For Eagles, change is inevitable

"You can't just rest on your laurels," coach Chip Kelly said as the Eagles said goodbye to 2013.
"You can't just rest on your laurels," coach Chip Kelly said as the Eagles said goodbye to 2013. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff)
Posted: January 13, 2014

An NFL team's season always begins and ends the same way. The players gather in the summer with hope in their hearts and exit in the cold grip of winter with trash bags in their hands.

Even for the players on the fortunate team that finishes the postseason with a victory, the rituals of moving day are the same: take physical, get offseason conditioning instructions, clean out the locker, stuff what you want into trash bags, say goodbye.

The Eagles packed up the NovaCare Complex locker room on Monday, two days after their loss to New Orleans in the wild-card round of the playoffs. They were given a day to recover from the bitter ending, but then it was time to move out and move on.

It isn't uncommon for veterans to give away a lot of their stuff, usually shoes, to the younger players, particularly the rookies or the kids on the practice squad who don't get paid to endorse anyone's product yet. Along with the equipment, the veterans can hand out advice, too.

"Take a look around. Remember this place and this time and these people. It will never again be the same."

Chip Kelly won't have another rookie year, one that began with few expectations and that provided instead a giddy ride to a division title and the playoffs. Except for a letdown in just a few plays by the special teams and the defense at the end of the New Orleans game, Kelly might have been running triumphantly off the field in Carolina on Sunday, just one win from a Super Bowl. The story didn't get quite that good, however, and next year there will be expectations.

"I think we've laid a foundation, but you've got to build something upon that foundation. You can't just rest on your laurels," Kelly said.

The building will take place with many of the players who finished the 2013 season, but a number of them won't be back. ( "Take a look around.") Some might be free agents who get better deals elsewhere. Some might be higher-paid veterans who are considered expendable for salary-cap considerations. Some might be marginal players the coaching staff simply wants to replace with something better. In a given year, depending on the team, it isn't uncommon to find anywhere from a dozen to two dozen new faces on the eventual 53-man roster. The Eagles will probably land somewhere between those numbers.

"Changes are going to come because changes are the natural part of this business. Those things happen," said cornerback Cary Williams, whose 2014 base salary of $4.75 million becomes guaranteed in March unless the Eagles decide to go in another direction. "But I think we're close to being an elite team, and hopefully next year we won't take a step back."

A year ago, Kelly was hired in mid-January and spent much of the time until the players came back in April putting together a coaching staff and overseeing the installation of new systems on both offense and defense. This year, the heavy shoveling has been done, and Kelly can concentrate on fine-tuning the roster. He will give general manager Howie Roseman a list of what he wants, and the front office will figure out how those players can be acquired in free agency, the draft, and by trade.

"We have to . . . outline what we're looking for in players because there are certain players that are great fits, [and] there are other players that are tremendous football players, but they might not fit scheme-wise into what we're doing," Kelly said.

Kelly knows which are which on the roster that finished the season, and we'll learn a lot more about his coaching philosophy and his vision of where the team is headed by the ones who stay and the ones who go.

"You want everyone to come back, but that's not the truth. I'm an employee. That's just the National Football League," said receiver Jason Avant, whose role diminished as the season progressed and whose salary-cap number makes him vulnerable. A few other veterans - Brent Celek, Trent Cole, and Todd Herremanns, among them - are in the same position.

"The last pure time you play football is usually in college, when it comes to a family environment and being around each other all the time," Avant said. "Once you make it to the pros, there's a family side, but there's a business side, no matter how you look at it."

There is a pecking order on the roster that is evident on moving day, too. Some players - quarterback Nick Foles was a good example - feel confident leaving a few things behind. He'll be back. A number of others who will stay in the area to use the facility for weight-training and other workouts do the same. But most know that if it isn't in the trash bag, it might never be seen again.

"It could be a whole new team next year. Anything we did this year is over. It's done. We can build on it, but it's going to be a new locker room, with new faces and new chemistry. A new team," linebacker Connor Barwin said.

Veterans have seen it before. The younger players learn it quickly. Moving day is sad because it is never on the calendar. It just arrives, and then nothing is ever exactly the same.

"You're never ready for the end. I still feel we should be getting ready for another game," Barwin said. "It takes a while to realize it's over."

For many of them, it is over for just three months. For some, it is over for much longer. But no one knows who goes on which list. That's why you have to stop and take a long look around before dragging the trash bag to the parking lot.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


www.inquirer.com/

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