Monday, August 08, 2005

Lurie's State of the Team

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles:

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Lurie Press Conference


Opening Remarks:
“It’s nice to get together again. We do this, as you know, early in training camp every year to kind of look at more of a macro state of the Eagles and the NFL. It’s something I enjoy and I hope you do too. Looking over the state of this franchise, it’s been some wonderful ride the last several years, and it’s something that I think we’re all extremely, extremely proud of. The last 12 months have just been one of the great seasons in Eagles history. It’s something we’re all very, very proud of, and yet at the same time, we’re humbled by how difficult it’s been to get this far, and we’re extremely hungry to take it even one step further, and not just be in the next Super Bowl in Detroit, but win it. The people that surround me in this organization, I don’t have to tell you, they’re outstanding. I will tell you, they’re outstanding. From the head coach, the head of football operations, Andy Reid, his coaching staff, [President] Joe Banner, [Director of Football Administration] Howie [Roseman], [Assistant Director of Player Personnel] Jason [Licht] and [Vice President of Player Personnel] Tom [Heckert] and player personnel and all those guys, the whole organization is dedicated on the football side to being the very, very best. It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of difficult decisions along the way, but when you have a blueprint, and a plan to be ultra competitive, and you try to take advantage in every way you can of the system we operate under, it’s something very special.

In terms of the offseason, I think that there are three levels of situations in the NFL. There’s the level where you’re at the bottom of the league and you’re trying to figure out, ‘How do you possibly get enough different players at different positions, and depth to compete with the Eagles, the Patriots, the Colts, the Steelers and those kind of teams?’ Then you’re kind of at the middle level where you think you’re potentially a playoff contender, and you’re still spending most of your time trying to figure out, ‘How are you going to fill in key positions on your roster?’ Then you have the elite teams that we’ve been able to maintain. Typically those offseasons are very selective in terms of how you can better your roster. And at the same time, there are typically contract issues with some players. So, it’s a good position to be in. I relish that we’re always trying to be at that level, one position. And let the stories be about contracts, and not about the difficulties in attracting talent to Philadelphia. That always was my biggest concern with this franchise. The culture is just 180 degrees different. I think in the NFL, it’s just a great place to work. It’s a great group of teaching coaches, where if you’re a player that’s not drafted, or you’re drafted low in the draft, you have an excellent, excellent chance of being a major part of this team. One of the keys to our success has not only been great drafting, but at the same time, the teaching of the undrafted players, the [WR] Greg Lewis’, the [DT] Sam Rayburns’, and the list goes on, and on, and on. It’s one of the ways to gain an advantage.

So, anyway, that’s kind of how I look at it. We can talk more about the future of the NFL, and where we’re at with a lot of issues there, and it comes down to the popularity of this game. It’s extremely, extremely popular sport and that bodes very, very well for the fans, the economics for the players, for the teams, and it allows you to do everything you want to continue to be the best sport in America.

One thing I wanted to announce is that we’re going to retire [former Eagles DE] Reggie White’s number in a ceremony. It’s something that the last conversation I had with Reggie, I said to him, ‘I really want to do that in Philadelphia. I want to do it on a Monday Night football game, so the whole country can watch it.’ And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to have a retirement ceremony for the Seattle game on December 5th. I thought that was appropriate because Mike Holmgren is the coach of Seattle, and was Reggie’s coach in Green Bay. Sarah, his wife is excited about it, and their family. There will be much more details as we go along, but it’s an important moment for this franchise to recognize one of the greatest players in the history of this league, and as you know, a very impressive human being.

I guess the other things we have, the premier of ‘E-A-G-L-E-S, The Movie’ tonight. It’s something that we’re really happy to be able to present because it’s an ode to our fans. We have this amazing fan base, and we’re on national television all the time. We get the best ratings in the NFL consistently. Our website has an unbelievable number of hits everyday. Merchandise sales, #1 in the NFL. Our fans are off the charts and we love them. This movie is just a homage to the best fan base in America, and I hope those who get to see it, enjoy it. I think it’s something that represents our relationship with our fans.”

On whether he has talked to RB Brian Westbrook this morning:
“No, I haven’t.”

On whether he is surprised by the drama this offseason has brought after going to the Super Bowl last season:
“No. Really, as I’ve said, being one of those teams that are at the level we’ve been at, it’s predictable that you’re going to have a few contract issues. I’m delighted that we didn’t have a lot of talent-based issues. Those are the ones that are very hard. If you desperately need a pass-rushing defensive end, or a franchise quarterback, or excellent young cornerbacks, something like that, those are the things you worry about. So, no. It kind of goes with the territory in any sport these days, that the more successful you are, you’re going to have some contract issues.”

