The Eagles Have Answers
PHOENIX — Lunch was served just before noon at the annual NFL meetings Tuesday.
Lunch’s name was Jeffrey Lurie.
Under a scalding sun on a cloudless 87-degree day, Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, stood for a mostly withering 40-minute cross-examination about the news explosion made by his team since season’s end, encircled outside the cushy Arizona Biltmore hotel by a mostly Philadelphia-area contingent of 34 reporters and eight minicams and a few cellphone videographers. Ever seen the White House news conferences, the big ones? Where the president has a room-full of reporters shouting questions, the louder voices usually winning the question-answering contest? That’s what this session was.
I don’t recall seeing such a pit-bullish sessions in my years covering the meetings. This year's meetings were light on real news, and the Lurie media availability clearly was the most interesting thing that happened. This was his first time speaking to the media since the Eagles’ 10-6 season had its ignominious end more than 12 weeks ago. And so the pent-up questions about why ace personnel man Tom Gamble was fired, why GM Howie Roseman got demoted, why Chip Kelly now had all the power, why the offense had been dismantled so completely and why the future of the franchise was now being banked on an injury-riddled quarterback … all of those questions that hadn’t been answered by club’s ultimate decision-maker had to get answered.
And they had to get answered now.
I’ll give you an example. At one point, beat man Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer barked out, “Who fired him?!" He was referring to Gamble.
Lurie took another question. When he was finished, McLane asked twice more, “Who fired him?! Who fired him?!"
Lurie took another question. McLane would not be denied, and so when Lurie finished that one, here came McLane again:
"Who had the final say in firing Tom Gamble?!"
Lurie looked right at McLane. “It was my decision," Lurie said unemotionally.
And so it went, the demanding and the answering and the parrying. Say this for the media: They got answers to questions everyone in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley have been asking for two months. Kelly didn’t trust Roseman as a football guy. Lurie fired Gamble. Lurie gave Kelly full control over the football operations. LeSean McCoy wasn’t the style of running back Kelly preferred.
“It was all my call," said Lurie, beginning his time on the Arizona griddle. “I’ve lived through a lot of divisional championships, a lot of playoff appearances, a lot of final four appearances. But our goal is further than that. We want to deliver a Super Bowl. Sometimes maybe I’m influenced by the notion that it’s very difficult to get from good to great. And you’ve got to take some serious looks at yourself when you want to try to take that step. It’s a gamble to try to go from good to great because you could go from good to mediocre with changes. But I decided it was important enough to adopt the vision and philosophy of integrating the scouting with the coaching on a daily basis. … Chip had a vision of exactly how we could get from good to great. And I thought it was a really sound vision. He’s a very bright guy. He’s all about football. He’s all about wanting to win big. It made so much sense."
In essence: We know how to win 10 games. We could probably stick with the cast we’ve got and win 10 games next year. But this isn’t a Super Bowl-winning team, and for us to have a chance to be one, we’ve got to be aggressive and take some risks. Some big risks.
So now Philly knows a lot more answers. It just took a few Rocky Balboa roundhouses to unearth them.
“Oh, that doesn't faze me," Lurie said a few minutes after it ended. “Not at all. I could do that for two hours. That’s just the way it is in Philadelphia."
“Maybe I was a little aggressive," said McLane. “I cut him off a couple of times. But we hadn’t gotten Jeffrey since the end of the season, and a lot of these questions had built up over time. We don’t pull any punches, and I thought he handled himself really well. I saw Jeffrey last night, and I told him, joking, ‘We’re coming for you tomorrow.’ But he did well."
Another day in the life of the Philadelphia Eagles … 2,398 miles away from Lincoln Financial Field.
Now onto your email for the week:
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SOFTBALL-FEST WITH GOODELL. I hope the blood money is worth it. You sold the last remaining shred of your integrity with this disgusting softball-fest with Roger Goodell. You know the only reason you got this interview is because you were a good soldier and stood by him in the fall, even disputing your own previous reporting. I think you've become addicted to the celebrity and don't want to lose access.
Your questions were simply set-up questions to his prepackaged talking points. Even the resignation question was a softball, with ZERO follow-up. Here are some possible follow-ups: Why wouldn't you consider resigning? Why do the majority of people think you should resign? But those are questions asked by journalists, not sell-outs.
After nearly two decades of loyal readership (I seriously have not missed a single week, except for your guest columns), it breaks my heart to say I am no longer an MMQB reader as of today. Farewell, and best of luck.
Vince, I’m sure there’s nothing I can say that is going to change your mind. You hold an opinion that some of my readers agree with. Although I would stridently defend the questions that I asked in covering approximately 12 to 15 topics that I had intended to cover in the one hour I was slated to have with Goodell, I do believe reading back the interview that I should have asked follow-ups on several questions. That is my fault. I didn’t avoid asking him follow-ups out of some fear of his response; I did it because I felt I had so many things I wanted to cover and did not want to leave any of my topics un-asked. I hope that you will come back as a reader, but if you don’t, thanks for all of your support in the past.
GOODELL'S LOWEST POINT. This quote is most alarming of all:
The MMQB: “What would you say in 2014 was your low point?”
