Marvel Comics used to run a series called “What If…”. They would then present an interesting twist on a scenario and show you how the different outcome of a situation could have had major implications. All humans play the What If game from time to time. What if I’d taken that job? What if I had asked that girl out? What if my parents had gone bowling that night many years ago instead of…well, you know?
I love to play the What If game with the Eagles. Here are some of the top scenarios. Obviously we don’t know what specifically would have happened but it is fun to imagine. Also, you have to keep these reasonable. Asking what would have happened if we took Tom Brady in the 5th round in 2000 is useless. He became a star in part because of who took him, when they took him, who he played with and who coached him. You have to be reasonable.
Jeff Fisher was hired as coach in 1991. Norman Braman chose Rich Kotite because he wasn’t a Buddy Ryan guy. Braman was sick of Ryan and his antics. Fisher was the more popular assistant and the man most felt would get the job. Braman threw a major curveball when he hired Kotite instead.
Fisher would have had better relations with the players. How that would have translated on the field is tough to say. The real key here would have been who Fisher hired to run the offense and defense. Would he have stuck with Kotite as OC or gone elsewhere? It is unlikely that Bud Carson gets the DC job. Fisher would have likely chosen another Ryan protege. That could have been good or bad, depending on who the coach was. That defense was so stacked that the results would have been good no matter who was hired, but Carson must get a lot of credit for Gang Green becoming great in 1991.
The huge impact with Fisher would have come in free agency. It would have been harder for all the stars who left to walk away from Fisher. Leaving Kotite was easy. Heck, it probably pushed away some players. Obviously money was the real key, but Fisher also might have been able to convince Braman that it was worth it to pay big bucks for some of the players.
The big question with Fisher is whether he could have helped guide that group to the Super Bowl. That seems unlikely given that he was a young coach and that was such a bizarre team, but you never know. The right blend of personalities could have produced the right results. Buddy made things worse with his over-the-top personality. Fisher was more of a politician and could have helped some troubled relationships.
Randall hadn’t gotten hurt. The discussion about the early 1990’s Eagles going to the Super Bowl is greatly impacted by the health of Randall Cunningham. His knee injury in 1991 was a devastating blow to the offense. The Eagles were 3rd in yards and points in 1990. Cunningham was at the top of his game (30 TD passes, 942 rushing yards). The offense in 1991 had 17 TD passes and 1396 rushing yards. Take away the dynamic guy from that bunch and there is no way to quantify the impact.
I don’t think there is any question that the 1991 Eagles would have done better than 10-6 with Randall out there the whole year. Even a 13-3 season, though, doesn’t guarantee postseason success. Randall’s magic went away in the playoffs. The difference might have been the defense. That group came of age in 1991 under Bud Carson. Maybe they could have been so dominant in the playoffs that just 10 points would have won the game. That would have eased the pressure on Cunningham.
Cunningham’s health also ties into the future. If healthy, he wouldn’t have had the confidence issues in 1992. And Jim McMahon wouldn’t have been as much of a threat to him. In 1993 the Eagles started 4-0 with Randall at QB before he got hurt. If he stays healthy the whole year, that group could have gone to the playoffs. That was a flawed team, but still had some talent.
Doug Scovil hadn’t died. Randall never properly developed as an NFL QB. Part of this is on his work habits. Part is on circumstances. Playing QB for Buddy Ryan means you won’t have a normal support system. Buddy’s instructions to Randall were to go make a few plays so we can win. There were still offensive coaches, but the HC sets the tone. Scovil was an assistant that connected well with Randall. He was the QB coach from 1986-89. He died in December of 1989. I think Scovil might have been the last Eagles coach Randall really trusted. He didn’t get along with Kotite. Gruden and Rhodes might as well have been from Mars.
I don’t know that Scovil would have ever gotten Randall to embrace working at QB in the classroom the way that he needed to, but it certainly would have helped the situation. Randall needed some tough love, but the message had to come from the right person. As we found out, Kotite wasn’t the right person.
Jerome Brown hadn’t died. This is a tough one to think about. Brown was a real key player for Gang Green. He was a stout run defender and good inside pass rusher. Guys like that are hard to find. Just as important, he was the key to the locker room. That defense had some strong, odd personalities. The guy who enabled them to work well was Jerome. He got Seth Joyner to lighten up. He got Reggie to be more of a clown.
We don’t know how long Jerome would have stayed an Eagle. We don’t know how long he would have been an impact player. The 1992 defense was 6th in yards and points without him. Just imagine how good they would have been with him. Emmitt Smith averaged 58 rushing yards per game against Jerome (3.51 ypc). Emmitt broke loose in 1992 and beyond without Brown in the middle to clog things up. How might that have been different?
The Eagles never replaced Jerome the player or person.
The Eagles had traded for Mark Brunell in 1995. Many people don’t know that the Eagles came very close to landing Brunell. Ray Rhodes and Jon Gruden knew him from their time in Green Bay. They wanted him. The Eagles could see the writing on the wall with Randall after the bad ending in 1994 and his injuries in 1991,1993. Acquiring a young QB would have been ideal.
The problem was that Brunell only wanted to sign a 3-year deal. He wanted to hit free agency in his prime so he could cash in on a huge payday. The Eagles wanted a 5-year deal and then lowered that to 4. Brunell stuck to his guns and the Jaguars snuck in late to steal him away.
Can you imagine the 1995-97 teams with Brunell at QB? He was an ideal fit for the WCO. Gruden could manufacture yards with his scheming and creative playbook, but those teams finished 21st, 9th and 19th in points scored. The Red Zone was an issue. Putting a talented, mobile QB in that system would have delivered great results.
