One of the popular questions of the last couple of weeks is whether the Eagles are going "all in" to try and win the Super Bowl? This question pops up because of the offseason moves made by the team. Fans are trying to figure out if the team is just being aggressive or if Andy Reid is showing signs of desperation. Simple question, but there isn't a simple answer.
The first bit of business to examine is how Reid shook up his coaching staff. He hired Howard Mudd, arguably the best offensive line coach in the NFL. Reid then hired Jim Washburn, arguably the best defensive line coach in the NFL. Those are moves you make when you want immediate results. Both men are getting up there age wise. Heck, Mudd was retired and playing golf when Reid called him.
The men both use different systems than what the Eagles already had in place. This angle works both ways. Reid was willing to change. That can mean desperation. Change also shows that Reid is willing to accept the fact that not all players will pick up the new systems immediately. That part reflects more of a coach that is comfortable and still thinking big picture.
Reid's hiring of Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator is tough to read well from any perspective. You can argue that this is the kind of crazy move only a supremely confident coach can make. You could also say that the move shows some sense of desperation. Reid stuck with an in-house person. That allowed the playbook to stay the same in many respects. The wide-nine up front changed a lot of individual responsibilities, but much of the terminology stayed the same. That made things easier on returning players. The move also kept Reid from having to deal with demands from a new coach, such as switching to a 3-4. Castillo had his ideas, but was going to work within the context of what Reid wanted. After all, Washburn was hired before Castillo.
The Eagles had to make serious personnel changes in order to acquire players who fit the new systems. The Eagles were aggressive in getting some of these players. That could be read as an "all in" mentality. At the same time, the team didn't overpay for the players or grossly over-reach in the draft. The Eagles added the new players in a way that made good value sense. The biggest perceived reach may have been taking Danny Watkins in the first round, but that wasn't off the charts. Don Banks of SI.com actually predicted the pick prior to the draft.
Let's talk more about free agency and the offseason. The first move that the Eagles made was dealing Kevin Kolb. I know that it didn't get finished first, but Reid mentioned that the teams started talking during the draft. The Cardinals wanted Kolb. The Eagles wanted Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a draft pick. The deal took a few days to finish once the teams were allowed to start talking after the lockout was over. I think it says a lot that the Eagles saw Rodgers-Cromartie as such a key acquisition.
Rodgers-Cromartie was coming off a poor season. He wasn't as good as Nnamdi Asomugha. He wasn't a clutch veteran like Ike Taylor. The Eagles still focused on him. I think they saw a player with huge potential and who was in the prime of his career. Rodgers-Cromartie could be the key to the secondary for the next five years. That shows long range thinking.
It was only after this deal was done that the Eagles really started to look at Asomugha as a serious target. There's no question the team loved him, but they couldn't go after him based on the initial asking price. Once that came down and Rodgers-Cromartie was already a done deal, the Eagles could seriously look at the deal. And that's just what they did. The Eagles managed to land the shiniest prize in the free agent bonanza, but did so by leaving him on the back burner for several days.
Spending big money on an older cornerback does make you think "all in", but the way the team did it sure doesn't. They basically took advantage of the situation, which really is a key theme in how getting all the players worked.
Joe Banner, Howie Roseman, and Reid all knew that the 2011 offseason was going to present a lot of excellent opportunities. There was a very limited free agent class in 2010 because of the rules in place (players needed six years of service instead of the usual four). A lot of fans got on the Eagles for not landing a good right cornerback last year. The team didn't see anyone worth going after and didn't want to waste money when there would be a strong class this year. That is smart financial planning. Save your money so that when you pay premium prices you can make sure to get premium players.
I think the one area where the Eagles do feel the most "all in" is in signing all of the veteran backups. Jarrad Page is here to challenge Colt Anderson for a roster spot. Derek Landri and Anthony Hargrove were added right after a couple of defensive tackles got hurt. Normally the Eagles would add just camp bodies. The team wanted good players who would push the others around them. Chris Wilson, an NFL and CFL veteran, was signed as the sixth or seventh defensive end. Donald Lee is the third tight end. And so on.
Banner made mention that the Eagles wanted as much depth as possible. The team wasn't willing to just have young players who might develop. They wanted quality backups at as many positions as possible. The 2003 team was light at defensive end due to injuries and had to sign Marco Coleman after final cuts. The 2005 team had undrafted rookie Stephen Spach, who specialized as a blocker, as the backup tight end on what was supposed to be an explosive passing offense. There is nothing passive about the Eagles right now.
I think this aggression is mainly due to Roseman. He has openly admitted that patience isn't one of his virtues. Banner has been involved with Eagles teams that were very aggressive and others that were quiet. I don't think he's pushing any agenda. The two main forces here are Reid and Roseman. Reid isn't the same guy he was five years ago, but he's not as tightly wound as Roseman. Frankly, I think that the combination of Reid and Roseman is a good thing. Tom Heckert was a good general manager, but he and Reid thought a lot alike. I think a team benefits when the coach and general manager have somewhat different styles. You want consensus decisions and an agreed upon strategy, but you don't want groupthink.
You can see the balance in the team. While the Eagles are stocking up on veterans, some rookies are going to be starters. This isn't a matter of Reid trying to force young players into the lineup. There are a couple of factors at work. First, money. If you play rookies, you do save some money that you can spend elsewhere. Every starter can't be well paid. One way to get talented, but cheap players is to go with rookies.
I also think a huge key in this situation is that the team really likes the individual players. The Eagles were all over Watkins at the Senior Bowl. Alex Henery is statistically the best kicker in college history. He's got tremendous potential. Chas Henry went to Roseman's alma mater. I'm sure Roseman had a better feel for him that most punters around the nation. Henry also won the Ray Guy award as the nation's top punter so he's not chopped liver. Casey Matthews was brought into the NovaCare Complex prior to the draft for a meeting. I think Castillo really liked him quite a bit.
Back to the original question about the Eagles going all in. This isn't what most NFL teams would consider all in. The Eagles will still have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL even after making these additions. This is as close to all in as the Eagles will ever get with Banner and Reid involved in running the team. They believe in keeping the roster young so that the team never falls apart. Buffalo was the best AFC team of the 1990s, but hasn't been to the playoffs since. They kept replacing veterans with veterans and the team hasn't bounced back from that since.
This is probably Reid and Banner's version of all in. In poker this would be the equivalent of nervously sliding half your chips into the middle of the table. NFL gamblers like Dan Snyder and Al Davis don't understand what all the fuss is about. After all, the Eagles still have all their 2012 draft picks (and then some). How the heck can that be considered going all in? Get rid of the rookies. Find some former Pro Bowl players and trade picks for them. Then we can talk about all in.