PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — There’s a small neon sign just inside the front doors of the Eagles’ locker room that has the daily schedule for the players to follow. On Monday, it simply said: 9 AM, and in big, bold, red letters all capitalized, it said, “MANDATORY.”
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had one last message for his players who had gathered in the team’s main auditorium at the NovaCare Complex before leaving for the offseason.
“It was one of those where [Pederson] told us that we’re close, and all year he said that we’re a great team and he still believes that, and that we should still believe it,” recalled Malcolm Jenkins, one of the team leaders and one of numerous bright spots in the 7-9 2016-17 season. “This entire offseason he wants us to focus on getting to play into January next year, and all of our actions, our training, everything has to be geared toward the offseason on next year.
“We’re not far off. He spoke about there’s going to be some changes, like they are with every team in this league. We’re still a great team and we can compete with anybody. He stressed to us that next year we better get ready to compete in January.”
Jenkins, personally, liked a lot of things the Eagles accomplished this season. They finished 7-9 with a rookie head coach, starting a rookie quarterback, without arguably one of the NFL’s best offensive tackles out serving a 10-game suspension, and injuries that limited the offense.
“Fresh off the season, it’s obviously disappointing [not to make the playoffs], but there’s a lot of things that we did that we’re proud of. It’s one of those integral parts of the growth process that the team is going through,” Jenkins explained. “Obviously everyone is disappointed with the outcome, but we learned a lot of lessons and learned a lot about ourselves. This team is really optimistic moving forward.”
Jenkins stressed that Pederson dealt with the many “firsts” the Eagles were faced with. It’s a tribute to Pederson and his staff that everyone bought in.
“You understand that this is the foundation of where we are in Doug’s first year as a head coach, where he gets to build with what is to come,” Jenkins said. “From a personnel standpoint, there’s going to be some kind of change and some kind of turnover. That’s for [general manager] Howie [Roseman] and the guys upstairs, but for the guys in this locker room, it’s about making one or two more plays a game that completely changes our entire season.”
“We’ve been close all year. We understand the margin of error is slim. But as young players get more experience, and key guys make more plays, we’re right where we want to be.”
Even though the Eagles have finished 7-9 in consecutive season, 2016 is different, according to Jenkins, because the 2015 7-9 team was trending in the wrong direction, in transition after Chip Kelly was fired.
“I definitely feel that we’re trending up, because we have stability at head coach, we have stability at quarterback and now we just have to build around that,” Jenkins said. “We add a few things here and there, and hopefully for once, we can have an uneventful offseason. I think the feeling is definitely different this season than years past.”
Jenkins stressed the biggest difference is the confidence everyone has in one another.
“I think everyone understands what it takes to win,” Jenkins said, “especially late in the year. This year, for me, it was fun sitting back and watching the development of [Pederson] as a head coach and seeing what his personality would be like, his philosophy would be like, and if he would be consistent for an entire season. When we hit some adversity, Doug was the same person every day, regardless of whether we won or lost, and that kept us together. He never panicked and we all stuck together. We stayed together during the tough times.”