I have much stronger feelings about the current state of affairs than Tommy. In fact, I believe that starting today, Jeffrey Lurie faces one of the biggest tests of his tenure as the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. After yesterday’s debacle against the 49ers, an organization rife with failure has floated to the top of the bowl. And it is Mr. Lurie’s job to fix it. The hardest question he has to ask is where to begin.
There are still 12 games to play this year, and the team and organization should do everything it can to try to win as many of those games as it can. It is not unheard of to come back from a 1-3 start to make the playoffs.
But it is hard to imagine this team doing so. The weaknesses are everywhere, starting most blatantly on defense, but the offense and special teams are each serving up their own steaming piles of ineptitude. That said, I can imagine scenarios where the offense and special teams improve.
I hear the calls to replace Juan Castillo, but I can’t imagine a way that the defense improves this year. How can a new coordinator implement a new scheme, especially within the confines of the Wide 9 which we are wedded to thanks to the presence of the one outstanding coach on defense, Jim Washburn? And more importantly, where does that coordinator find enough NFL-quality players at linebacker and safety to actually run any scheme effectively? Castillo is surely in way over his head, but I don’t know if the mess can possibly be fixed by changing coaches in October. It’s worth a try, if the right guy is out there, but I don’t expect much to come of it.
What this makes clear is that even if the season can somehow be turned around, if the offensive problems can be fixed and we just outscore opponents in high-scoring games, the organization needs a serious and thorough review from the man who owns it.
The questions that Mr. Lurie must answer follow the jump.
Who Is Responsible for Juan Castillo? If there was one move in the off-season that defied explanation, it was the decision to promote Castillo to defensive coordinator. Andy Reid said he wanted to give him a shot on defense, but as far as I know, Reid never has been forced to answer the question, “Well, why didn’t you just make him the linebackers coach?” That isn’t a shot at the media (though I’ve had my fill of their whinging about press conferences; it’s been 12 years, find another way to get the story already) but at the organization. Somebody needs to be able to put heir foot down and tell Andy that this is not a good plan.
After allowing Rory Segrest to be the defensive line coach, after having to fire (or “allow to leave”) all of Reid’s hand-trained former personal assistants go in the off-season (McDermott, Shuey, Urban), how was this choice allowed to be made? Who was responsible for giving this terrible idea the green light? Was it Lurie? Joe Banner? And if for some reason he had sole authority in making that call in spite of all prior evidence that he was prone to terrible decisions in filling out his staff, that authority clearly needs to be stripped now.
Who Is Responsible for the Linebackers? Once Castillo had been chosen, his defensive scheme had to be devised. Jim Washburn and his Wide 9 were already in place, so it was a question of organizing the back 7. Mike Zordich and Mike Caldwell were promoted to be full positional coaches for the first time, and the experienced Johnnie Lynn was added to coach the cornerbacks and presumably add a veteran presence in scheming the back 7. That scheme has been a nightmare. It is hard to blame Castillo alone; Lynn must be at least in part to blame, and to a lesser extent, Zordich and Caldwell. They all have failed in coming up with a solid plan.
But it runs deeper than that. Castillo was given no help at LB. There have been lots of questions about why Casey Matthews was asked to be a starter from day 1. Who else on the roster should have been in the top 3? The 6th round pick? The guy who showed zero ability to play LB last year? The free agent that nobody else wanted and who had lost a starting job in two consecutive years? Castillo was given nothing to work with.
Mr. Lurie has to find out why that happened. Was it the coaches insisting that they had everything they needed? Was it a personnel staff that just decided that they had enough? Or was it an inflexible organization-wide philosophy that you don’t invest any resources in LBs in spite of the fact that the logical consequence of a Wide 9 is that you need strong LB play? (My guess is that the correct answer is d: all of the above.)
Bottom line: who was responsible for saying, “What if none of these marginal pedigree, minimal NFL accomplishment LBs can actually play? What then? What’s the contingency?” Nobody seems to have asked, and if they did, they clearly weren’t answered. Because the Eagles don’t have three NFL quality LBs on the roster right now. It’s to the point where you wonder if they wouldn’t be better off just signing some practice squad players from other teams and throwing them out there to see what happened. Somebody had to ask, “What if you’re wrong?” But it seems that nobody did. Just as they did not last year when they went with Stacy Andrews at RG for a SECOND year and the decision to go with Ellis Hobbs at RCB without any viable competition, and earlier, when they went with nobody at FS, and earlier, when they went with nobody at FB, and earlier, when they decided to go with nobody at RS, and earlier, when … ok, I’m just getting frustrated.
Who Is Responsible for Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett? The selection of Danny Watkins continues to befuddle me. You just hired Howard Mudd. You are clearly going to change your OL philosophy. The one thing that Howard Mudd doesn’t need is an expensive guard — he has a long history of getting adequate play out of flotsam and jetsam (see Devan, Kyle). So what does the team do? It takes one in the first round. WHAT?
Ok, maybe you can justify that if you took a sure-fire starter and likely Pro Bowler. But no. The team took a raw guy who needs development time. During a lockout. A guy who will be 30 when he is eligible to be extended. On a franchise that doesn’t like to extend players over 30. Really? That was the PLAN?
