Eagles coach Reid in critical career phase

Reid
Reid
Posted: January 13, 2011

NOBODY THOUGHT the Eagles were going to be winning any championships this season and they didn't. And nobody thinks Andy Reid is going to get fired anytime soon and they shouldn't.

Organizationally, from Jeffrey Lurie to Joe Banner to Tom Heckert/Howie Roseman to Reid, a decision was made after things stalled following the 2004 trip to the Super Bowl. Starting in about 2007, the Eagles knew they had to turn over the roster. Many teams do that with explosives and begin anew. The Eagles decided to try to retool on the fly and to keep a good product on the field through the transition.

In that, they have succeeded.

But the transition is over.

With that, the stakes grow higher for Reid. He is signed through the 2013 season, which means that he is going to be the coach here at least through 2012, unless he were to decide that he'd had enough and walk away himself. You have to think that everybody involved believes that the Eagles will be in the championship conversation by then - really and legitimately in that conversation, not just a wild-card-and-a-prayer kind of team - and if they aren't, well, it's going to be time.

Which brings us back to that transition. It might have happened sooner had not the Eagles made their out-of-nowhere run to the NFC Championship Game in 2008. If the Eagles hadn't sneaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and then won two playoff games, it would have been easy to see the Donovan McNabb exit happening a year earlier, and the Kevin Kolb development beginning in 2009. But they did make that 2008 run and McNabb did get the 2009 season as a result and Michael Vick arrived and here we are.

The delay was a mistake, and the upcoming NFL labor uncertainty is unfortunate, and it all shrinks the time period for making a decision - but that's the way it is. As the crucial period approaches, it would seem that there are two questions that have to be answered in Reid's favor for this to work out in the end.

First, Vick needs to be the Eagles' starting quarterback and he needs to be very good.

Put it this way: If the Eagles don't keep Vick now, they really did waste 2010 - and it would have been entirely Reid's doing, and it would have been unconscionable. To put Kolb in place, to sell him to the fan base and then to cut his legs out from under him - all for a loss in a wild-card game - would be a game-changing miscalculation for Reid. And it would put enormous and unfair pressure on Kolb to be a championship-caliber quarterback with just a handful of starts on his resume.

There are no excuses on this one, either. If Vick cannot be re-signed because of some unforeseen labor wrinkle in the next collective bargaining agreement, it is on Reid. If Vick cannot adjust his style of play so that he gets hit less and stays healthier, it is on Reid. If Vick does anything to run afoul of the law or the NFL, it is on Reid.

Vick has to be good. There can be no argument.

The second point is this one, and it again has to do with the notion that the transition phase for the franchise is over. Specifically, this defense needs to be vastly improved the next time it takes the field.

This isn't a Sean McDermott issue, not necessarily. The decline in this defense began when Jim Johnson was still alive. The last time the Eagles had a truly great and consistent defense was in 2004, the season they went to the Super Bowl. They had good overall numbers in 2008 but that was a team that swung wildly during the season and only came together in the last month.

Anyway, when ranked by points allowed, the Eagles' defense dropped from second in the NFL in 2004 to (in order) 27th, 15th, 9th, 4th, 19th and 21st since then.

Since that Super Bowl, the defensive personnel has been turned over and turned over again. A half-dozen new players were put into place this season. Anybody who saw the changes on the defensive depth chart knew that this wasn't going to be a championship season - and that was true even when Vick was doing the unthinkable in the middle of the year.

But it has to get better now, as in immediately. The young players who received so much playing time are going to have to make a significant leap, or new ones are going to have to be signed.

It hurts that two guys being counted upon - first-round pick Brandon Graham and second-round pick Nate Allen - suffered serious, late-season knee injuries. If there is a lockout and they have to do their rehab somewhere besides the NovaCare Complex, the odds grow even longer of their being ready for September.

It hurts, too, that free agency is so unpredictable because of the labor business. But that's an excuse, and there isn't time for that now. The organizational plan has brought the Eagles to this point, and it is fair to say that they have accomplished this transition well.

But the transition is over. Starting now, the next phase either begins or it doesn't - and this is the phase with consequences.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

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http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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