BETHLEHEM – In his annual State of the Team address, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie largely was spared a grilling on topics of real importance. Instead, the Eagles’ owner spent most of yesterday’s yearly press conference defending his decision to retain controversial ex-convict Michael Vick after Vick’s latest indiscretion. Contrary to public perception and media focus, Michael Vick is not the Big Story.
The trade of Donovan McNabb? The rise of Kevin Kolb? The looming labor issue that could shut down the sport? The possible change in schedule that could result in 18 regular-season games? The debacles in Dallas that ended last season and denied the Birds a Super Bowl title for the 44th time in 44 years?
Mere trifles. Distractions. Second fiddle to the Proverbial Fiddler of the Camp, Michael Vick… AGAIN? Lurie, reiterated that, after gathering the facts gathered by his team, the league, police in Virginia and Vick’s probation officer, he saw no reason to dismiss Vick for the events of his birthday party in deference to his probation. This comes one day after commissioner Roger Goodell finally visited camp and officially cleared Vick of wrongdoing or further investigation. The issue concerned Vick attending his birthday party in Virginia Beach, some 40 miles from Vick’s hometown of Newport News, the area where Vick’s dog fighting and gambling crimes were committed. Lurie professes a One Strike policy for Vick, who joined the team amid a firestorm of criticism last season. But this wasn’t a strike. Vick checked his swing. Then, briefly, it was on to more important, if less lurid, matters.
Such as trading the best quarterback in team history and making a division rival better.
“I don’t see it that way,” Lurie said of McNabb landing in Washington. What he does see is how McNabb generally has been painted: a great guy and a good QB who didn’t win the big one in Philadelphia.
“The best quarterback the Eagles have ever had. Classy. Terrific in every way,” Lurie said. “Did not win a Super Bowl. A very extraordinary decade, by any measure. Except for the lack of a Super Bowl championship.” This definition made McNabb expendable even before the 2009 season (if he hadn’t been coming off a knee injury). Lurie made it clear that, IF the Eagles had received a sound offer for the unsound McNabb after 2008, Kolb would have taken over last season.
“Donovan, coming off the ACL, maybe didn’t have the league-wide [market] value,” Lurie said. McNabb’s market value in 2010: a second-round pick this year and a third- or fourth-round pick in next year’s draft. That is “the value of a No. 1 pick,” in Lurie’s eyes. So far, those picks have become second-rounder (#37 overall) Nate Allen, projected to start at safety. Moreover, it cleared room for Kevin Kolb, whom the Eagles hope blossoms like Aaron Rodgers did after Brett Favre’s bizarre and acrimonious departure from Green Bay 2 years ago.
“Like Green Bay did with Aaron and Brett,” Lurie said. “It was the right timing to let the young quarterback really thrive.” He explained that Kolb’s ascension was a “natural evolution,” considering the team’s philosophy of drafting promising QB and allowing them to learn while established veteran players play through their prime.
Should Kolb, a second-round pick in 2007, become a viable starter, he would be the first to do so under Lurie’s reign. Neither Bobby Hoying (third-round pick), nor A.J. Feeley (fifth-rounder) developed as the Eagles hoped, though the Birds got a second-rounder for Feeley. McNabb took over as the starter in the 10th game of his rookie season after being the Birds’ first pick in the 1999 Draft.
McNabb went to six Pro Bowls and was the team’s most important player through its most successful years; five conference championship games, a Super Bowl, 118 wins…but no Super Bowl victory, 4 conference championship losses (Eagles were favored in 3 of the 5 NFC championships) – ergo very successful failure.
Lurie said that the Eagles – in particular, coach Andy Reid – determined that, after 3 years of observation, Kolb is “more than ready.” And just as good: “There wasn’t the feeling that we would drop off in any way.”
Lurie let slip that the Eagles received no viable offers for Michael Vick in the offseason, either. Lurie insisted that he was unperturbed that Vick, firmly slotted as a backup in Philadelphia, lobbied for a trade to a team that would give him a chance to start. Lurie likes Vick’s competitiveness and confidence . . . but if such a team existed, Lurie indicated on several occasions that a trade would have been likely.
“If there’s a part of him [Vick] that thinks he is going to star for another team, bring them on. Let’s see what they have to offer,” he said. “That means we have asset value.” Apparently, in Vick, they had little asset value.
This was not the Jeff Lurie of years past, when Lurie spoke with a sparkling eye toward the playoffs. This was a Lurie embarrassed by Vick’s actions, embattled by Texas-sized gut punches at the end of last season, anxious about the ongoing collective bargaining agreement issues that could paralyze the league next year.
Lurie is among several NFL owners advocating the change to 18 regular-season games with two preseason games – it’s now 16 and four – but some debate exists regarding reducing preseason games AND adding another bye week, starting the season earlier, etc. Lurie is realistic enough to realize that won’t happen if the other labor snags are not worked out: rookie salary scales, pensions, stadiums, international expansion.
“This is a great opportunity to fix a lot of things,” he said. He could say as much about his team. He knows his defense is suspect. He knows his offense has huge question marks along its line and under center. Even in addressing the future, Lurie referenced the past.
“Very, very proud of the performance over the last decade,” Lurie said of the McNabb years. “We have one remaining goal. That’s to win a championship. And follow that with more. It’s the sole obsession.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org