FanPost

How close are the Eagles to truly recreating the golden days of the Andy Reid era?

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[Editor's note: Promoted from the FanPosts.] -- Chip Kelly’s Tostitos stash hadn’t even been cleared out of the building before Jeff Lurie started talking until he was blue in the face about "emotional intelligence". We all assumed this meant we were going back to a "player’s coach" like Andy Reid, but I don’t think many of us suspected the plan was to literally recreate the Reid era, step for step. It’s hard to know how much of it is by design and how much is by happenstance, but it’s really stricken me lately by how many parallels there are to be drawn.

In order to find out just how close we are to recreating that golden era of Eagles football, I’m going to do a front office, coaching, and roster comparison of two Eagles teams: 2000 and 2002. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out why I’m choosing these years: the first is Andy in his second year (where Doug is now), the second is when the Eagles, in my opinion, opened their championship contention window. For both of these years, I’ll assess where I think we’re better or worse than we currently are in 2017. These assessments will mostly be qualitative, so feel free to call me a blankity blank blank in the comments!

I’ll then talk a little bit about differences that matter outside our own team between the Reid and Pederson eras, and finally summarize where I see us as ahead or behind in the process to get towards that championship-contending caliber team. Let’s go!

2000 Eagles Team

Front Office

President: Jeff Lurie

Executive VP: Joe Banner

Director of Football Ops (GM): Tom Modrak

The front office structure is one thing that I think the Eagles consciously tried to recreate in 2016. By having a separate "value guy" and "talent guy", the Eagles eschewed the traditional one-guy-does all GM structure. Joe Banner at his peak was just as mercilessly efficient as Howie, and Modrak certainly hauled in some pretty good talent in his time. I’ll call the FO between 2000 and now equal, and give Joe Douglas the benefit of the doubt. Howie is proven as a money and value guy.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Andy Reid

Offensive Coordinator: Rod Dowhower

Defensive Coordinator: Jim Johnson

Special Teams: John Harbaugh

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Greatest two to never win one?

The benefit of hindsight allows us to evaluate coaches and players knowing how they’d turn out. For instance, even though Reid was coming off a worse rookie season than Pederson (5-11, due in large part to starting, uhh, Doug Pederson at QB, sorry Doug), we know now that was just tanking before it was cool to secure the best QB in Philly history, Mc5. I think it’s not crazy to say Reid is better than Pede, at least until Pede shows otherwise.

Rod Dowhower was similar to Frank Reich is now in that it’s hard to say how much influence he had on the offense, so we’ll say they’re equal. Jim Johnson came to Philly off a hot season as a LB coach in Seattle. I’d say the 2000 Eagles were better at DC since JJ turned out to be a legend, and right now Schwartz is just very good. John Harbaugh was similar to Dave Fipp in that he was a carryover from the previous regime who was good enough to stick around. Him and Fipp are both great, so we’ll say they’re equal too.

As far as coaching is concerned, I’d say the staff we have in place has a lot to prove, most notably in the head coaching department, to get to where we were at in 2000. The good news is we already have excellent special teams and defensive coordinators-we just have to hold on to them, or alternately replace them adequately (possibly Reid’s biggest Achilles heel).

Roster

2000 Average offensive starter age: 26.5

2000 Average defensive starter age: 25.7

2017 average offensive starter age: 27.3

2017 average defensive starter age: 26.2

Here’s where things get fun. I’ll list the 21 personnel for offense and the base 4-3 personnel for defense, since that’s what Reid mostly ran in his early days, as well as key role players. I’m color coding the players by my subjective assessments of whether they were excellent (dark green), good (light green), JAG (yellow), bad (orange), or awful (red).

I will also freely admit that during this time period I was too young to vividly remember these games and players, so I’m relying on a lot of PFR/Wikipedia to fill in the blanks. Feel free to tell me where I went wrong! I’m also comparing both older rosters to how I view our roster now (including my own starter projection), with Doug’s preferred 11 personnel and 4-3 nickel package.