On whether it was tougher getting the organization to this point or tougher getting over the final hump:
“I think it’s all difficult in the NFL. I know every single press conference I’ve done before every season, I tell you how proud we are of the success. But at the same time, you have to remain incredibly humble because it is so difficult to compete in a league where you have 31 other teams with an equal opportunity to be excellent. It’s the beauty of the sport. It’s the beauty of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s the reason for all the success. There is no market that is starting with any kind of deficit. It makes it extremely difficult. You’re drafting at the end. To maintain it is a challenge, but one that we relish. I think that we’re all very, very proud of the facilities, the coaches, the drafting. Those are the foundations that allow you to get the success, and allow you to try to continue it.”

On what he saw in Joe Banner to hire him, despite not having a real football background:
“Well, it was a leap of faith for sure. But he’s somebody that is incredibly diligent, somebody who’s very bright, and somebody who thinks outside the box. He’s not trying to maintain a way of doing things, but trying to be the best at doing things. He’s somebody who cares deeply about people, and in the end it’s a gut decision, a gut feeling, similarly with Andy Reid. He may not, on resume, have exactly what teams were looking for as a head coach. But in the end, you have to add it up and make a gut decision.”

On whether he was aware that it was a gamble when he hired Andy Reid:
“The first coaching hire [Ray Rhodes] was Coach of the Year in his first year, and won double digits the second year. He did not have the ability probably to maintain that success, but there were a lot of good things about Ray Rhodes. With Andy, I think no matter who you pick, it’s a leap of faith, and it’s a gamble. In this business you need to take risks and you need to try to shoot for the upside, because you never really approach it where you’re just looking for a journeyman at any position. You’re trying to find out of box thinkers and guys that can compete successfully against 31 other franchises.”

On whether it is difficult to see where WR Terrell Owens is coming from in his contract issues:
“Yeah. T.O. is a good guy. I think you have to start with the fact that he’s an excellent player, great work ethic, one of the truly great receivers in football, a good teammate, all of those things. You don’t really know the psychology of what goes into not wanting to honor a contract. That’s a tough one for anybody. It’s not exactly something you see very often. And when you have a long-term contract, and after one year there is a breakage potential like that, it is hard to understand. But it doesn’t push me to lose respect for the individual, but to really admire him as a player. I’m confident that he’ll have an outstanding year and be a big contributor for us to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.”

On whether he has talked to T.O. since he’s been in here:
“No, I haven’t.”

On whether he would like to talk to T.O:
“Yeah, we’ve talked before. It’s no big deal. The tall focus is on 53 guys and building the proper roster, and making sure that we’re prepared to go for 5 straight NFC East Championships, and 5 [NFC] Title game appearances, and get back to the Super Bowl again. It’s a much bigger picture.”

On whether it upset him that T.O. took a verbal jab at QB Donovan McNabb:
“You don’t ever like to see players criticize each other. We try to protect our players as best we can. But I’m confident that you have two highly dynamic, very competitive, very successful athletes in Donovan and T.O., and I’m glad we have both of them.”

On whether he thinks that people underestimate him because he’s willing to take a gamble:
“I never really thought of it that way, but it’s hard for me to evaluate. I’ve always been a risk-taker. And in sports, the teams to me that take the risks at the right time, pull the triggers for the right reasons, are the teams that are going to succeed in this league.”

On whether he would ever see the need to change the financial formula the Eagles have built:
“Not really. We try to draft well. We try to work the compensatory pool as best as possible because we believe in volume, in terms of draft choices. We believe in paying for ascending players and we don’t have any kind of age cut-off. Obviously players like [FS] Brian Dawkins and others get contracts when we think they can play at a high level. So, the one thing that we are very proud of is the fact that as a team, and it’s hard to do when you’re a very good team, is that we lead the league by far in second or third contracts for players. The stability here is unmatched in the NFL. I think there is an intangible there and that’s just part of our philosophy.”

On whether he had the idea of building the practice facility and a new stadium right off the bat:
“Yes I did. I think I mentioned in the opening press conference when I bought the team, that the facilities were a real challenge. And it created a culture that was not upbeat, that was not where you could compete against 31 other teams. In America today, and probably around the world, if you don’t create good facilities for those working here, you’re not going to be ultra-competitive. We’ve certainly took each element of trying to run a franchise and tried to isolate it and say, ‘Are we trying to be the very best at it?’ With the stadium and facilities at the Vet, we were really at the bottom.”

On whether other owners seek advice from him:
“No, you obviously get teams that have come in to our facility and spend half a day with us and go over strategies. It could range from player personnel to stadium development, things like that, but we don’t want to give away too much either. Everyone’s proud of the job that they’re doing in terms of other franchises, and everyone does it differently. We’re humble I think enough to realize that there are many ways to do it. I think what we’ve done is been successful in how we’ve done it.”

