After Free Agent Fury Are Eagles Ready To Soar? by Matt Lombardo

Philadelphia Eagles’ Nation is hopefully that the team’s many high-profile free agent signees plus resurgent star QB Michael Vick will help them finally capture a long awaited Super Bowl title in the upcoming 2011 NFL Season
There’s an adage in sports that championships are not won in the off-season. No team knows this better than the Washington Redskins who perennially throw money at problems, filling gaping holes with high priced veterans who are often on the decline by the time they reach the open market.
 The overwhelming consensus around football circles is that the Eagles won the free agent frenzy after inking some of the best available talent to deals; Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, Ryan Harris and trading for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Chromartie among others. Now the question becomes, do the Eagles now have all the pieces necessary to win the Super Bowl?
Keep in mind that before this dramatic spending spree, the Eagles were the team that hung with the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in the first round of the playoffs a year ago. For all intents and purposes the Birds came a Michael Vick interception in the back of the endzone away from unseating the Pack and taking on the Falcons in the Divisional round.
“I took a shot at the end zone,” Vick said afterwards. “I could have checked down to the back. I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone. I didn’t throw the right ball that I wanted to and it got picked off. It was a bad way to go, but at least I went down swinging.”
To many observers at the end of 2010, the Eagles were a young team that had a bright future but played above its potential after falling into the fantastic play of Michael Vick all season long. To others, Vick’s season ending INT was just more of the same from an organization that seemed snake bitten in its biggest games over the last decade.
Obviously the Eagles front office viewed the season through the scope of both opinions and opted to add veteran pieces, some with Super Bowl experience, in an effort to capitalize on the window of Vick’s high level of play and a high powered offense, with hopes of hoisting the Lombardi trophy in Indianapolis next February. On paper Philadelphia has to be considered a front runner to win the NFC and challenge for the team’s first Super Bowl Championship.
However, as we’ve seen all too often, games are not played on paper. Championships not won in March, April or August. And while several of the Eagles key additions are expected to start right away and in all likelihood will play and play at a higher level than the players they replaced from last year’s roster, one has to question if this team can find the cohesiveness that is truly unique to championship teams. Asomugha is in another world from Dimitri Patterson who started at right corner for the Eagles last year. Ryan Harris is a fundamentally, though inconsistent, better option at right tackle than Winston Justice. According to a league source Harris is ‘a perfect fit for Howard Mudd’s system’.
Cullen Jenkins finished last season with 18 tackles and seven sacks in eight games for the Packers, en route to winning a Super Bowl ring last season. Jason Babin had 12 sacks for the Titans last year playing under defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who is the reason that Babin left money on the market to reunite with him in Philadelphia. Meanwhile Vince Young and Ronnie Brown will be very capable insurance policies for two of the most vital cogs to the Eagles offensive machine, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. From a strictly talent standpoint, the Eagles are set to take flight. But will they?
There is a precedent for what we’ve seen in the last two weeks. In 2007 the New England Patriots went into the offseason with a bitter taste in their mouths. Bill Belechcik and company had last to their rival and eventual Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Patriots in the AFC championship game. The three-time Super Bowl Champs spent the ensuing months loading up on talent adding Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker and Randy Moss at the receiver spot that had long been plagued by mediocrity. That team went 16-0, boasted nine All-Pros, 8 Pro Bowlers and advanced to Super Bowl XLII which they lost to the Giants. No question their investments paid off. But that team had the championship winning experience of a title as recently as Super Bowl XXXIX over the Eagles, which is something Philadelphia is trying to accomplish for the first time.
There are parallels between the ’07 Patriots and the current incarnation of the Eagles. Both had strong leadership at the head coaching position and a veteran quarterback. The Patriots were fighting the sting of watching Peyton Manning stand amid the confetti of a Super Bowl win, while the Eagles face the mounting pressure of a 13-year long regime that to date has come up short of experiencing such a stage, and persistent pressure from one of the most intense fanbases in sports.
Sometimes urgency and pressure bring out the best in teams. There’s no doubt there’s a sense of a clock ticking over the Novacare Complex after so many frustrating ends to championshipless seasons. But sometimes teams stumble out of the gate, and there have been countless ‘dream team’s’ as Vince Young coined these Eagles that fell drastically short of expectations because that chemistry never developed.
Certainly the Eagles front office has done everything possible to build a team capable of winning the Super Bowl this year. If championships were won in off-seasons, then Eagles fans would be lining the Ben Franklin Parkway with green and silver ticker tape raining down from high above. Certainly this organization should be commended for executing its tangibly aggressive plan. One question remains though: Will this team find the cohesiveness that’s so integral to winning championships quick enough in the finite span of 16 weeks to finally hoist the Lombardi trophy?
Only time will tell.
Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

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