That elusive window for NFL success can be frighteningly small. A team has a good season — maybe squeeze into a wild card spot, or they just miss the playoffs — and they just know this is their time.
They convince themselves they’re close. They know with a few breaks, a good draft, and solid free agents, they can be the team making a playoff run, maybe a long playoff run.
The personnel people scrutinize the roster, every corner of it. They know they are not quite there. There are obvious weaknesses. They know the safety position potentially is one of trouble, not security. They know a move must be made — sooner rather than later.
They know their team’s strength. If they have a great offensive line, they add depth to ride out an inevitable injury.
They want competition between the starters and backups at every position. They want talented, capable players trying to knock off the starters and push them to improve.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has spent the offseason filling holes with draft picks, trades and free-agent acquisitions. He continued to do so with a major move last week. The Eagles acquired safety Jaquiski Tartt, a 30-year-old who played seven seasons for the 49ers.
SUDDENLY, THE SECONDARY IS STRONG
After the draft, safety appeared to be the Eagles’ weakest position group. After landing defensive back James Bradberry earlier in the spring, the Eagles cornerbacks went from being vulnerable to possibly be a strength — especially from a team expected to put more pressure on quarterbacks.
The Tartt deal was another sign that the Eagles are all in this year. NFL fans like to think their favorite teams are all-in every year but that’s neither true nor realistic. Tartt could either start or be solid depth behind Marcus Epps and Anthony Harris. Tartt started for the Niners in last year’s NFC Championship Game.
Roseman sees a strong Eagles roster and a relatively weak NFC East. The Cowboys are formidable, but the Commanders and Giants are not. Roseman sees the Eagles’ schedule among the weakest in the league.
He has filled nearly every hole. The Eagles might need a power runner and maybe they bring back Jordan Howard.
The one move Roseman *can’t* make is the one that will determine the season.
It’s the quarterback. It’s Jalen Hurts. Roseman traded for wide receiver A.J. Brown but is that enough?
SO MUCH RELIES ON HURTS
Despite all of the planning and acquiring talent, sports still have that reality show feel. You really don’t know what will happen and why. You get a bad break at the wrong time and you lose a game you should win.
If a team has a good-to-great quarterback, the quest for glory is easier. You can’t win consistently in the NFL without a successful quarterback. That’s just the truth.
(Remember, Carson Wentz probably was going to be the NFL MVP in 2017 before his injury, then Nick Foles led a magical Super Bowl run that exceeded his talent ceiling.)
The Eagles are confident Hurts is not only their starting quarterback but their franchise quarterback. But what if he isn’t? How Hurts performs makes this season of great promise a potential season of great heartache.
How good is he? That’s the million-dollar question. The Eagles won nine games last year against a difficult schedule. Winning nine games this year seems to be a foregone conclusion.
Is winning nine games enough? It doesn’t win the NFC East and it doesn’t get you a home-field playoff game. Is that enough for this team?
Was last year Hurts’ ceiling? Play well against some teams, poorly against others? Can he rally the team when a game looks lost in the fourth quarter? Can he drive a team and control the clock when they’re nursing a six-point lead in the fourth quarter?
Can he make the clutch throw into tight coverage on third-and-nine? Can he avoid soul-sapping turnovers?
CAN LEADERSHIP TRANSLATE INTO VICTORIES?
The Eagles talk about Hurts’ leadership skills and intangibles. We know he has a strong work ethic — necessary to survive in the NFL.
- Can that leadership carry over to the sideline and into the huddle when the Eagles trail the Cowboys by 10, on the road, in a game they need?
- Can he improve his ability to read the defense? Can he find the right receiver at the right time?
- Can he do it enough to win enough games?
- When he’s orchestrating the run-pass options, does he keep the ball at the right times?
When Hurts was good last year, he looked very good. He made decisive throws. He ran when necessary, scampering for key first downs. He protected the ball and gave the air of on-field leadership and command.
His downside was obvious: consistency. He looked lost at times, his team unable to move the ball. That’s not all on Hurts but when you’re the quarterback, most of the blame lands on you. That’s not fair but it comes with the territory.
The notion of being all-in with personnel is to have enough depth and weapons to overcome inevitable bad play and bad luck.
And that’s where Roseman and the Eagles are: all-in.
They think they have a shot this year — at making the playoffs, at a playoff run, whatever. Experts think they are a year or two away from contending for a title, but you never know.
All of the NFL general managers daydream about being on the postgame podium, confetti flying around, firmly grasping the Vince Lombardi Trophy with both hands. They work all season to put their team in such a position.
In their best moments, they see themselves standing next to Jim Nantz — with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye.