PHILADELPHIA -- If you think this is rock bottom, Philadelphia Eagles fans, then you're in for an ugly surprise. The most alarming thing about this lost Eagles season has nothing to do with this season at all. This season is over. A seventh straight loss, this one 30-22 to fellow NFC bottom-dweller Carolina on "Monday Night Football," dropped the Eagles to 3-8 and ensured that there's no way they can make anything of 2012. Coach Andy Reid is sure to be gone next year, along with quarterback Michael Vick. You will have your scapegoats, Eagles fans, and your catharsis.
But then what? The Eagles will need a new coach, and whoever they get won't have won seven division titles or led his team to five conference championship games. They'll need a new quarterback, assuming Nick Foles can't establish himself over these final five games as the obvious long-term answer, and there's no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this year's draft, no Peyton Manning on this year's free-agent market. The 2013 Eagles will be about starting over, from scratch, and beginning a rebuilding project that could make fans pine for an 8-8 season.
Because you can dream about big-game coaches with Super Bowl rings, but the fact is no coach has ever won the Super Bowl with two different teams and the likelihood is that a guy like Sean Payton isn't going to willingly leave Drew Brees for Foles. The Eagles are probably going to have to take a chance on an exciting-but-unproven college coach or up-and-coming coordinator and hope they luck out the way they did 14 years ago with Reid.
And you can imagine the towering Foles and his big arm as your franchise quarterback, but in order to become that he'd have to beat very long odds. Foles was a third-round pick -- the 88th overall pick in the draft. Of the 41 quarterbacks who have started NFL games this season, only eight went later than 88. And only three of those eight -- Arizona's Ryan Lindley (185), New England's Tom Brady (199) and Dallas' Tony Romo (undrafted) -- are current starters for their original teams. It can happen, sure, but it's awfully unusual to find your long-term quarterback answer after the first round. The Eagles look as though they could have a top-five pick in this year's draft, but as of now it's unclear whether there's a quarterback worthy of such a pick.
There's also the troublesome fact that the way they're using Foles right now, there's no way they can learn anything about him. Foles was 16-for-21 for 119 yards Monday night, subsisting almost exclusively on screen passes and on handoffs to rookie running back Bryce Brown. His best downfield throw resulted in a 51-yard pass interference penalty and set up one of Brown's two rushing touchdowns, but many of his other shots downfield were scary, scatter-armed jobs that nearly got intercepted.
"You have to keep shooting," Reid said of Foles. "And we'll continue to do that."
But even the Foles situation is messy, since Reid still hasn't said Foles would continue to start when and if Vick gets back from his concussion. Reid is a professional, and if his job is to get Foles ready so that someone else can coach him next year, he'll surely do that. But the way the offensive line is at this point, it might not be in Reid's best interest to keep Foles in the pocket long enough to see what he can do downfield.
"I don't think specifically about that," Foles said of a potential Vick return and of his own future in Philadelphia. "My goal when I go to work is to be the best player possible and to work at my craft every day to get better. And if you do that, whatever happens happens."
The offensive line is not, I don't think, one of the Eagles' biggest offseason concerns. They can fix it just by getting guys like Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans back healthy. But they will need to make major changes on defense, where they have major question marks at safety and cornerback and no idea what kind of scheme (4-3? 3-4?) the presumed new coaching staff will implement for 2013 and beyond. They have plenty of quality players on the defensive line, but the worthiness of the incumbents to occupy places in the team's future will depend on the personnel needs of the new regime. On offense, they'd do well to find a wide receiver who's more than six feet tall and can stay somewhat reliably healthy.
There is much to do that doesn't even involve coach and quarterback, and whoever is brought in to run the Eagles this offseason will have a major project on his hands. That's kind of why it doesn't make a lot of sense to fire Reid now, absent an obvious option to immediately begin making the decisions that will lead the team into this uncertain future. Whoever would replace Reid now would be as lame a duck as Reid is, going to work each day wondering who's going to occupy his office two months from now. There's no assistant on staff who's a plausible enough Reid replacement to merit a five-week audition. The Eagles might just as well ride this lost season out with the guy they have now, make a clean break and then hand the whole thing over to someone new. Whoever that person is will find the Eagles' future cloudy enough as it already is. No need to complicate things further in the meantime.