2000 roster

The offenses in years 2 of Reid and Pede’s reign have a lot of similarities. I rate McNabb a lot higher than Wentz because we know he vastly improved in between 1999 and 2000, but his rookie season featured similar stats to Wentz (lower comp%, better rushing). The OLs both feature some pretty good players, including very good bookend tackles (although Tra and Runyan were in their primes and Peters is not).

The divergence is skill position players, namely WR. It’s no secret McNabb was let down early and often by his receivers, who in 2000 were the "who?" duo of Charles Johnson and Torrance Small. The 2017 Eagles seem to be trying to change history this time around by recruiting a legit #1 in Alshon Jeffery and throwing a bunch of resources at the other spots, including draftees and Torrey Smith. Both teams had good TEs, and the 2000 RB situation was better with Duce Staley and Brian Mitchell as a 1-2 punch. I’d rate the 2000 Eagles offense worse than the 2017 iteration. Their WR depth chart looked like the Eagles did in 2016, and even in those more run-oriented days having few or no go-to passing options could stifle a pass-first WCO.

Doug and Reid’s defenses were similar in that they both had great coordinators and inherited a lot of defensive talent from their predecessors. For Reid this included Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, and Bobby Taylor. For Pede that’s Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, and Malcolm Jenkins. The 2000 team was weaker in the front 7, with only three stars in Douglas, Simon (who Reid drafted before the 2000 season), and Axeman, but made up for that with excellent CBs and a hall of fame safety. Help is on the way with Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, but today I have to say our ghastly CB depth chart makes the 2000 defense better than the 2017 one.

Special teams is probably about equal, considering the legendary David Akers was already in place and kicking almost 90%, which is better than the pretty good Caleb Sturgis’ rate of 85%. It’s equal because punt coverage/returning and kick coverage/returning is league-best in 2017, as opposed to just upper level in 2000.

2002 Eagles Team

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THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE YEAR GODDAMNIT!!!

Front Office

President: Joe Banner

Executive VP: Andy Reid

Director of Player Personnel (GM): Tom Heckert

Chip Kelly wasn’t alone in his demand for more influence in the personnel world, as Andy’s early success gave him justification to start encroaching on GM responsibilities. This early the situation was still fairly stable, and the only changes were Lurie gave president duties to Banner, Reid got a title, and Heckert replaced Modrak. Equal.

Coaching Staff

Head Coach: Andy Reid

Offensive Coordinator: Brad Childress

Defensive Coordinator: Jim Johnson

Special Teams: John Harbaugh

Not much change in the coaching world here either, as success begets stability (or is it the other way around?). Childress is a clear upgrade from Dowhower and went on to become a (bad) head coach, so once again this coaching staff is better than the 2017 iteration.

Roster

2002 Average offensive starter age: 27.3

2002 Average defensive starter age: 28.8

2017 average offensive starter age: 27.3

2017 average defensive starter age: 26.2

2002 roster

The interesting thing to note is there wasn’t wholesale roster churn in between losing in the divisional round in 2000 and losing in the NFC championship game in 2002 (sorry, should have had a trigger warning before bringing up that game). On offense, the biggest change came in the skill position players, where bad WRs were replaced with bad WRs. Did I mention how glad I am they went out and got Wentz a #1 WR in his second year, as opposed to his fifth? So really what seems to have helped the Eagles between 2000 and 2002 was the progression of McNabb (and A.J. Feeley being an OK replacement), and the continuity of a good OL. This offense was better than 2017, because at this point McNabb was a bona fide franchise QB.

Similar to the offense, the defense was more or less the same, with a shuffled linebacking corps (which Reid never cared about) while Trotter took Snyder’s money in that fine 2000s tradition. If anything, the defense got better even with regression from Corey Simon and losing Trotter, emphasizing the value of continuity. Guys like Shawn Barber and Darwin Walker stepped up to replace lost production. This defensive roster was still better than 2017, even though on paper it looked like they might have taken a step back. Specials were still worse, because they didn’t lead the league in 2002.