But fine, people loved his upside, his potential. Allegedly, these people weren’t affected at all by the fact that this was a 26-year old man at the Senior Bowl playing against guys several years his junior. He was ready to go, looked like a can’t miss.
Well, he missed. Oh sure, maybe he can salvage his career. But the only way to justify using a first round pick on Danny Watkins is for him to be starting competently right now. That is not happening anytime soon. This was clearly a mis-read of talent and ability.
This pick was followed up by the drafting of Jaiquawn Jarrett, presumptively to start at strong safety. This pick was considered by many to be a reach, but made sense if you believed that he was a starter from day 1. Wrong again. Jarrett reportedly looked totally lost in training camp, and has had trouble getting any playing time despite being a member of a totally over-matched unit of safeties. Again, somebody blew it on reading talent and present ability. In a big way.
That responsibility clearly falls primarily on Howie Roseman, but positional coaches and scouts also bear responsibility. How did these bad calls get made? Is Howie operating in an echo chamber, full of yes men? Is he ignoring otherwise good advice? Are the position coaches evaluating the talent they see adequately? Where did this all go wrong? And why didn’t it get spotted earlier? Again, there is a flaw in the decision making process and it needs to be fixed.
Who Is Responsible for Steve Smith? The team then went on a spending spree once the free agent flood gates opened. Flush with cap space generated by front loading contracts for years, as well as having many of its star players still working under their rookie deals, the Eagles got every big name they could. 30-year old Nnamdi Asamougha (despite the presence of two other Pro Bowl corners). 30-year old Cullen Jenkins. 30-year old Jason Babin. All signed to deals that can be escaped from relatively quickly. Fine.
As they signed players, their cap flexibility began to disappear. So now, when alternatives are proposed to solve the LB talent gap, we hear that if they make a trade the player they get will keep them from re-signing DeSean Jackson. Really? The organization that prides itself on how smart it is with the cap left itself with so little flexibility that they can’t afford to fix this massive hole they dug for themselves?
And where did that flexibility go? Well, in part it went to sign a fourth WR, who got a guaranteed $2 million coming off of a knee injury. Not to a LB, where they didn’t have enough talent, but to a WR, where they didn’t need any help at all, to a guy who couldn’t fill in for Maclin even in a worst case scenario because he can’t play the X position in the Eagle offense, he’s a slot guy where they already have an expensive reliable veteran WR.
That was really the best use of your resources? Where is the fiscal prudence this organization used to be known for? You can’t overspend for a LB, but you can blow that much extra space on a luxury part — excuse me, an INJURED luxury part, like Steve Smith?
Who Is Responsible for the Organization? Somebody set up the system of checks and balances, who reports to whom, who wins arguments about players or coaches or schemes. That system has failed. And the person who put the system in place, who failed to fix it in the prior instances where it has failed in exactly the same way in prior years, that person needs to be identified and have that responsibility given to someone else.
Every company has a structure of reporting — who makes a decision. On paper, that is Andy Reid. But in truth, I have no ideal who is in charge at NovaCare. As currently set up, this organization doesn’t function at all like it says it should on paper. The time has come to compare the model to the reality and decide which is incorrect.
Who Allowed This To Happen? This the bottom line. Where did the buck stop? Maybe it’s Mr. Lurie himself, the one guy who can’t be fired in this organization. If that’s the case, he needs to find a system where he can better monitor what is going on with his business and make better decisions about who is calling the shots. To the extent that it is a problem with the guy he left in charge — and that could be Reid, it could be Roseman, and it very well could be Joe Banner himself — then Mr. Lurie needs to find another person to make those calls. Reid and Roseman can be replaced. Banner can be stripped of what seems to have become increasing influence in the player-personnel area.
As an outsider, I don’t know which of those three are or are not responsible for this mess. But it seems likely to me that all three have become the problem. My advice on how to go forward: Pull Banner back towards the business side of the fence. Limit his involvement in the players to structuring deals. Let him sign players, but don’t let him pick which players to sign. Find a new person to run the player side of the business, and let him decide who stays and who goes.
Maybe that’s a head coach who is lord of all he surveys, like Bill Belichick, and like Andy Reid was for a while. Maybe that’s a GM who runs the operation, like Tom Modrak was here for a while. Maybe that means someone in the role that Mike Holmgren fills in Cleveland (for the record, I don’t think that Andy Reid makes sense in that role, as the Castillo choice, among other things, illustrates). In the end, it doesn’t matter what the answer is, as long as Mr. Lurie picks the right guy.
I think that above all else, that is what horrifies me the most about where we stand today. This franchise hasn’t had to start over in a long time. There is no real way to know for sure who is a good choice and who is a bad choice as we stand here today. A bad choice sends us back to the years of terrible play. A good choice can make us perpetual contenders.
The only thing that is for sure is that making no choice, no change at all, is going to be a disaster. This organization is fundamentally flawed right now. The only action sure to fail is the failure to take any action at all.