How does a team go from 12-4 to 2-14 in a single year? The Houston Texans did that from 2012 to 2013. The biggest problem was that Matt Schaub completely fell apart and threw pick-6′s at an alarming pace. One other issue is that the Texans had slowly let go of a lot of key leaders. They traded/released/lost RT Eric Winston, MLB DeMeco Ryans, OLB Connor Barwin, TE James Casey, WR Kevin Walter, NT Shaun Cody and Glover Quin.
Not all of the players left between 2012 and 2013. The exodus took place over a couple of years. Each of those players started at least 3 years for the Texans. Some were really key players. Others were more of the role player variety, but were important for their intangibles and helping team chemistry.
A team can move along smoothly when things are going well. Leaders and high character players are important when things start to go awry. The Steelers started off 0-4. They were able to rely on key leaders and rallied to finish 8-8. Houston started off 2-0. They lost the last 14 games.
So often we think of leadership as rah-rah stuff. Most of the time it is more about doing the right thing and players holding one another accountable. That doesn’t make for compelling storylines, but it’s the truth.
I’m talking about all of this because the Eagles have some tough choices coming up. Players like Todd Herremans, Brent Celek, Jason Avant, Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans have been important for the Eagles on and off the field. They are now getting to the point in their careers when the team has to start looking into replacing them.
It is easy to think about how great it would be to add an explosive LB to replace Cole. Or a speedy LB to replace Ryans. Or a receiver with RAC ability and kick return skills to replace Avant. Having better athletes in those spots would help the Eagles in some key situations. But you have to weigh that against the intangibles that the veterans bring to the table.
Chip Kelly praised Celek every chance he got. That is clearly a player he holds in high regard. Bill Davis praised Cole every single week. That’s not someone you cut loose in a casual manner.
Every football team is a balance of the past, present and future. You have the head coach, assistant coaches, scouts and GM all looking at things differently. They want to reward the players who have done well for the team. Then money comes into play. How much money is a player worth? What value do you put on intangibles? And the worst thing you can do is let a team get old. The GM and coach must always keep an eye to the future.
The Steelers have probably kept too many veterans in recent years. That team has a lot of key players getting old at the same time and that’s dangerous. The Cardinals are one of the oldest teams in the league. That helped them have a breakthrough season, but now they have to look at which players need to be replaced. Do they count on John Abraham to be just as good in 2014, at age 36, or was 2013 just an anomaly? Answer too many questions like that wrong and the coach/GM will be getting replaced.
I think Jason Avant needs to be replaced. I love the guy to death, but in this offense I just don’t think he’s a great fit or highly valuable player. I love his blocking and everything he does off the field. Avant was important for the team in 2013. He helped to calm the waters after the Riley Cooper incident. Avant set a good example for the young guys every day. Remember how he worked with rookie Russell Shepard? They spent time working with the JUGS machine every day after practice. Shepard didn’t make the team, but the only reason he came so close to doing it is Avant’s work with him. Would any of the other receivers have filled that role?
By the 2015 offseason, we could see Herremans, Celek, Cole and Ryans all gone. The Eagles need to start looking for replacements for them in terms of position, but also in terms of leadership. Connor Barwin has quickly made an impact on the team. Bennie Logan could end up being a leader. Jason Kelce is becoming an important leader. Nick Foles could be the most important of all, because of the position he plays.
We know Chip Kelly places a lot of importance on player interviews. This should help him find some new leaders in upcoming draft classes. The Eagles will need that help.