We have all heard the phrase “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. Well on the flip side, how about the phrase “If we do not learn from history then we are doomed to repeat it”? Week Two of the NFL season embodied those phrases in the matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. Two long standing rivals whose organizations are in very different situations.
The Cowboys let their Pro Bowl Running Back, Demarco Murray, leave after leading the NFL in Rushing Yards. People scoffed at them when the team put their faith in young Joseph Randle and oft-injured veteran Darren McFadden to carry the load of the running game in Murray’s absence. Also, the Cowboys have Lance Dunbar as their third down situation back. The Cowboys took this leap of faith because they have seen this story before and have spent the last few years building one of the top offensive lines in the NFL through the draft. Tyron Smith, Zack Miller, and Travis Frederick were all drafted when the so called “experts” said the Cowboys had other options to pick in the first round of the NFL Draft each year.
The Cowboys invested in depth by picking up the discarded former first round pick Brandon Weeden to be their backup Quarterback. Before Weeden got to Dallas his career statistics were 55 percent completion percentage with a 26 interceptions thrown in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. In six games playing Quarterback for the Cowboys, Weeden has a 79 percent completion percentage with four touchdowns and only two interceptions.
This is the same Cowboys organization that invested resources into the offensive line and the backup Quarterback during the run of success in the 1990’s. Those teams had Steve Beuerlein and Bernie Kosar as backups in case anything happened to their future Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman. Also the tactical moves by Head Coach Jimmy Johnson to build an offensive line with Pro Bowl selections Larry Allen, Erik Williams, and Nate Newton. Replicating the past with unheralded personnel moves such as these have put the Cowboys in a position as leaders in the NFC East with a 2-0 record to start the season.
On the other side of the field Sunday you have the Philadelphia Eagles who for the second straight week played underwhelming on both sides of the ball. The Eagles came into the season with high expectations after an offseason in which they overhauled the roster. The Eagles dished out 104 million dollars worth of contracts to Byron Maxwell, Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Over the last couple years they sent packing Pro Bowlers Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy, and Evan Mathis in what 20-20 hindsight says was all about Head Coach Chip Kelly not wanting certain types of personalities on his team. Kelly also traded away Quarterback Nick Foles to the St. Louis Rams for former Heisman Trophy winner and 1st round draft pick Sam Bradford to be the Eagles new starting Quarterback.
Despite all the money spent and numerous personnel moves, the Eagles have played below average for the first two weeks of the 2015 NFL season. The Eagles roster looks good on paper, but so did that 2011 Philadelphia Eagles “Dream Team” (as nicknamed by then backup Quarterback Vince Young) that had Pro Bowl offseason acquisitions Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Jason Babin to bolster the defense. This was to match with an offense led by Quarterback Michael Vick who re-signed that offseason with the Eagles a contract that was 40 million dollars guaranteed. Tens of millions of dollars spent to build a winning team that finished the season 8-8.
The reality is that the splashy and headline grabbing offseason moves don’t win football games. The Washington Redskins, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins are franchises that have won Super Bowls decades ago but did not learn from the past. Instead these franchises have spent the last 25 years making the multi-million big free agent signings, splashy Head Coach hires, and trades for big name players. But none of those moves have helped these teams win a Super Bowl. In fact, only one of those franchises (the 2002 Oakland Raiders) has even reached the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, franchises such as the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, and New York Giants have put together teams that have not only reached the big game multiple times, but have won the Super Bowl multiple times over the last 20 years. These organizations have built their teams through calculated offseason signings that better the team while using the draft to build a team not just find a star. When these organizations do make mistakes, they do what is necessary to correct course, whether that be fire a Head Coach or unload a player via release or trade. No one gets every move right, but it’s the smart organizations that learn from their mistakes and move forward to better the team for the current season and the future.
Since Chip Kelly became the Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach he has not been building a team. Instead he has been treating players like interchangeable parts to see if they fit in his system. He uses the draft to select players he thinks can fit his game plan instead of properly weighing the skill sets of these young men. When he drafted Linebacker Marcus Smith, Cornerback Jaylen Watkins and Quarterback Matt Barkley it was never to truly develop these players but instead to plug them into his system based on how he saw their potential fit. In 2015 neither Watkins nor Barkley are on the team anymore while Smith is buried on the depth chart.
Kelly has let go of players such as Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin, Cornerback Brandon Boykin, Running Back Lesean McCoy, along with offensive lineman Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans because he claims these players did not fit “his” system. Interesting how these players are all playing for new teams in 2015 and they “fit” into other teams who have playoff aspirations.
The Eagles made a splashy move by bringing Kelly in to run their team but Kelly also has brought the wrong mentality with him. College Football has similarities to the Pro game but there is one major difference: while in college you recruit players to plug and play into your system, in the NFL you have to build a team and modify your system for the talent you have on the roster. The Cowboys after spending the first half of the 2000’s learning the hard way, have gone back to the 1990’s Jimmy Johnson model and have built a team. Free agent acquisitions are meant to add a player with a needed skill set to a team, not use signings and trades to build a roster. We can see what works in New England, Green Bay, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, yet the Philadelphia Eagles insist on re-inventing the wheel.
This is the second straight Eagles Head Coach who is an “offensive guru” who has come to “change the culture”. The media buys into the story line while overlooking the facts. Both Chip Kelly and Andy Reid were in their previous jobs for short periods of time. Both men had never been NFL Head Coaches or Coordinators. Neither Kelly nor Reid had spent time working with salary cap restrictions but were asked to be major decision makers in building NFL rosters. Andy Reid and Chip Kelly had limited experience hiring coaches to work under them (In Oregon Kelly inherited most of his staff from retiring Head Coach Mark Bellotti).
So again, I re-state my opening points, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, and, “If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” No matter how much we debate the merits of team’s offseason activities, it still comes down to winning on the field each week in the NFL. It’s looking like a long season for the Philadelphia Eagles and a season still ripe with potential for success for the Dallas Cowboys.