PHILADELPHIA -- There are no five-year plans in the NFL anymore. But it still takes time to take a team from 7-9, where the Philadelphia Eagles finished in 2015, to the Super Bowl.
How long? Are the Eagles a quick fix for their next head coach, or will the process be more deliberate? That depends somewhat on who that next head coach is.
Owner Jeff Lurie can expedite matters by hiring Pat Shurmur, the offensive coordinator under ex-coach Chip Kelly, and letting Shurmur work with quarterback Sam Bradford. In his one game as interim head coach, Sunday’s 35-30 victory over the New York Giants, Shurmur demonstrated a practical approach that could get the Eagles back into contention right away.
Shurmur slowed the Eagles’ offense down, allowing for presnap changes in the play called. He also had the team focus on particular plays that Shurmur decided would benefit Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray.
Given organized team activities and a full training camp, Shurmur would be able to put more of his own stamp on the Eagles’ offense. That would mean further skewing toward aspects of the system that Bradford feels comfortable running.
That approach could get the Eagles back into the playoff picture in 2016. The question is whether it would impose a ceiling on just how high the franchise could go under Shurmur. Kelly took the Eagles to the NFC East title in 2013 by getting the most out of Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy. But by the end of 2014, even Kelly realized that the team had reached its upper limit with the talent on hand.
If Lurie hires a new head coach with a fresh perspective, the Eagles are apt to take a slight step backward before they begin to improve. The question is -- how far backward will they have to go? Did Kelly’s roster turnover leave the Eagles in too deep a hole?
The best guess here is that it did not. The Eagles would be better with McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Evan Mathis than they are at this moment. But there is enough of a core for a smart coach to get this team turned around in relatively short order.
After his offseason trade and free agent splurge last year, Kelly said that the long-term plan was to build his team through the draft. That was and remains the best way to find sustainable success.
If the team pursues that strategy beginning this season, it could take a year or two to get back into playoff contention. The Eagles have no second-round pick in 2016 as part of the Bradford deal. They have a fairly long list of holes to fill.
But it’s not hopeless. A new coach is going to want to rebuild the offensive line, adding help at guard and planning for the eventual need to replace 34-year-old left tackle Jason Peters. The coach might also watch film and decide the Eagles need a difference-maker at wide receiver.
That might be true, but the young wide receivers drafted over the past two years could well develop into fine players rather quickly. Jordan Matthews improved this season. It’s reasonable to expect big things from Nelson Agholor now that he has a season’s worth of experience.
The key to the quick fix is a new contract for Bradford. If a new coach feels it would be better to find a new quarterback, that will complicate matters. That will mean identifying the quarterback, obtaining him and then developing him.
Defensively the Eagles have some parts. They can play either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. Fletcher Cox has played well as a 3-4 end and a 4-3 tackle. Connor Barwin has had his best success as a 3-4 linebacker but could switch to a 4-3 end if needed. The linebackers are adaptable.
A first-year coach will have some slack to build his team the right way without pressure to win the division in his first season. Kelly chose not to use his first season in that way. His team got progressively worse as a result.
Kelly jettisoned some talent, but he brought some in as well. The Eagles might not be an instant contender with a new coach, but they shouldn’t require a complete overhaul.