Goodell: “I don’t know. I wouldn’t. I haven’t even thought about that."
Every great leader should understand and learn from his past failures and low points (and he had quite a few in 2014). Goodell should have been able to rattle off numerous low points in 2014 and for him to claim that he hasn't even thought about his 2014 low points only speaks to his continued arrogance and his lack of (or perceived lack of) accountability. As Henry Ford said “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." I continue to wonder how much Goodell has actually learned if he was willing and able to speak candidly (without the PR spin he so eloquently uses to "protect the shield").
That’s a smart observation. I do believe that Goodell has “self-scouted” the job he and his office did last year. I just think he’s not willing to share what he feels were his grievous errors. I would be very surprised if he hadn’t learned from those errors. But I agree with you; he didn’t seem in my conversation with him to feel much pain or to have changed how he operates as commissioner after the events of the last year. I will say, however, that Goodell, in adding a number of high-profile women to his senior staff, addressed a long-held belief that there are too few women in positions of authority in the NFL office.
GOODELL IS RUINING FOOTBALL. Please acknowledge the irony in the headline, “Roger Goodell, Unplugged.” In a shocker to approximately zero of your readers, Goodell’s responses to your questions were whitewashed, calculated, inauthentic, indicative of nothing, and the least meaningful words you’ve transcribed, maybe ever. At what point do the league owners realize that granting you access like this doesn’t help? We genuinely don’t want to hear from Goodell. He’s a $40 million whipping boy with less credibility than the serpent tempting Eve. The NFL isn’t going to die overnight, and there probably won’t even start to be a noticeable decline in the next decade. But more “interviews” like the one Goodell gave you are just going to annoy people and make it easier for them to turn their back on the game. It’s a bummer to have an article like this on the same day you provide such a nice tribute to Chuck Bednarik, a guy who so fittingly symbolizes the reasons we love football.
Well, I don’t believe that you are going stop watching football because Roger Goodell gives a boring and evasive interview. Now, I understand the disdain for Goodell in the wake of last year’s large missteps by the commissioner’s office. And I also understand that there is a large group of fans that has had it with Goodell and would like to see him replaced. I hear from you all the time. While I don’t believe that is going to happen, I also think the owners are pragmatic, and if they believe that Goodell is costing them advertising dollars or damaging the image of the league significantly they would act. I don’t think that time is now. But I don’t think this story is over.
THE BEDNARIK-BORLAND IRONY. Do you see a certain irony in the coverage of Chuck Bednarik’s death? Every obituary and tribute to Bednarik has focused on his 1960 hit on Frank Gifford. The photo of Bednarik standing over an unconscious Gifford has accompanied almost every obituary or tribute. That was certainly a memorable play that epitomizes the toughness of Bednarik and the players of his era.
However, this focus is ironic in light of Chris Borland’s retirement and the renewed discussion of football-related head trauma. It shows the dilemma that the NFL faces: Fans celebrate and revel in the bone-rattling hits, yet the league and the players want a safer game that minimizes head trauma. No one wants to see players losing their faculties or crippled when their playing days end. How can the NFL ever balance these competing interests? Are they irreconcilable?
The league is trying to reconcile them right now. The hit by Bednarik on Frank Gifford was 55 years ago, back in an era when kill shots were celebrated as part of the way the game should be played. Just as that was an exaggeration then, it's an exaggeration now to suggest that the game has been totally stripped of those kinds of hits. But I see your point. It’s very difficult for the NFL to further ensure that player safety is truly important if you allow those kinds of hits that knocked Gifford unconscious. That is one of the reasons why the NFL doesn’t overly celebrate those kinds of hits anymore.
MOVE TO L.A. COSTS MILLIONS. With the Raiders, Chargers and Rams looking to move to L.A., the value of those franchises are likely to increase tremendously after moving into a larger market. Would the NFL and the other owners demand that the moving team pay millions of dollars as compensation? Otherwise it seems like these owners have absolutely no reason besides loyalty to the local fans to not move their team and make themselves even richer.
Part of any move in the NFL is what the league calls a relocation fee that is paid to the other owners. Clearly, the fact that at least one of the owners will be forsaking a smaller market for the number two market in the country will be a huge part of how much that is going to cost. So yes, you can expect the moving team or teams to pay millions for the right to call Los Angeles home.
SORRY, DEZ: STILL NOT A CATCH. Doesn't the new language on the catch rule stating that "the receiver must establish himself as a runner" just beg the additional question, "What is a runner?" By this definition, the Dez Bryant play seems more obviously a catch. He makes two step-like movements where he plants his feet and drives himself forward before his upper body hits the ground.
I am going dispute what you and many people say about the Dez Bryant catch. I’ve watched that play many times. I do not see how Bryant “established himself and as a runner” on that play. To me, it appeared that Bryant stumbled more than took a couple of running steps. In that case, I don’t view it as having made the catch and completed the action of the catch. I do understand those who say that the ball should not have to stay in a receiver’s possession when he hits the ground. I just happen to disagree with it. I don't believe that there is a logical way to change this rule without further endangering the health of a receiver.
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