they were a week ago.
One of the keys to all of this is the presence of Andy Reid. He has built the Eagles into annual winners. He also has developed an atmosphere that draws veteran players. They know it will be a structured environment, but that players will still be given enough freedom to have some fun. Think of it has halfway between Rex Ryan and Tom Coughlin.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha's agent told Joe Banner that Asomugha's first choice was to come to Philly. Think about that for a second. Asomugha had a choice of all 32 teams. He looked at the players, coaches, organizations, and cities around the NFL and decided that Philadelphia was the place for him. In the immortal words of Tony Bruno, "Beautiful."
Asomugha was heavily courted by the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, among others. Jets coach Rex Ryan called him and did his best recruiting job. Ryan was desperate for the Jets to land Asomugha. That would have given them the best pair of corners in the NFL and made their defense extremely difficult to throw the ball on. That's huge when Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers stand between you and the Super Bowl. The Jets full court press was impressive, but failed. Dallas wasn't as aggressive, but did go hard after him as well. They had an inside connection. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had coached Asomugha in Oakland. Rob thought that connection and a big contract would seal the deal. Oops. No sale. Asomugha wanted to be an Eagle. And that fact is huge.
Vince Young said that one of the key reasons he signed with the Eagles was the chance to be coached by Reid. After seeing the success the Eagles had in turning around Michael Vick's career, I think all quarterbacks will have interest in playing for the Eagles. There is no shortage of talented quarterbacks in the NFL, but there is a shortage in skilled passers. Guys don't lack talent. They do need good coaching. Reid has shown the ability to work with young guys and veterans. He can help build a career or get it back on track. This reputation will serve the Eagles well in the future. Any quarterback in need of some help will think of Philadelphia as a desired landing spot.
Compare what's going on with Reid and the Eagles right now to the situation with Mike Shanahan and the Redskins. Shanahan won two Super Bowls while coaching John Elway and developed a reputation as an offensive guru. That reputation has fallen a great deal in the past few years. First, he was fired by Denver after three straight seasons without a playoff berth. Shanahan then took the Washington job in 2010. He traded for Donovan McNabb and we all assumed the Skins would be a solid team. The team struggled and finished 6-10. That included a couple of very lucky overtime wins. McNabb struggled and Shanahan benched him. There was an on-going feud with Albert Haynesworth that proved to be a major distraction to the team. Shanahan made the disastrous decision to switch to the 3-4 defense. In 2009 the Skins finished 10th overall in yards allowed. They were 31st in 2010. Shanahan dealt both McNabb and Haynesworth once the offseason period started. Even then he couldn't avoid looking dumb. Shanahan got off a final dig at McNabb saying he had a good future if he would "work on the little things".
Is any quality veteran quarterback going to want to go and play for Shanahan now? He drove Brian Griese and Jake Plummer crazy in Denver. They couldn't live up to Elway's legacy. Shanahan failed to get much out of McNabb. Shanahan's "my way or the highway" mentality isn't going to endear him to veteran players. Now he's heading into the 2011 season with John Beck and Rex Grossman as his quarterbacks. The Eagles have Vick and Vince Young. I hope Shanahan enjoyed the way he treated McNabb. That's going to hurt him for a few years. Players pay attention to that stuff.
Not everything is hunky-dory all the time with the Eagles, but players know that Reid will protect them. He doesn't air dirty laundry in the press. Reid takes care of his guys. He keeps it all business in front of the public and media. Reid let guys like Jeremiah Trotter and Hugh Douglas leave in free agency. When they were let go by their new teams, both players wanted to return to the Eagles. They wanted to play for Reid. Jason Babin left when the Eagles showed no interest in having him return after the 2009 season. He couldn't wait to re-join the Eagles this offseason. A lot of that was due to the presence of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, but it also helped that Babin had a solid relationship with Reid.
I remember when Reid signed Vick back in the summer of 2009. I thought it was a dumb move. The Eagles already had three good quarterbacks in McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and A.J. Feeley. Why rock the boat with a guy coming out of federal prison? Boy was I wrong. Reid showed great vision and that move has greatly impacted the organization.
There was a perception by some that McNabb carried Reid from 1999-2009. People thought it was McNabb's talent that helped the Eagles offense be so successful. The events of 2010 have totally changed that perception. McNabb is now the one who has to convince people he's not just a product of the Reid offense. Reid is the one that is the center of attention.
What makes all of this great is that the Eagles are adding the right pieces. This isn't just a bunch of big names. We see teams all the time that load up on free agents and then fall flat on their faces. The Eagles wanted to add talent, but the players had to fit the schemes and also have the right personality and background to fit into the locker room. A couple of these guys are taking less money to come to the Eagles. That tells you they want to be part of something special and won't focus on individual stats or accomplishments. Remember, that was one of the complaints about the 2009 defense. Too many "me" guys. That kills a unit.
The Eagles needed to improve the pass rush. Babin will help in a big way. He thrived last year in Washburn's rotational system in Tennesse. Cullen Jenkins is an interior pass rusher. He only played in just over half of Green Bay's snaps last year. These guys fit what the Eagles want to do and they want to be here. The Eagles had to get better at cornerback. The addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha gives the Eagles a great trio of corners. Asante Samuel might be trade bait, but for now he's here. The three corners are saying the right things publicly about finding a way to make it work.
The Eagles aren't done yet. Rumors persist that Plaxico Burress would like to join the team. There is the possibility of adding a veteran linebacker. The offensive line bears watching, depending on the status of Winston Justice's knee. The Eagles still have cap room to work with. There are good targets still on the market. And players will still want to come and play for Andy Reid.