The Youth Movement: Andy's Third 5-Year Plan

Donovan McNabb Philadelphia Eagles Youth Movement

The McNabb decade is over in Philadelphia.

I’m not talking about the player (yet). Donovan is still no longer an Eagle while I write this. But the other players who have formed the team’s backbone for much of his 11 years now are gone. This turnover, capped by a month-long purge of old veterans, signals the last dying whimpers of the old Eagles.

Gone is Brian Westbrook. Gone is Sheldon Brown. Gone is Jeremiah Trotter (again). Gone is Donovan McNabb — face of the franchise for 11 years.

David Akers and Quintin Mikell (who was just a second-year player) are the only two other guys remaining who played in the Super Bowl in February 2005. Everyone else is gone. Take a look at this chart, showing current roster’s experience with the Eagles:

Philadelphia Eagles Experience Players Graph

The green parts are the guys just let go or traded in the past month (I have excluded Shawn Andrews from this analysis since he’s just such a bizarre case).

Look at that graph. There’s Akers, the kicker and outlier. Mikell now checks in as the oldest starter, with 7 years with the Eagles (and only 2 starting). Also with 7 years on the job (first two and a half split between the practice squad and IR), Jamaal Jackson ought to start questioning whether he’ll ever play in Midnight Green again after his ACL injury.

For all intents and purposes this entire team was created post-super bowl. The “old” veterans still around? Players like Mike Patterson, Todd Herremans, Trent Cole, Juqua Parker — who’ve been here a whopping 5 years.

The shift is just as profound when you look at the relative ages of the players let go versus the players acquired in the last month or so.

Average age of the 12 now former Eagles: 30.35 years

Average age of 5 newly acquired: 25.63 years

Average experience in NFL of former Eagles: 7.5 years

Average experience of new players: 3 years

Philadelphia Eagles NFL Experience Years Graph

The Eagles eliminated 12 older players this offseason, completing the transition to a “new” team for the new decade.

Andy Reid is now on his third general 5-year plan. The first 5-year plan rebuilt the Eagles, keeping star players like Trotter, Tra Thomas, Brian Dawkins, Duce Staley, and adding new ones like McNabb, Brown, Lito Sheppard, Jon Runyan, T.O. This “team” culminated with the Super Bowl year of 2004.

After the Eagles self-destructed in 2005, you saw Reid reboot — only keeping Westbrook, McNabb, Runyan, and a few others. The team of the second half of the 2000s was that holdover group, plus new players like Trent Cole, Reggie Brown, Kevin Curtis, Shawn Andrews.

Now the refresh button has been hit again. Young players who have proven they are emerging stars during the last few years, like DeSean Jackson, Trent Cole, and Stewart Bradley, are being kept, while over the last two years the previous core has been dropped — even those that starred in both of the first two 5-year squads (McNabb, Westbrook, Dawkins, Thomas, etc.). Reid hopes players like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Kevin Kolb, Jason Peters, and the next crop of rookies can join with the young holdovers to form a new 5-year core.

Still, even with last year’s prelude, this offseason’s been particularly brutal. Look at the drop in average age on the Eagles after just a few weeks of purging, compared to the rest of the league (updated to include McNabb):

Average Age NFL Teams 5 April 2010

Surprisingly, the Eagles were actually one of the oldest teams at the end of the 2009 season. If that seems strange, consider that the Eagles cut or traded 12 players — only 2 of them (Sheldon and Donovan) were still starters in the Dallas games.

Think about that for a second. The Eagles went from the 7th-oldest team to the 6th-youngest seemingly overnight, and only lost two starters.

This is what people don’t seem to understand when they yell and scream that this is “rebuilding.” I actually believe Howie Roseman when he says, “The word rebuilding will never enter our vocabulary.” At turning points between 5-year plans, the Eagles don’t break everything down and build up again, the way the Browns or Rams have to. For the most part, the Eagles are shedding dead weight — older players who no longer contribute much to the team.

Not all the players fit into this, but the front office identified the core of the team as 5 years and younger. Once you do that, even those players who may still be starting-caliber become less valuable to the Eagles than to teams who are more committed to veterans.

In other words, would the Eagles be better next year with McNabb and Westbrook and Sheldon still around? In an absolute sense, yes. McNabb is still a greater player than Kolb. Westbrook is better than any 2nd or 3rd back the team can bring in. Sheldon is better than the hybrid of Hobbs, Macho, Hanson, and Kyle Wilson.

But the priority is not, and has never been (which is why I understand Roseman’s statement), to win immediately at the expense of the future. Especially now, with so many budding young players, the Eagles’ goal is to maximize the window of opportunity for Kolb, DeSean, Maclin, McCoy, Peters, Celek, Cole, Bradley, etc. And that means not crowding their growth with older players — it means getting as much new blood in as soon as possible (especially on the defensive side) to realize a Super Bowl contender every year over the next 5 years or so.

That goal, now, will go on without Donovan McNabb.