On whether it’s important for the industry that the Eagles don’t budge on contract issues:
“There wasn’t a lot of thought about the industry. It’s more about, ‘Do you honor contracts or don’t you?’ What you really have in the NFL today is the team is a distribution point. Every team spends the same amount of money. People forget that. What you’re doing is a pie and you’re really just portioning the pie however you can to maximize your roster. So, if one player asks for much more than his market value, or wants more, he’s really asking the other players to give it up. He’s not asking it from the team. The team is just the slicer for how you distribute the salary cap. So, it’s an important point because really that’s what you’re doing. You’re not in a position of judging how much to spend. It’s who you give it to.”

On how confident he is in reaching a long-term contract with Westbrook:
“Brian’s a guy that we’d all like to have a long-term contract with. I think he wants to stay. We want him to stay. It’s just about finding the right value and I don’t see why that shouldn’t happen, but you never know. Running back is a very fragile position and you need depth, you need young players at it, and it’s not an easy position for a player to be in. So you have to try to ascertain value versus security and ability versus when you get a descending value at that position. There’s a lot that goes into that evaluation, but we all want Brian to be here in the long run.”

On what he would say Westbrook’s value to the franchise is:
“I think we all recognize he has very good value to the franchise. He’s a good running back. He’s a good person. That’s the number one thing. There are a lot of valuable players, a lot of valuable talent at different positions in the league you can draft. But he’s a guy we like and he’s a good person, and therefore, we’d like to see him in an Eagles uniform for a long time.”

On whether he could ask anything more of McNabb as the leader of this team:
“He’s in the prime of his career and he’s a great presenter for the franchise. For the NFL players, I think he’s as good a representer as you can find. He’s a leader, a top notch human being, and somebody who you can’t ask more of. He’s exceptional in every way.”

On whether he still has a list of goals he wants to accomplish for the franchise now that the Eagles have become one of the elite in the NFL:
“The number one goal for this franchise is to win Super Bowls. That’s number one, number two, number three, number four and number five. I think you want to try to maintain the popularity of the Eagles brand. We want to develop our fan base nationally and internationally. It’s the kind of thing where if you can sustain excellence for a long time, like a Manchester United, or a Liverpool, you can develop a real international reputation. I think, with the use of this sport, it will grow. With the use of cell phones, watching games on cell phones all across the world, that’s a next evolution of this sport. We want the Eagles to be as popular as any other team in the NFL, if not more popular.”

On why this team has been able to maintain that level of excellence year after year, despite losing the NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl:
“It’s a good question. This team every single year comes back. I can’t underestimate the discipline, the motivation and the fire that these players have on this team. It’s not something that gets written about a lot, but when you’re shooting for your 5th straight NFC East Championship, your 5th straight NFC Title game appearance, and returning from the Super Bowl, the one advantage that we have is that we’re returning 20 of 22 starters. And those that didn’t start, [G] Shawn Andrews would have started last year if he wasn’t injured. So no team in recent history has returned that many starters to a Super Bow losing team. The question of the fire, the motivation, the discipline, it’s all there. What you can’t account for is what happened in Carolina last year. They are a superb football team. I think we all recognize that. They’re going to be a huge rival for us this year, but they had a lot of injuries. They only returned 15 starters, but they had a numerous slew of injuries and that really hurt them. So again, it’s going to be a tough battle, but we have exactly what we want to win that battle.”

On whether the franchise would take a step backwards if they didn’t win the Super Bowl this year:
“With us, our goal is to win the Super Bowl. We want to be excellent no matter what. We want to be the #1 seed. We want to win the division. We want to represent our fan base with pride, but our number one goal is to win the Super Bowl.”

On how tough it is to maintain that level of excellence:
“It’s very tough. It’s a challenge on every level, but it’s something we’re so proud of. We’re entering sort of historical territory here in terms of maintaining this level. And it bucks the odds. It certainly bucks all the laws of averages, but I think there is a way to do it. The Patriots have won 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls. We’re shooting for our 5th straight division [title] and our 5th straight appearance in the [NFC] title game. It’s something that can be done. We’ve proven it, so why not try to do everything we can to continue that?”

On whether there is a timeline from the franchise’s perspective on when you lose interest on negotiating with Westbrook on a long-term deal:
“No, there’s not at all. We’re trying to get a long-term deal with Brian done. Once the season starts, the risk shifts to the player obviously. In the offseason the risk is with the team. But I fully expect Brian to have a phenomenal season, and be a big part of what we do, and hopefully be a big part of what we do for a long, long time.”

On whether it frustrates him that some people say, “The Eagles don’t want to win a Super Bowl.”:
“That’s totally irrational. It makes no sense whatsoever. Everything we do is built around trying to be one of those teams that goes deep in the playoffs, because if you don’t go deep, you have no shot at winning a Super Bowl. So we build it to go deep. We build it to sustain it. It goes back to the original decision of building around a franchise quarterback versus a running back. The way to sustain excellence in this league is to do your very best to find that franchise quarterback and pull the trigger when you can. That was the basis for everything we’ve done. So, every decision we make is built around trying to win Super Bowls. It’s obvious.”

