When you think about the gold standard in sports, what franchises come to mind?
The New York Yankees, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Red Wings, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely some of the names that first pop in your head. The term "gold standard" is used to define the elite organizations who have gone about their business in such success that other teams find themselves molding their plans in a similar fashion.
Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, once used that choice term to describe his team, stating that the way they handle their business had become the role model for the rest of the NFL.
To be fair in some ways he was correct, but critics, including the frenzied Eagles fans, are quick to point out that to use the "gold standard" label your team must win at least one championship in your sport. As we all know the Eagles have won exactly zero Super Bowls.
While the Eagles have enjoyed a sustained level of success that has never before been seen in Philadelphia the frustration of not winning "the big one" leaves Eagles fans somewhat on nerve when the faces in the front office proclaim the way they run the business as the best around.
Financial terms and company surveys do little to satisfy the general football fan, who traditionally judges their success by performance on the field. So what can the Eagles do to make amends and back up their "gold standard" level of achievement?
Win the Super Bowl, of course. But how exactly can they lay the framework to bring home the team's first Lombardi Trophy? Perhaps they should take a page from the boys across the street, the Philadelphia Phillies.
I am of the belief that conversations should never compare sports of different orientation. You will never find me debating whether Jimmy Rollins is better than Brian Westbrook or if Scott Rolen deserved a second chance more than Terrell Owens. However, it seems that there is something the boys in green can learn from the boys in red. Here are three key ingredients to winning the championship.
Home Grown Talent
Last season the Phillies won the World Series and the key players were mostly brought up from within the farm system. Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and World Series MVP Cole Hamels all made their strides to the big leagues coming up through Clearwater, Reading, and Scranton. If you take any one of those players out of the mix and the Phillies would take a serious hit in production.
The Eagles have had some decent success with their own players as well, drafting players like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Shawn Andrews, and Stewart Bradley. The jury is still out on DeSean Jackson, who enters his second season in 2009 and there are reasons to be optimistic about rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin down the line.
Under Andy Reid the Eagles have always been pretty good of developing most of their young players. While there have been some exceptions to the rule (Jeremy Bloom comes to mind) the younger players have always made somewhat of an impact as they get time to grow.
Just look what Donovan McNabb has done under Reid.
A controversial pick at first when he was drafted, McNabb has developed in to one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Though he is no longer among the top elite in the league (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady) he is still worthy of a top five or top six ranking among NFL quarterbacks.
Westbrook surprised the NFL world with his talent. The third round draft pick out of Villanova gets overshadowed when discussing running backs but Westbrook is explosive and can hurt defenses two ways.
The Phillies have gone from a perennial NL East cellar dweller to the top of their sport. They did so by giving their top prospects time to develop. They were patient and ended up having two players who have the National League MVP (Howard and Rollins) and one player who many believe will win one some day (Utley) and have a top of the rotation pitcher in Hamels.
But they also had guys like Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, and JA Happ step up and contribute in key roles. The Eagles have players who can do the same.
Tight end Brent Celek may be the most important home grown player. With a comparable tight end McNabb can be very effective. Jason Avant emerged last year at the wide receiver position and could continue to receive more playing time in 2009 while Maclin gets acclimated in the offensive system.
The home grown talent on the defense though will be the most important in 2009. Quintin Demps and Quintin Mikell must step their game up after the departure of Brian Dawkins, one of the best players to ever be drafted by the Eagles himself. Akeem Jordan will look to contribute more solid defensive play at weak side linebacker, next to Bradley and Chris Gocong or Omar Gaither. Each of the top linebackers on the Eagles were draft picks.
The Right Acquisitions
When assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. worked out a deal with the Houston Astros to acquire closer Brad Lidge, the path to the World Series title was created. With the Phillies welcoming Lidge to the closer role they could put Myers back in to the starting rotation, though Myers may have been hesitant at first.
Not many off-season moves wok out as well as that one did. Myers struggled early but came back in the second half as though he was another player. Lidge, as has been well documented, had a perfect season in save situations.
Don't expect the Eagles to make a move that can work out that well, but they have made some terrific moves of their own. Gone are fan favorite Jon Runyan and perennial Pro Bowler Tra Thomas, but making a home in Philadelphia are Pro Bowler Jason Peters and Stacey Andrews (brother to Shawn) on the offensive line.
Losing two long time franchise players is hard, especially on the offensive line, but the additions of Peters and the elder Andrews brother figure to give McNabb some good protection as well as open up plans for the running game.
Adding Leonard Weaver could be the final piece of the puzzle for Eagles fans having a desire for an improved running game. Weaver was a veteran free agent acquisition that may fill the hole at fullback.
In a similar way the Phillies made a trade for Jamie Moyer during the season in 2006. Moyer provided the Phillies with not only a reliable player in the middle of the starting rotation, but veteran leadership for younger pitchers like Hamels. Weaver may also help players like LeSean MCCoy learn the nuances of the backfield at the pro level. McCoy would be wise to listen to Weaver's lessons, as Weaver reached the Pro Bowl in 2008.
Asante Samuel was the big name free agent acquisition prior to the 2008 season, giving the Eagles a true play maker in the defensive backfield. But big name players are only half of the strategy. Players likeJuqua Parker provide solid defensive play even though he is not a big star.
Trades in the NFL rarely happen for significant players, so a deal similar to the Phillies trading for Joe Blanton and Moyer are not likely to happen. But the Eagles should keep an eye for players who get cut and are available as the season progresses. You never know when a Blanton will come along.
Lock Up Core Players
The Phillies have the mainframe of their championship team locked up for a few years. Phillies fans can look forward to a few more seasons of Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Hamels for sure. The Eagles usually do a good job of locking up their players as well.
The Eagles just restructured a deal to ensure McNabb is around for two more seasons. After trading for Peters, the Eagles worked out a four year deal. They also have worked on deals with Brian Westbrook and young defensive and offensive line players through the years.
The Eagles usually do a good job of locking up younger players early on, though at times it backfires. Take for instance Sheldon Brown, who had signed a contract and now wants to a new deal. This sort of issue is nothing new in pro football. The Eagles though pick and choose who they want to do battles with financially. The Phillies have sort of done the same thing though, with Ryan Howard being the prime example.
Howard won a record arbitration case prior to the 2007 season, and before Howard and the Phillies went to arbitration in 2008 the two agreed to a deal to keep both sides happy for a few years.
It seems as though the Eagles and Phillies are using essentially the same playbook when it comes to putting their team together. The truth of the matter is sometimes you have to have some things fall your way.
Both teams last season took advantage of a late season collapse to get in to the playoffs. The Phillies took advantage of a second straight collapse by their rivals to the north and the Eagles were fortunate enough to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blow a shot at the playoffs on the final day of the NFL season.
The problem seems to be in game situations. When Geoff Jenkins is kicking off a resumed game with a hard double, Donovan McNabb is throwing a ball at the ground. When Chase Utley is making a pump fake and throwing home, the Eagles are trying to recover from a critical roughing the passer and subsequent deep floating pass to Larry Fitzgerald.
The Eagles have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl. The question is whether or not they can do it. Until they do the gold standard label will have to remain in Citizens Bank Park.