The Philadelphia Eagles posted an NFL-best 59-21 regular-season record from 2000 to 2004. They earned playoff berths in each of those years and won at least one postseason game each time, equaling a record set by the 1970s Oakland Raiders and the 1990s Dallas Cowboys.
However, those Raiders (1976) and Cowboys (1992-93, 1995) won championships. The closest the Eagles came was a 24-21 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. That loss also ended the Eagles’ excellence. Superstar receiver Terrell Owens wigged out on coach Andy Reid in 2005, and five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb missed 13 games in 2005 and 2006 with a sports hernia and a torn ACL. McNabb missed two starts only last year but the Eagles finished 8-8.
Philadelphia has become mediocre in an NFC East that includes the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Cowboys (who last season posted an NFC-best 13-3 record) and the Washington Redskins, who made the playoffs in two of the past three years.
The Eagles haven’t done much to gain ground on the competition this offseason. They signed Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel in free agency, however, former starter Lito Sheppard - the subject of trade talks since Samuel’s arrival to remedy a weakness elsewhere on the roster, such as linebacker - remains on the team along with Sheldon Brown.
“There are going to be times where all three of them are on the field,” defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. “It might be 60 percent of the time. It might be 70 percent of the time. It might not be just against three wideouts.”
Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws, whom the Eagles drafted 47th overall, should be solid, but that’s three straight years they used their top draft choice on that position. With Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley already starting, Laws is a luxury. Meanwhile, the Eagles are gambling that defensive end Chris Clemons, who last season recorded eight sacks with the Raiders, wasn’t a one-year wonder.
A No. 1 receiver, which McNabb has lacked virtually throughout his nine seasons in Philadelphia, would have made more sense, especially because all the wideouts were on the board when the Eagles traded out of the first round. The only year McNabb had a true go-to guy was 2004, when Owens behaved and the Eagles reached the Super Bowl. Philadelphia drafted California’s DeSean Jackson in the second round, but he stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 169 pounds. Most draftniks project him as a returner and a No. 2 or 3 receiver.
“DeSean looked like he had good quickness, good speed and he caught the ball OK,” Reid said after the Eagles’ first minicamp.
OK has been the rule of late for the Eagles, and that’s not OK with Philadelphia fans who have waited for one of their teams to win a title since 1983. So even though Reid and McNabb have led a run of success unprecedented in Eagles history, the past three seasons have prompted a serious reorientation towards the duo in Philadelphia.
“You guys struggled to find a positive story,” Reid told the media during his minicamp summary. “You did a good job finding the negative ones, but there are plenty of positive ones that you could find out there. Other than that, it was business as usual.”