They’re not draft picks, they’re punchlines.
The 2010 and 2011 drafts killed the Eagles.
During a crucial period in the franchise’s history, as they were trying to replace all-time greats such as Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Hugh Douglas, the Eagles instead landed a bunch of guys who couldn’t play.
With the roster virtually stripped of young talent, especially on the defensive side, the Eagles were forced to try and fill holes with high-priced free agents, who all turned out to be under-performing and overpaid, leaving the team an embarrassment and the locker room in shambles.
It’s no coincidence that the Eagles went from a team that reached five NFC Championship Games from 2001 through 2008 to a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in four years, is 12-20 over the last two years and finally moved on from Andy Reid after 14 years as head coach.
When you don’t draft well, this happens.
If you don’t have good players, you don’t win. And with very few exceptions, the only effective way to fill a roster with good players is to draft them.
“What we learned was you can’t force,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “You can’t force your board. You can’t have so much urgency in terms of filling a need that you change the evaluation process.
“But you have to learn from some of the things we’ve done. I think we learned from those lessons and I think it was reflected in what we did last year, and I think it will be reflected in what we do going forward.”
The Eagles took 24 players in those 2010 and 2011 drafts. Eleven are still with the team, but only one – center Jason Kelce, a sixth-round pick in 2011 – is likely to be a starter in 2013, although it’s conceivable Nate Allen will be.
Out of the nine players from the 2011 draft who even got a chance to start, seven were ultimately benched at some point: Allen, Kurt Coleman, Danny Watkins, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Casey Matthews.
The Eagles essentially benched two entire draft classes.
Only Kelce and Brandon Graham have gotten a chance to start and kept it. And Graham started only the last five games last year, after Jason Babin was released and Juan Castillo was fired.
“We talked about [those drafts] a lot,” Roseman said. “It’s something that we won’t do again, and I think it’s a hard lesson when you talk about those numbers.
“It’s disappointing to be in that situation. At the same time we think we have some guys from those drafts who are going to be major contributors for us going forward.”
Roseman takes the hit for those two drafts, although owner Jeff Lurie in January essentially absolved him of blame and hinted broadly that the series of draft-day misses was the handiwork of former team president Joe Banner, now the CEO of the Browns.
“I really wanted to evaluate everything,” Lurie said on New Year’s Day. “I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman.”
Roseman’s rise through the organization and Banner’s departure tells you everything you need to know about how Lurie feels about two of his longest-tenured front-office executives.
But Roseman, who was given even broader powers going into the 2012 draft, still blames himself for some of the evaluations that led to those weak 2010 and 2011 drafts.
He said the Eagles got greedy organizationally coming off 2008, when they came within a few minutes of the Super Bowl, and 2009 and 2010, when they reached the playoffs.
So even though they talked about drafting the best available player instead of picking for need, they didn’t do it.
They reached for players they thought could provide immediate help at positions of need and in doing so left the roster bereft of young Pro Bowl-caliber talent.
“I think [it was] the lure of how close we felt we were to winning a championship,” Roseman said. “The mindset of doing whatever it takes to get that championship.
“I think the motives were right but you can’t short-change the process. When you look back at teams that do a great job of drafting year to year, they don’t do that.
“They take a pick where some of their fans say, ‘Well they had a need somewhere else,’ and those guys end up being really good football players for them.
“We have to go back to making sure we look at the draft as a long-term investment for our football team. It’s not just the moment. Obviously you want guys who can contribute right now, but if you project them to be really good players, you don’t know what the future is going to hold, you don’t know what you’re going to need a year or two for now.”
Although the jury is still out on all of them, last year’s draft was somewhat encouraging.
Fletcher Cox looks like potentially a very good player, Mychal Kendricks has a chance to be very good, Nick Foles is in the mix to be starting quarterback, and Bryce Brown, Dennis Kelly and Brandon Boykin all got valuable playing time as rookies last year, and each showed some encouraging flashes.
Now, the whole dynamic of the Eagles’ draft operation has changed. Roseman runs the show instead of Andy Reid. Tom Gamble is in the mix. Lurie called the process stream-lined, mainly because the head coach -- now Chip Kelly -- is not one of the main voices in the draft room.
Roseman hinted that it’s an overall healthier process than in the last few years.
“I think the conversations within the building are very important, making sure that everybody shares the same vision for the role and what you’re looking for out of your scheme,” Roseman said.
“I think that’s where it starts, the conversations with your coaches. I’ve had really good dialogue here during this process, making sure we’re all on the same page. Because no matter how talented we may think [a player] is as a scouting staff, if there isn’t that same vision from the coaching perspective, it’s hard to really fulfill that potential.
“This is a critical draft. We’re coming off a four-win season. We want to improve. We want to get a lot of good young players in the program.”
They’re not draft picks, they’re punchlines.