ORLANDO — The NFL’s annual meeting is where the significant body greets the fresh Super Bowl champion. There is no salutation like it.
And since the 84-year Philadelphia Eagles slogged through 52 Super Bowl cracks before finally seizing it, the handshaking, backslapping, hugs, and admiration were genuine.
“Oh yeah, this meeting this week had a different feeling for us, everybody so complimentary, and I learned a lot of people here were pulling for us,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “You’re treated differently, you’re viewed differently as a Super Bowl champion. Even now, it’s still hard to fathom. I do believe for us a culture has been established.”
That culture starts at the top.
As Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie described it: “I’m fired up. I want even more for our fans. We’re going to be natural. We’ll be humble. We’re going to be aggressive. We want more.”
Thus far this offseason, among the Eagles’ brazen actions, they have signed defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Mike Wallace, and defensive tackle Naloti Ngata. They retained linebacker Nigel Bradham via a five-year deal. They secured the return of defensive end Chris Long.
Brash moves for a defending Super Bowl champion.
Fitting for a team that won Super Bowl 52 in exactly that manner, full of moxie and audaciousness.
The Eagles lead a wave of bolder, riskier franchise decision-making in leadership and in roster development. There is a “lets-go-for-it” feel in the league that is burying old-school blueprints of patience, deliberation, hesitation and cautiousness.
“I’m not sure of all of the reasons for it, but I see it and it’s refreshing in a way,” John Mara, the Giants owner, said. “You’ve got to give the Eagles credit for their part in it. They’ve got a smart owner. They’re a smart organization. They have a smart head coach. They have two terrific quarterbacks. They’re formidable.”
Mara, whose Giants reside in the NFC East with the Eagles, both smiled and winced.
“I think I’ll stop right there,” he said.
Thomas Dimitroff, the Atlanta Falcons general manager, sees an unmistakable shift.
“I was in the hotel lobby restaurant/bar last night and I’m seeing a lot of younger guys as head coaches and general managers, too,” Dimitroff said. “The cast is changing and the views and the cultures are, too. A lot of old perceptions are gone. It’s a win-now drive. There is nagging pull across this league to be good and get there fast.”
Worst-to-first stories like the Los Angeles Rams of last season help to fuel it.
“The years of 8-8 is pretty good and enough to get you by are gone,” San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said. “As a franchise, you have to be realistic about where you are but the competitive level around the league is so great that you’ve just got to go for it.”
Ownership is dictating that, too.
Several owners have told me that being in their 70s and 80s, they know that time is not on their side. They want Super Bowls before they die. They have seen in recent years their peers die, the latest Tom Benson from New Orleans, and last year Dan Rooney from Pittsburgh, and mortality is driving a hunger and sprint for rapid turnarounds and more valiant championship-thinking and movement.
“It’s super competitive and everybody is looking to get to the next level and everybody is looking for an edge,” said Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, whose teams toiled in mediocrity before reaching the AFC Championship Game last season. “The reality is you have to do it again and again, get better, take more chances, think big to win in this league. You have to know where the baby is and things work out. It’s rinse and repeat.”
The Eagles say they will exercise caution and restraint in the return of quarterback Carson Wentz from knee injury. Pederson explained that Wentz has a period to get back into shape, to get used to people falling around his legs again as he throws, “just a bunch of checking the boxes in his rehab.”
It’s a rare Eagles’ instance of brakes slammed.
This franchise is thinking big in all phases, including the draft and in crafting a repeat. It is illustrating to its NFL brethren what assertive means.
This is an NFL landscape where Kirk Cousins was sent packing by Washington. Where Odell Beckham Jr. trade talk bubbles. Where Dez Bryant could be booted from Dallas.
It is one where draft trades up and down in the first-round selection spots will likely unfold in dramatic ways.
“We always feel like we’re aggressive,” Dallas Cowboys executive Stephen Jones said. “There are always tough decisions to make in that. We just had to decide what to do about four Pro-Bowl caliber offensive linemen, whether we would pick and choose or keep them all. We decided to keep them all even though we know we’ll have Zeke (Elliott) and Dak (Prescott) to figure out how to keep down the road. The draft is soon. There is more free agency. You’ve got to be prepared. And that is beginning to mean being more bold.”
While distancing from the timid and meek.