A local columnist, somebody who covers the team regularly, once confided to me his belief that Andy Reid is here for as long as he wants, sensing no dissatisfaction in the coach's performance within the organization. The admission was surprising in that it mirrored the laments of many fans who find it increasingly difficult to envision the day when a head coaching change will be made.
Reid's most recent contract extension runs through 2013, so he certainly isn't in danger of being fired and replaced by, say, Jon Gruden, or anything outlandish like that in the immediate future. However, his job security is constantly open to outside scrutiny, and if we were to speculate when his contract might be up for renewal again, one would surmise it's before he reaches the final year on the current deal.
Except there is no certainty he will receive another, or even last that long.
Not now, not after consecutive first round playoff exits. His first two extensions came in '00 and '04, when the Eagles were clearly ascending as an NFL powerhouse. The most recent lengthening came in '09, on the heels of the Eagles' fifth conference championship appearance under Reid, and in the midst of an 11-win season. Like it or not, the organization could justify the decisions then.
It's highly irregular for an NFL head coach to enter a season as a "lame duck," even moreso when you're talking about the most tenured guy in the league. Essentially it leaves Reid with the next two seasons to make an impression on the higher-ups, unless you believe the franchise views their coach as infallable.
What's different this time is the way the table is set. Apart from the sheer length of time the Eagles have given Reid to complete his primary task, and some circumstances largely out of the coach's control, he already has or soon will make a series of decisions that could easily lead to the fall of the Eagles. Most prevelant is the quarterback situation, which by itself could make or break the head coach's reign.
Most observers see Mike Vick as the obvious choice to lead this team. Kevin Kolb is still sort of an unknown quantity. Vick is one of the most dynamic players in the league, able to flick the ball 70-yards downfield with ease, or maneuver past defenders as if they were standing still. Plus, he's a marketing machine. The Eagles will rake with this guy.
But it's not that easy. Vick is all of those things, but he's also going to be 31-years-old—fine for a conventional pocket passer, but worrisome for a smallish runner. There's also the fact that Vick has yet to prove he is consistent enough to win three or four consecutive games in the post-season, which is significant at his age. Look no further than 7-9-22, or the number of interceptions, fumbles, and sacks he accumulated over his last seven games this season.
Which of course is not to say he can't win. This would be the first season with the Eagles where Vick entered as the starting quarterback. He'll have the full attention of the coaching staff and put in work with the first stringers. Vick already proved he has, and therefore can continue to improve.
There is an inherent risk no matter which direction they go, but it will ultimately fall on Reid. If the Eagles are still spinning their wheels with Vick two seasons from now, and Kolb goes on to begin a promising career elsewhere, it will be hard to reconcile with the front office.
That's just the beginning. Andy can maybe be forgiven for choosing the wrong quarterback when both are very talented. Tabbing an offensive line coach as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, particularly somebody who hasn't coached on that side of the ball in 20 years, will be a little harder to explain when it doesn't pan out.
What's so strange about Juan Castillo's promotion is how tenuous the situation is on defense. There isn't any one fault with this unit. The entire group requires something between a tune-up and an overhaul. The abundance of young players enterting their second seasons as professionals need a coach who will figure out what they do best and be able to utilize them in that capacity.
Obviously we haven't got the faintest clue whether or not Castillo can do those things, but it invites the head man to increased criticism. Many felt Sean McDermott's firing was in part due to his lack of experience, yet he was replaced by somebody with none. Castillo suddenly is the person charged with shaping and molding young players, putting a system in place, oh and he better do it soon, because the offense is ready to win now.
As if Reid didn't have enough issues to sort out internally, this tiny disagreement between players and owners only complicates matters. If a lockout steals the off-season, the Eagles will feel the negative consequences in more ways than one. The time to spend a full spring and summer focusing on coaching up Vick? Gone. The opportunity to teach new techniques and install new schemes on defense? Wasted.
Forget about improving the personnel, too. Some speak as if free agency would be bypassed entirely after an extended lockout. Even if it's not, good luck indoctrinating signees into a new system in time for the regular season when they only came aboard in August. Don't worry about the quarterback situation, either. It's not like they will be able to trade Kolb or Vick for picks this season.
What do you think the Eagles are going to be in the next two seasons, while labor strife limits their ability to improve the roster, a total newbie calls the defense, and a quarterback whose ceiling is unknown takes snaps from center? There really are only three options.
The first is the Eagles do what they frequently seem to do: answer doubts and become contenders. You can see how, with just a few minor tweaks—a cornerback here, a right tackle there—and the development of their own young players, they could jump into back into the mix of elites.
The second is the quarterback and defensive coordinator situations completely backfire, and management is left with zero choice but to start over. Is it such a stretch to believe those moves could result in the spawning of the post-appocalyptic Birds?
The third is the Eagles continue winning between eight and 10 games per season, just enough to sneak into the playoffs most of the time, but not enough to ever do any real damage.
Most people will probably go on believing the third scenario would be enough for Andy to earn an extension, despite any assurances to the contrary. After what would amount to four straight seasons running in place, and 14 without winning the ultimate prize, it might be time to finally rethink that position. We will know within the next two years whether Reid's gambles paid off, and if they haven't, you can bet it will cost him his job.