Players not buying Eagles rebuilding talk just yet
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Rebuilding is a tricky concept in the NFL. It can be a tough sell to the fans and sometimes an impossible sell to the players, who don’t last nearly as long on average as players in any other team sport.
Coaches and general managers like to say there’s always a certain amount of it going on regardless of circumstance, which is absolutely true. But there’s almost always more when a new head coach is involved.
Hence the surprising but truthful revelation by first-year Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson after his team lost six of its last eight games to fall to 5-6 that, yes, at least one of his eyes is on next year and the year after that and so on.
All of a sudden, Pederson was comparing the Eagles to the Oakland Raiders of two years ago and the early stages of the Seattle Seahawks under Pete Carroll.
“You build your team through the draft,” he said. “You pick up a couple good free agents in the offseason, you continue to work, you watch these young kids develop and turn into ballplayers and you see the potential. That’s why when I say that, that’s what I see with these guys. I look at how Seattle has built their team. I look how the Raiders have built their team. I look at the plan that’s been in place for a lot of teams around the National Football League that are having success now in their third, fourth, seventh years.
“That’s the direction that we’re heading in. So that’s why when I say those comments like that. That’s what I see. I see us three, four years down the road. I see us seven, eight years down the road having consistency that way and winning more of these games than not.” But one week down the road? That’s not part of the big picture anymore.
This was in contrast to his preseason message of winning right away because the team’s talent level is so much higher than when his mentor, Andy Reid, took over a depleted Eagles squad in 1999.
There was no reason why the Eagles couldn’t win in 2016, Pederson insisted, even after trading away starting quarterback Sam Bradford a week before their season opener.
All of these recent losses have changed the perspective. His postgame message to the players after the loss to Green Bay was stern when he said the last five games will go a long way toward determining who wants to be and will be here next year.
So how does this sit with the players?
Surprisingly well. In an upbeat locker room after Wednesday’s practice, nobody was thinking about next season.
“Really, what he was saying was that we’ve got to get back to having fun,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “These last five games, we’re going to see who’s having fun.
“We kind of got tight because playoffs are on the line. It’s grind time. But we play our best when we’re having fun. And this past game showed me ... just the way I was thinking out there, ‘I gotta go make a play because that will spark it off.’ But really, if I just go do my job, the plays are going to come.”
Added safety Malcolm Jenkins: “I’m not here to rebuild. That’s [general manager Howie Rose- man’s] job. We’re playing to win. Everybody in this building has been paid and compensated not to just occupy a seat but to win.
“So our mindset is that we’re trying to win with the guys that we have here, people that we have in the building right now. We’ll let the people upstairs figure out whether we’re building or what we’re doing past this time.”
Guard Brandon Brooks, a freeagent newcomer this season, said his attitude won’t be affected by the subtle shift in Pederson’s message.
“Each week we go out there, we’re trying to go 1-0 for sure, we’re trying to win the games,” he said. “At the same time, I hear what Coach is saying, just having young players who are in positions where the organization can build around them and kind of go from there. So I kind of understand that, too.
“I don’t look at it as frustration. I plan to be here for awhile, plan to be a part of that.”
Brooks thinks the Eagles can win out and make the playoffs. He also knows that if they don’t, there will be more changes than what anyone could have reasonably expected when this team was 3-0 and alone atop the NFC East standings.
Now they’re alone at the bottom of the division, where the focus has shifted to avoiding the same spot next season.
Injury report: Eagles: RB Ryan Mathews (knee), WR Jordan Matthews (ankle), T Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) did not practice Wednesday. G Brandon Brooks (illness) and DE Marcus Smith (shoulder) returned to practice without restriction.
Bengals: WR A.J. Green (hamstring) did not practice.
RED MEANS STOP
Despite their failures on Monday night, the Eagles still rank second in the NFL with a defense that allows touchdowns on just 44.1 percent of opponents’ trips to the red zone.
Senior Will Lorman, pictured with the ball, is set to lead the Bohemia Manor boys’ basketball team.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, left, is sacked by Green Bay Packers’ Julius Peppers, right, during the fourth quarter on Monday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The Eagles lost 27-13 to the Packers.