It is hard to guess what might have happened in terms of the playoffs. The 1995 Eagles were bounced by the Cowboys. The 1996 Eagles were bounced by the Niners. Those were outstanding teams. Beating them in January even with Brunell would have been difficult. Still, giving a franchise QB to Rhodes and Gruden would have been very interesting.
Bernard Williams wasn’t a pothead. The Eagles spent a 1st round pick in 1994 on OT Bernard Williams, a star from Georgia. He had a good rookie season and the future looked bright. He then got suspended for 4 games for a drug violation. That turned into a year suspension when he failed another test. And then he was just out of the league.
If Williams had managed to control his pot use (or give it up altogether), the Eagles could have had a stud LT. Instead, 1995-1997 was a wasteland at that spot. The Eagles tried a variety of players and got mediocre results. Sometimes worse, much worse. Williams at LT would have meant that Jermane Mayberry could have stayed at OG through his whole career. He might have developed into a really good player early on. Williams also would have meant better protection for the group of QBs who did line up from 1995-1997. Those guys took a beating.
The other interesting point here is that we spent an early pick on Tra Thomas in 1998. With Williams in his prime, that pick could have gone for an impact LB like Takeo Spikes, big DE like Vonnie Holliday or maybe some help for the offense. That was the year Randy Moss came out, but he wasn’t on the Eagles draft board.
Jeremiah Trotter never left. There is no question that the 2002 and 2003 Eagles defenses had some issues up the middle. If the Eagles had kept Jeremiah Trotter, those defenses would have been tougher against inside runs. They would have also gotten more big plays from MLB. In 2001, Trot had 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 10 PDs, 2 FFs and 12 TFLs. Levon Kirkland, Barry Gardner and Mark Simoneau filled Trot’s spot while he was away. In 2 years, they combined for 3 sacks, no INTs, 12 PDs, 6 FFs and 5 TFLs.
Trot would have really helped the 2003 team, which gave up 210 and 155 rushing yards in 2 playoff games. I don’t know if Trot’s presence would have been good enough to get the Eagles to the Super Bowl over the Panthers, but he would have made a difference in that game.
TO didn’t go nuts. The NFC was not a great conference in 2004. The AFC was stronger, with the Pats, Colts and Steelers as the juggernauts. The Eagles were the only big dog in the NFC. With or without Terrell Owens, the Eagles might have finally broken through and gotten to the Super Bowl.
Still, you can’t dismiss TO’s impact on the team. Not only was he a great player, he was a huge personality and a world class trash-talker. The Eagles needed something like that back then. The team had been business-like from 2000-2003. That served those teams well as they built toward something.
The 2004 team was really good. They needed to play that way, but acting that way wasn’t a bad thing either. The Eagles lost to some bad teams during the Reid years. The 2004 Eagles went 13-1 with the starters on the field. The only loss was to the Steelers, who went 15-1 that year. TO helped the Eagles play with an edge. That confidence, that attitude…that was a good thing in 2004.
TO got ticked off in the spring of 2005 because he wanted more money. He was cut after the year and signed with Dallas. TO got a decent deal from Dallas, but at what cost. That was the last big deal he ever got. His antics in Philly put a curse on him that ruined the rest of his career. As an Eagle, he had 1 or 2 national endorsements. Those went away after the 2005 debacle.
TO could have made more money by staying on the straight and narrow in Philly. He was a worshiped man. The endorsement money would have rolled in. He was playing with a star QB in Donovan McNabb. Those two could have sold a lot of soup or peanut butter or whatever. And when TO eventually did leave, he could have still gotten a good deal. His reputation would have been much better.
As for on the field…the 2005 Eagles were 4-3 with him, 2-7 without him. That team could have gone to the playoffs if TO kept his head right and wasn’t so destructive. I don’t know if he would have stayed for another year or 2 or 3, but TO still had big time talent at that point. He would have been a big help to the offenses in those years.
It would have been really interesting to see what kind of a relationship TO and McNabb would have had. They got along so well in 2004. Would TO have said something awkward down the road even without the 2005 blow-up? Maybe. He was hard on some teammates.
TO would be a Philly legend if things had just played out the right way. He didn’t have to stay here 5 years. He had so much impact in 2004 that people were going to love him. But blowing up the 2005 Eagles took that away. Shame.
Andy Reid had hired another DC instead of Juan Castillo. Things did not go well in 2011 or 2012. Many people blame Juan Castillo for a lot of the problems. I think he gets too much blame, but there is no question that he was part of the problem.
The Wide-9 front can work. The Titans had a really good defense for years. You must have the right coaches, LBs and DBs. The Eagles had the right guys up front, but not behind it or on the sideline.
If Castillo had run a different front, his ideas and coaching moves still would have led to some problems. There were more than a few games where a veteran offensive coach got the best of him in the 4th quarter. Juan was just too new to defense at the NFL level to have answers for their answers. Football is a game of back and forth. You do something. Then I have an answer for that. Then you have an answer for my answer. And so on. Juan won when the personnel won.
The Eagles looked closely at Dennis Allen. Could he have made a difference? Maybe. The Eagles went 8-8 that year. The Giants won the division at 9-7. Blown leads and poor defensive adjustments cost the Eagles a few games. Just 1 or 2 more wins and that Eagles team would have gotten to the postseason. Who knows what might have happened then.
I won’t even go into 2012. Too many scenarios to discuss.
The bottom line is that Andy Reid might still have his job if he hired a different DC.
The debate then becomes whether that was a good thing. So for Andy’s critics, maybe Andy hiring Juan was the right move all along.
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I left out a ton of good scenarios. Too many to cover at one time.
Feel free to share your ideas. If you guys like this column, could do another one and mix in other ideas.