The Eagles have their quarterback, a few defensive players, but not much else. So how soon can we expect the team to be in contention? If Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office are able to have a few great drafts and sign quality free agents, it obviously could be a lot sooner than later.
First, let’s define exactly what I mean when I say “contending”. Next season, the Eagles technically could be considered playoff contenders. It’s not that difficult to win 9 games in the NFL with some luck and a favorable schedule, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about true contention. Year after year, a team that’s an odds on favorite to win the conference. Right now in the NFC, I would consider the Falcons, Packers, Cowboys, and Seahawks as the only true contenders. Let’s take a look at those teams and how long it took them to be built.
Teams with young, franchise quarterbacks generally have a growing period that takes a few years, but mostly it depends on the team around them. That’s not always the case though. In Dallas for example, the Cowboys already had a dominant offensive line, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, as well as some other decent skill pieces. The addition of Ezekiel Elliot at running back made them that much better. They were built to win NOW and Dak Prescott enjoyed unprecedented success in his first season. However, it took a few years to get the pieces that were already in place when Romo went down and Prescott arrived. Remember, the team missed the playoffs for 4 straight seasons, going 6-10 in 2010, followed by 3 straight 8-8 campaigns. During those seasons, the Cowboys were building the team that we currently see.
Much like the Cowboys, the Seahawks were a ready-made product when their young quarterback came into the fold. While they hadn’t had success before Russell Wilson’s first season, their team was built in the draft and through key free agent signings before he arrived. Oh and a GREAT trade: Marshawn Lynch was acquired from Buffalo during the 2010 season for a couple of mid-late round draft picks. He became one of the best backs in the league and carried the offense for many seasons, taking the pressure off Wilson.
The remaining teams at the top of the NFC have veteran quarterbacks. Matt Ryan and the Falcons were top contenders in the NFC for the first 5 seasons of his career, followed by 3 years of missing the playoffs, but now are back and in the Super Bowl. They are deep in skill position players and Ryan will most likely be the league MVP. Took them nine seasons to make the big game, despite being close his first 5 seasons. They rebuilt the last three years and you are seeing the rewards now.
Aaron Rodgers has been the starter for 9 full seasons, but remember, he sat the bench for 4 years after being drafted all the way back in 2005. He had time to grow and the team was already trying to win with Brett Favre, so Rodgers came in as starter with a bunch of talented veteran players around him. 9 seasons later, they are still one of top teams in the conference and Rodgers is playing better than ever.
So before we predict how far the Eagles are away from being one the true contenders, let’s look at how long it took Andy Reid to build his team in Philadelphia. Much like Pederson/Wentz, he came into the league with his number 2 overall draft pick quarterback in Donovan McNabb, however he didn’t need to trade draft picks to get him. The team finished with only 5 wins, but many of those games were started ironically by Doug Pederson. McNabb didn’t become the full time starter until Week 10, so they could have won more games if he was starting the entire season.
Reid’s second season in 2000 produced success for the team, winning 11 games and beating Tampa Bay in a Wild Card game. From there in 2001, the team went to 4 straight NFC Championship games winning 11, 12, 12, and 13 games, with the latter being their Super Bowl season of 2004.
Andy Reid turned things around fast, so why couldn’t this team be a true contender in 2018? One word: talent. The Eagles don’t currently have enough of it and without a lot of cap dollars, most of the players will need to come from the draft and that will take time. Reid didn’t have a lot playmakers on offense early on, but he had an accomplished running back in Duce Staley and two bookend offensive tackles to protect Donovan, who was already an excellent player in his 2nd season. Also remember, Reid had a bruising defense that was led by Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Bobby Taylor, Jeremiah Trotter, and Hugh Douglas.
Which gets us back to the original question. When can we expect for the Eagles to be true contenders in the NFC? Without a lot of talent on the current roster, it’s really difficult to predict. Let’s just say that 2017 will be another 6 or 7 win team. Carson Wentz takes another step forward and some of the young players show some promise.
In 2018, the players drafted in 2017 take the next step as does Carson Wentz. New draft picks contribute. Successful free agent signings would obviously also help expedite the process. Still difficult to see them as anything more than a playoff contender in the 8-9 win range.
Finally it’s 2019, if everything goes as planned, the young players are becoming stars and Carson Wentz has established himself as a upper echelon quarterback in his 4th NFL season. Now it’s time for the young players to continue to develop and Howie filling in the remaining holes via free agency.
So BEST case, if everything goes near perfect, the Eagles could start becoming true contenders by 2019 and hopefully by 2020 at the latest. Yeah I know, that’s a long ways away, but if you want to win, it needs to be built correctly and building through the draft would do just that.