Next year. Presuming, of course, that there is a next year in the NFL. That's when the Philadelphia Eagles will shine.
DeSean Jackson will have a new contract and absolutely no reason to complain. Jeremy Maclin, Nate Allen, Brandon Graham, LeSean McCoy and Jamar Chaney will be a year older, a year wiser. Michael Vick, even further from his prison stint and now compensated appropriately for an MVP-caliber season, should hold up better over 16 games. Stewart Bradley, Jamaal Jackson and Leonard Weaver will be healthy. And, through the draft and free agency, holes on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield will be addressed.
That's what I want to believe, at least. There are five or six elite players on this roster -- Vick, McCoy, DeSean, Asante Samuel, Trent Cole -- that almost any other general manager would kill to build a team around. There's untapped promise in Allen, Graham and Chaney; there's Pro Bowl potential in Maclin and Todd Herremans. All in all, it's an extremely talented roster that could make the leap to "elite" status with a few solid, unassuming acquisitions. If only Pat Gillick could run a football team...
A rough plan: Replace Winston Justice at right tackle. Replace Dimitri Patterson at right cornerback. Bring in a little more depth at safety, maybe dig up a kick and punt returner that isn't a bargain-bin loser.
Oh yeah, and fire Sean McDermott. Weak personnel or not, there's no arguing with "31 touchdown passes allowed" and "worst red-zone defense in the league." Coaches have booted coordinators for far less; I don't know if the answer is Dick Jauron or someone floating around the league, but McDermott still looks overmatched in a position he didn't earn so much as inherit.
What I keep reminding myself is that the Eagles are a young team; they weren't even supposed to compete in 2010. What happened this year, partly fueled by Vick, was an unexpected blessing. And I also recall the Packers, many of them getting their first playoff exposure, dropping a close game to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 wild-card round. This year, obviously, they've taken the next step. That's a good blueprint to follow.
So, much like that time where Jeff Garcia stopped by and lead the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game, let's just enjoy the memories. But next year, that's a different story. In 2011, Andy Reid and company will be expected to field a winner. Come up short again, waste another season of maybe the most talented collection of young players in the league, and Sean McDermott won't be the only one handed his walking papers.