Trust The Process. It is a phrase well known to Philadelphia fans. For three seasons the Sixers threw the norm completely out the window by making unusual long term investments in order to find a cornerstone player to build around. Ownership got impatient and accelerated the timeline, forcing Sam Hinkie out and installing Bryan Colangelo, but the spirit of the idea has so far remained with Colangelo, and the dividends of those investments may pay off quickly: the Sixers rookie class of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is impressive.
In his year in the wilderness after being forced out in his own power struggle, Howie Roseman studied the mechanics of sports around the world to see the forest from the trees in an attempt to come back more enlightened. He didn’t have to go far, as all three of the Eagles’ neighbors are in various types and stages of rebuilding. Ron Hextall found a team desperate to reach the cap floor and offloaded the all but retired Chris Pronger, unburdening the Flyers of Pronger’s contract and picking up some useful pieces in return. Matt Klentak took advantage of a team that thought they were a contender and traded his closer Ken Giles, who had little use on the non-contending Phillies, getting multiple quality prospects to help stock a minor league system that badly needed talent. And Sam Hinkie swung deal after deal that stockpiled draft assets and top tier prospects for the Sixers by willingly taking on junk.
The NFL is a much different beast than any other sport, with ownership and management ditching long term views for sliding two year windows. 17 teams have changed coaches since 2013, including three that are are on their third coach, and three coaches who made the playoffs in 2013 are now on a second team. Patience has almost ceased to exist in the NFL, the few teams that have stability generally have one common thread: they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and with it are a contender just by showing up to play.
Quarterback is everything in the NFL, and like in the NBA the surest way to get a top tier one is at the top of the draft. Teams that don’t have one go to desperate and foolish measures to do so. In recent years the Chiefs gave up two 2nd round picks for Alex Smith, four years before they traded a 2nd round pick for Matt Cassel, and the Eagles traded a 2nd and change for Sam Bradford. The Seahawks gave Matt Flynn starting QB money after he started just two games for the Packers, the Texans gave Brock Osweiler a big contract after half a season of uninspiring starts for the Broncos, and teams have traded for Nick Foles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez and Ryan Mallett in the hopes finding a starter. Promising seasons can and have been ended when a starting QB is hurt and the team pays the price for not properly investing in a backup.
The market for QBs in the NFL is chaotic, but the Eagles have found order within it. When the season ended the Eagles QB situation was bleak: Sam Bradford was about to be a free agent, Mark Sanchez was under contract and the team was drafting 13th, too far out to be confident of getting a QB. They seemed to be stuck in a QB purgatory. So they thought outside the box: rather than pin their hopes on one mediocre QB, they stockpiled QBs.
According to a source familiar with the Eagles' thinking, this is what is going on inside the heads of the Philadelphia brain trust – comprised of owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson. The Eagles signed Bradford because they see him as capable of being at least a mid-level starter. Then they signed Chase Daniel, a QB Pederson believes is also a starting-level player. Now, after draft evaluations of Goff and Wentz, they believe both are capable of developing into cornerstones.
The Eagles bid against themselves for Bradford, but the Daniel contract demonstrates how desperate teams are for QBs: he is the highest paid backup after reportedly drawing offers from multiple teams despite just 77 career passing attempts. And then they traded up twice to get Carson Wentz.
It was unconventional move after unconventional move, and it bewildered everyone as unconventional moves often do. The Eagles were spending too much, they traded up to draft a guy they didn’t want to play, they had no actual plan, every criticism imaginable was lobbed. All of them missed the big picture.
Bradford was signed with the idea of keeping the Eagles competitive in a weak division in 2016, but given a contract that clearly signaled he would be playing on another team in 2017 unless the Eagles were unable to draft a QB. His injury history demanded a competent backup, and the need for a young QB to have a veteran mentor made Daniel, who may or may not be the former but is likely at least the latter, a high priced but justifiable option. The Eagles were suddenly three deep at the keystone position, while other teams struggled to find one option, because there are always teams who struggle to find a QB.
The Eagles were betting on at least one of those teams in 2017 looking to Sam Bradford as an option. That an even more desperate one came along in 2016, and the confidence they have in Carson Wentz now was just an acceleration of that process.
There’s no guarantee that any of this works out. But the unorthodox and aggressive moves the Eagles have made give them a clear and definable process. As is the hyper nature of the NFL, there have already been immediate results. In one summer the Eagles have shed nearly all the drags on the 2015 team from the top down, which on its own is a strong offseason. And they did it while also adding a gifted young QB who has the potential to be a keystone player, then restocked the cupboard to build around him.
It is a process the Eagles asked you trust for this season. Time would tell if theirs was the right one. No longer. The time is now.