Rome burned in six days. It took considerably longer to rebuild. The Philadelphia Eagles, by comparison, are much smaller, but the Chip Kelly era was a slower burn. The rebuild might be considerably quicker.
When Howie Roseman resumed his GM duties in 2016, he took over a team that was in bad though not exceptionally terrible shape. His starting QB was out of contract and unimpressive, his offensive line was aging, his skill position players nearly wholly depleted, and his defense was a mismatch of players best suited to disparate systems or simply in dire need of replacement.
In less than two seasons, the Eagles are in a much better place. The path to success, as long or short as it may turn out to be, is clearer than it’s ever been since the Donovan McNabb era. Roseman has wasted no time in remaking the Eagles. He should count himself lucky he even has the time. When Jeffrey Lurie gave Chip Kelly the reins of the team in 2015, not firing Roseman was a curious move. Moving the junk to another room isn’t really cleaning house. When he was re-installed, one could be forgiven for finding it an uninspiring move, because it was. Howie Roseman 2.0 has been anything but.
Since returning to the fold, Roseman’s moves have been swift and determined. After the Eagles churned through Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Sam Bradford in an attempt to turn straw into gold, Roseman wasted no time getting a top QB prospect while other teams have punted the issue. After Carson Wentz was handcuffed with the worst group of wide receivers in the league, Roseman got the best receiver on the market this offseason, and adding depth in free agency and the draft while other teams with young QBs have sat back. The same went for running back, adding a need-filling veteran at the top of the depth chart and intriguing rookies at the bottom. After another year of relying on veteran stop gap cornerbacks, a defensible move considering that not every need can be addressed in one offseason, the team drafted two and then traded for a 23 year old starter. Suddenly, the position is stockpiled with youth. Half of the offensive line depth chart could be 25 or under, with three players with starting experience. The defensive line should be even better in 2017, and younger.
It hasn’t been perfect, but perfection is rare. Vinny Curry’s contract looks even worse after the team signed and drafted players at his position. The contract for Chase Daniel was nearly as bad, and holding onto Connor Barwin last year was ill advised. The trade for Dorial Green-Beckham was a worthwhile gamble, as Dennis Kelly wasn’t making the roster and Green-Beckham did, but he predictably didn’t pan out. Likewise Rueben Randle, who unlike Green-Beckham actually brought a track record of production to the table, predictably didn’t work out either. The pressing need for youth at cornerback was in part due to trading away Eric Rowe. But none of those moves were crippling or blocked a better long term move.
But perhaps Roseman’s wisest move wasn’t for a player. Long the best GM at team-friendly contracts and getting more out of trades than he gave, player evaluation has not been Roseman’s strong suit. To counter that, he brought in Joe Douglas, a well respected evaluator with no familiar face ties that have limited the Eagles in the past. It is somewhat ironic that after what looks to be a pretty good draft in 2016, Roseman handed over the keys to Douglas in 2017. Most people, given a second chance like Roseman has, would not be so quick to give up power, and give it to an outsider rather than a trusted protege.
Together they’ve made a large volume of changes, at WR, RB, G, DE, DT and CB, to say nothing of backup spots that will inevitably see playing time over the course of the season was significant. Some were big, some were marginal, all of which add up to a better roster. And a younger one.
On opening day it’s likely that nine starters are at most 26 years old, by the end of the season a further four more players 25 or under could be in the lineup, with every position group represented by youth. There’s no guarantee that it works out. A year from now we could look back and kick ourselves for thinking the 2017 offseason was a good one, that this era of good feelings is in fact one of false hope. But with a good core of players in their prime and others nearing it, and with top players at their positions or roles on both sides of the ball, there’s every reason to expect 2017 to be a season of growth.
There’s no more waiting around for a rebuild to come to fruition. It’s time for the Eagles to start to blossom.