It’s mid-June and the Eagles are a hot topic on sports radio. Sure, right now it’s because of the front office shakeup that removed former team president Joe Banner from his position with the team last week. But football talk dominating the offseason is nothing unusual in this town. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask yourself this question: Just how far are you from a hearing a spontaneous group of Philadephians erupt into an “E-A-G-L-E-S” chant? The passion is deep and is there year-long.
There are devoted fans to the other major sports franchises in the city, particularly the Phillies, whose popularity in Philadelphia is second only to the Eagles. But our beloved baseball team—the same team that won over 100 games in 2011--is now in last place in the NL East with no signs of an immediate turnaround. As the current picture of our boys of summer is bleak, Philadelphia sports fans are already longing for the return of football season.
Despite the major disappointment that was the 2011 season for the Birds, Eagles fans have short memories. It’s part of a cycle: year after year, the team never lives up to expectations. We get angry, but then we forgive and start all over again. The Eagles have never hoisted the Lombardi trophy in triumph, but they are still beloved in the city of Philadelphia.
Beloved, that is, when they’re not hated.
It’s a very fine line at times. Year after year, teams stacked with talent put up disappointing performances. But every offseason there is hope. Maybe this year will be our year.
Though Philadelphia fans are scared to come close to saying anything like the dreaded Dream Team moniker proclaimed by former Eagles Vince Young, the prognosis this year sounds…dare I say positive? The local and national media alike see a good team with a lot of potential, asking questions that six months ago would have been unthinking. Headlines like, Do the Eagles have the best defensive line in the NFL? Are the Eagles the team to beat in the NFC East? But it’s hard to forget that these were the same question and pronouncements made last year.
The hope of summer quickly turns into the reality of fall. So how has the 2012 offseason been for the Eagles? The very opposite of 2011. As “new” and “flashy” is attracted the Birds in 2011, quiet and consistency have been keys this offseason. Veteran players like Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole and offensive lineman Todd Herremans were awarded long-term deals as a reward for consistent performance. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson finally got his long-term deal, without the delay and drama that was feared based on his open dissatisfaction last season. And one of the team’s most valuable assets, running back LeSean McCoy, was rewarded for being one of the best backs in the league at only 23 years of age.
In addition to rewarding productive and dedicated players, the team had an excellent draft, selecting players like DT Fletcher Cox and LB Mychal Kendricks who can immediately shore up the team’s defensive. They also got great values on selection like corner Brandon Boykin and scored RB Chris Polk as an undrafted free agent.
The Eagles addressed a major void on its defense with the signing of DeMeco Ryans, acquired from the Houston Texans--veteran leadership and a middle linebacker who could stop the damage up the middle that played out repeatedly in 2011. Ryans is a proven powerhouse on defense whose production suffered when the Texans switched schemes last year. Formerly a captain for the Texans, reports are that Ryans has already had a positive impact on Philadelphia’s defense.
Everything seemed to be going the Eagles way. But don’t forget, it is the Birds, so something had to go wrong this offseason. And that was the injury and re-injury of the Achilles tendon of offensive line powerhouse Jason Peters. To replace him, the team quickly brought in Demetress Bell, who had the daunting task of replacing Peters once before when Peters left Buffalo for Philadelphia.
A key to the Eagles’ success in the coming season is the health of quarterback Mike Vick. Can he stay healthy for a full season, and can he limit the mistakes that lead to the 14 interceptions he threw in 2011? Incredibly, this is the first full offseason Vick has had since being named starting quarterback for Philadelphia. He is putting in work to correct the mistakes of last year. As for his health, Vick has only played a full 16 games one time in his NFL career. Unless he is truly committed to learning how to slide and giving up that extra yard to avoid injury, it’s unlikely he will have his second season without injury in his career 2012. But what is Eagles fandom without hope?
All of this, then, boils down to one question. How will the Eagles do in 2012? After the “Dream Team” label and the team’s nightmarish 1-4 start in 2011, it’s hard not to be cautious in making predictions for 2012. What can be said is that the Eagles have been very smart this offseason and have the talent to make 2012 an incredibly successful season. This year the team has no excuses not to be great—they have had the benefit of a full offseason, have a coach and quarterback with everything to prove as well as a defensive coordinator who also has the benefit of a full offseason to “do a better job” crafting the team’s defense.
What does it all mean? The same thing it always does. The question of how well the Birds will do this season is a matter of is whether the Eagles will defeat themselves this season.