The other thing to keep in mind is age. The 2000 roster was about a year younger on both sides of the ball than the 2017 versions, which helps with continuity. The 2002 version is the same or older than 2017, but it was mostly the same key players, a big reason why it was so much better. That’s the "young core" everyone is always talking about. The 2017 iteration isn’t drastically older, but we can expect some necessary overturn from guys like Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Lagarrette Blount, and maybe Brandon Graham in between 2017 and 2019.

Other Considerations

Unfortunately, football isn’t played in a vacuum (or maybe fortunately so the players don’t asphyxiate and die). If the Eagles had gone to the Super Bowl in 2002 against the Gruden-less Raiders, we would probably be enduring "lonely trophy case" jokes instead of "empty trophy case" ones. It’s not good enough to have a championship-contending team, you need to be able to beat not only your own division rivals for home field advantage, but also whatever teams in your conference stand in the way of the AFC champion. So…

Division Rivals

No way to sugarcoat this-the Eagles have a way tougher road to hoe now than they did back in the early-aughts. In the four seasons between 2000-2003, the best other record in the NFCE was 12-4, which the Giants earned in 2000 for the right to lose to the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Beyond, that, the most success the Giants and Cowboys had were a couple wild card losses, while the Washington Football Team was completely rudderless and reinventing itself every year (at least some things never change). The division was more or less the Eagles’ to lose in this time period, which gave them a Pats-like easy in for a 1 or 2 seed more or less every season.

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More of this, please.

I don’t have to tell you how the NFC East has suddenly gone from the punch line it’s been since McNabb and Reid fell off to arguably the best division in football. I think Washington will succumb to their self-inflicted wounds and the Giants will regress to a middling team once Eli retires, but unfortunately it seems like the Cowboys are for real. We can hope that Dak will regress to some degree (a safe bet, IMO) and they’ll turn into something like the good-not-great early-00s Giants, but it can’t be relied on.

State of the Conference

More good news, right? The NFC is unquestionably the stronger conference right now, with powerhouses including the Seahawks, Falcons, Panthers, Cardinals, and Packers, as well as the aforementioned Giants and Cowboys. There’s hardly a cupcake division (that was us), and the Super Bowl representative has been much more variable than the AFC, so you can’t just design your team to beat one threat. A 10-6 record can leave you on the outside looking in most years nowadays, which sucks.

To Win it All…

Yup, you’ve pretty much got to beat the Pats. While the Broncos and Steelers seem like legitimate contenders most years, they’ve usually served as a conference champion Washington Generals of late. Fortunately Tom Brady (40 in August) is not LeBron’s age so we don’t have to anticipate another 5 years of high-level play from him, and honestly if the Eagles can fight through the dogpile of the NFC to the Super Bowl I think they’ve got a good chance of taking care of unfinished business against those cheating bastards.

Wrapping it all up

I’ve written too much at this point, so I’ll summarize with some bullet points I’ve taken out of this exercise:

- The 2017 Eagles roster compares favorably to the 2000 one that took a huge leap forward.

They’re much better at WR and much worse at CB, but the overall quality seems to be there. With the obvious caveat that Wentz progresses like McNabb, there shouldn’t be any key other missing pieces on the roster that would prevent them from contending.

- The 2017 Eagles are older than the 2000 Eagles, which is a subtle concern.

The age gap isn’t huge, but most of the valuable contributors to that 2000 team were either before or in their prime, while we’ve got some major known replacements in our 2 year plan like Jason Peters and some possible others like Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins (if they hit 30 hard).

- Continuity was a key factor for the early-00s Eagles success.

This ties into the age thing-if you have good, young players you’re locked into continuity, which makes everyone better in this teamiest of team sports. This could be a downside to the Eagles’ recent obsession with one-year deals, assuming guys like Jernigan, Blount, and Smith don’t get resigned.

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We need the 2017 version of this!

- Even though the 2017 roster compares favorably to the 2000s one, the path forward is still harder.

I hate to end it on a down note, but the competition seems much better than those early-aughts Eagles had, especially within the division. We’ll just have to hope Pederson and Wentz are the real deal, and put stock into Tommy Lawlor’s theory of inter-division competition breeding excellence.

Thanks for reading!