Let's stop for one minute, jog the mental Rolodex and think about where the Philadelphia Eagles were 365 days ago. It's remarkable how far this team has come.
In March 2013, the Eagles were looking to rebound from a 4-12 downer of a season that ended the Andy Reid era. Today, Philly is the undisputed class of the NFC East, possessing a stranglehold on the division. The roster oozes offensive talent and is led by a mastermind head coach. The Eagles are so good, in fact, that they can dangle a disgruntled receiver on the trade market and decide, on their own terms, whether or not to deal him.
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What a difference one year makes.
When I picked the Eagles to win the division last season on NFL.com, I was mocked -- and they proceeded to take the NFC East under first-time NFL head coach Chip Kelly. Now you can print up the T-shirts for 2014. Philly will win it again; the Eagles are that good and the division is that weak. In fact, this team is destined to be even better than the group that went one-and-done in the playoffs last season.
Kelly is now established. His cards -- in the form of his offense, his practice tempo and style, his aggressive in-game management -- are all on the table. I wrote last year when Kelly was hired that his system was built for the NFL, and that he was a brilliant mind. He proved it. The players know it.
One year ago, the Eagles' quarterback situation was up in the air. Today, Kelly has his signal-caller in Nick Foles, who was not a flash in the pan. Foles, who replaced Michael Vick as the starter in just his second year as a pro, was, in my opinion, the NFL's most valuable quarterback not named Peyton Manning last season. Foles' ability to dominate -- consider his touchdown to interception ratio: a whopping 27 touchdowns against just two picks! -- and his command of the offense made him an ideal fit. He should be an even stronger leader in 2014, given a full offseason entrenched atop the depth chart.
Kelly has a loaded offense around Foles, made even more dynamic when general manager Howie Roseman pulled off a deal for running back Darren Sproles. If I were the Eagles, I wouldn't even list Sproles as a running back. I'd just call him a toy -- or a weapon. Sproles is not the same player he was a few years ago, but he can still be a home-run hitter in space.
And consider who he's joining. LeSean McCoy is a star. Jeremy Maclin -- whom the Eaglessmartly re-upped after he missed last season with an ACL injury -- is going to thrive in Kelly's offense. Riley Cooper, who also received a new deal, became a valued receiver in 2013, contributing 47 catches for 835 yards and eight scores. Philly has talented and diverse tight ends in Brent Celek and Zach Ertz and -- though the team doesn't get enough credit for this -- one of the best offensive lines in the game, especially after Roseman rightly locked up Jason Kelceand Jason Peters. Between Kelly's offensive acumen and all that individual talent, you have a unit that is going to keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
Which brings us to the DeSean Jackson caper. The receiver suggested he was unhappy with his mega-bucks contract just two years after he signed it, which is believable because today is a day that ends in "y." Precedent says Jackson will never be happy with his contract. Jackson and Kelly didn't always see eye-to-eye last year, which isn't totally a surprise, given Jackson's high-maintenance style and the coach's hard-nosed nature.
Make no mistake, though: Jackson is a game-changer on offense who caught 82 passes last year and hauled nine into the end zone. He'd still be a sizzling fit for Kelly at receiver. Would Maclin be able to replicate his impact? Would keeping Jackson be worth any potential complaining?
For now, Roseman will dangle Jackson as a carrot. He can let a potential market develop. The receiver reportedly drew interest from the Patriots and Niners. That makes complete sense. Maybe teams like the Raiders or Jets will step forward. Maybe Roseman can brew up a bidding war.
I've written 600 words so far about the Eagles' pure awesomeness without really getting into their defense, but I think what Roseman has done this offseason has actually been ideal. Malcolm Jenkins is a solid safety. He's also not Patrick Chung, which makes adding him a major step in the right direction. Roseman also plucked Nolan Carroll to beef up the defensive backfield.
Such moves won't generate headlines like the ill-fated "Dream Team" of 2011 did, but they're savvy acquisitions, made with an eye toward fulfilling the real-world dream of capturing a title.
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The Eagles' defense doesn't have to resemble the 1985 Bears; the unit just has to make plays and be opportunistic. I thought defensive coordinator Billy Davis did a good job last season. Philly has a respectable front seven with solid linebackers. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole were great at pressuring the quarterback. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks make tackles and plays. They're only going to get better with another year in the system and the aforementioned improvements in the defensive backfield.
The New York Giants and GM Jerry Reese have enjoyed a thoughtful offseason. New coach Jay Gruden was a smart hire by the Washington Redskins. The Dallas Cowboys have adroitly rid themselves of players on the wrong side of 30 who were taking up too much cap space. Still, a gulf exists between Philly and the rest of the division.