Let the Excuses Begin
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Eagles president Joe Banner told Bob Ford of the Philly Inquirer this weekend, as training camp for the Birds gets underway, that he thinks the Eagles have the best roster in the NFL.
Film at eleven.
Seriously, would you expect a team president to say anything other than that? To call the 2008 season for Philadelphia a roller coaster wouldn't be entirely accurate, unless you've seen a roller coaster where the ride is a straight line and the cars just repeatedly fall off the tracks and somehow manage to get back on before the end, ultimately falling off one more time before you think it's over.
The Eagles want to remind people -- including those in the division like the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys who undoubtedly feel they each have the best talent in the NFL too -- they were one win away from going to the Super Bowl last year. Forget the fact that the Birds squeaked into the playoffs because of a tie (rather than loss) to one of the worst four teams in football. Forget the fact that the Eagles needed to beat a Dallas team that forgot to show up at season's end, and have both Chicago and Tampa Bay lose their last games just to sneak into the playoffs.
Forget all of that. The Eagles won two playoff games. On the road. In the NFL, that's all that matters.
This season the Birds do return a team that went to the NFC Championship game, so it stands to reason that with a few key off-season acquisitions, they'd be one of the top teams in the NFL for 2009. And they just might be. The Giants are still pretty darn good, even if the Eagles did go into the Meadowlands and beat them in the playoffs. The Redskins seem to have gotten better, and Dallas is hoping for that whole 'addition by T.O. subtraction' thing this season. That means the Eagles could be the most talented team in the league, or the least talented in its division. We won't know until games are actually played.
The real story is the fact that Joe Banner's comments have people, including us, talking about which team has the best roster in the NFL, and not all of the potential tumult facing the Eagles this preseason. This is the first year the Eagles will play without Brian Dawkins in the defensive backfield since 1996. This is the first year since 1999 the Eagles will be without defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Johnson's replacement this season is his former defensive assistant Sean McDermott who, if you're scoring at home, is younger than the jettisoned Dawkins.
Add to the fact that the Eagles still haven't signed their first round draft pick and you have to take everything Banner says with the appropriate grain of blame-deflecting salt. While the pre-season is just beginning, Banner's 'don't blame us' quotability is already in mid-season form, telling Ford:
"You get humbled over the years, but since I've been working in the league I don't think the best team has won the Super Bowl any year," Banner said. "You get a ball bouncing the wrong way, a bad call from the ref, a windy day when you plan to throw a lot. You lose once. Even if you get to the playoffs, and it's a year where most people would say you did really good, you don't feel satisfied. There are just too many things out of your control."
It's windy when you plan to throw a lot? Adapt. The ball bouncing the wrong way? Teach your players not to fumble. A bad call from the refs? Banner is already planning to blame the refs for whatever circumstance leads the Eagles to miss the playoffs or get booted from the tournament if they are fortunate enough to sneak in again? That's leadership, folks.
Do I have any clue what team has the best roster in football? No, it's the first days of pre-season camp. The Steelers -- civil suits notwithstanding -- look pretty darn good. The Giants should rebound from the Plaxico Burress distraction and field a good squad. Minnesota is a quarterback away from winning the Super Bowl, or so we're told. Tennessee had the best record in the league last year, and even though they lost Albert Haynesworth to the Skins, they have some talent on that roster. Atlanta is young and getting better and Carolina can run all day long.
And don't forget Tom Brady is coming back.
You can make a case that every team in the league got better this off-season. Right now, in papers around the country you see quotes from team executives explaining to their fanbases that they did everything they could to make (local team) a winner, both this year an into the future. But fans have to be realistic. Sometimes the ball bounces funny. Sometimes the refs just stink.
"It's so hard to win a championship," Banner explained to Ford. "There's so much more to it than just having the best team."
How would Banner know? The Eagles have never won one.
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