On whether there was an epiphany that got things going in the right direction:
“I think there were a couple of key decisions. One was the selection of the head coach, and his selection of an outstanding staff. And the other was the selection of Donovan McNabb. When you’re drafting second you have a great opportunity. We took advantage of that, and we’re very glad that Cleveland didn’t select him.”

On whether the philosophy of building around a quarterback is something he tries to do:
“I’ve always believed that NFL teams, great NFL teams that sustain it, are built around franchise quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter whether it’s [Former NFL Quarterbacks] [Dan] Marino, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana or Steve Young. Some win Super Bowls and some don’t, but if you want to be fighting at the end, it’s a lot easier to be built around a franchise quarterback. That’s just facts in this league.”

On whether it is a coincidence that the financial part of what they do didn’t really start working out until McNabb got here:
“I think the philosophy was somewhat in place, but if you couldn’t attract good coaches and players to Philadelphia, it takes awhile to change a culture. It takes awhile for strategies to be in place and to execute them and see the benefit. But if you want to be the best in everything, you have to invest enormously in new stadiums, new practice facilities. The benefit of that takes time. The reputation around the league that Philly is a great place to play, that takes time. Now we get the benefit of it. You have to master the salary cap. I’m sure we weren’t the best at it in the beginning. We made some mistakes and we feel pretty good about our strategy now.

On whether his role has changed on a personal level:
“From the head coach, player personnel, president of the franchise, they’re doing such a good job on the football side. The business side takes care of things in a great, great way. We’re very competitive. So it allows me to maybe think more of the big picture, and less about questioning how good a job everyone’s doing, because we’ve got the people in place. The stability we have with our coaches and players, it’s unheard of in this era of the NFL. We know that. We’d like to maintain it as long as possible. It’s why we resign so many of our players at a young age and keep the coaching staff in place. It’s really wonderful for me to be able to come up here and say that. It’s not always going to be the case, but it’s been our philosophy and we try to stick to it.”

On whether he feels he is looked at differently by other owners because of his success:
“It’s been a while since I’ve been the new kid on the block, but I think that there is a lot of respect for any team that can build and maintain this level of success. The hunger is there. I don’t think that anyone looks at us and doesn’t think that we are as hungry as it gets in the NFL. That’s what makes it exciting. You see the young players here today and through training camp and you get so excited. The one thing that I will always think of as emblematic of this franchise was after the last practice in Jacksonville before the Super Bowl, the players were mostly finished their final practice for what many feel would be the biggest game of their lives and to our offensive line coach [Juan Castillo] out there with rookies and practice squad guys, teaching fundamentals of offensive line play. That’s what this coaching staff is all about. It’s a teaching staff and that’s why we have so many undrafted players work out and why we have so many draft choices work out. It’s not foolproof, but when you teach and teach and treat the little guy as much as the star with as much attention, good things are going to happen.”

On whether there is concern among owners about the collective bargaining agreement:
“I think there is, in terms, of both the owners and the players. We’ve got a CBA that is by far the best in sports for the players, the teams and the fans. There’s been a partnership that has been in place for so long that grows the sport. The attitude is that if you can create a sport where every single market has an equal chance to win, you are going to have a very popular game. If you don’t have a sport where it is littered with guaranteed contracts, it opens up for young players and for the motivation every single year to be intense. Fans love that. That’s what football is all about. You are dealing with 53 players, and many practice squad players and you want that intensity and hunger every single year. Whether you are big market or small, there’s equal opportunity. That is what we got. I look forward to where the owners and the players get together on a new CBA and I’m confident. We’ve had such great repoire, great leadership with [Executive Director of the NFLPA] Gene Upshaw and [General Counsel of the NFLPA, Richard] Berthelsen and all those guys on the players’ side. They have gotten such a high percentage of the revenues of this sport and it’s such a growing piece of the pie. That is what other sports have not been able to accomplish. When you can grow the pie like this, because of that partnership, you have a very special agreement.”

On whether he sees himself being an active player in the negotiations:
“Yes, there’s no question. Within the ownership, I’m vocal and I appeal to reason and the uniqueness of this partnership.”

On what other innovations he sees as a possibility for the NFL:
“The biggest part of the game that you can look at into the future is the ability to watch this game. It’s a sport that is not known much around the world. I went to China with [Commissioner] Paul Tagliabue and [former Eagle] Chad Lewis and we were starting at a grassroots level to make American Football much bigger in China. One interesting little tidbit, do you think that more people watched the Super Bowl from Philadelphia or China? The answer is China. Not very many people, as a percentage, watched it, but 20 million people in China watched our game against the Patriots. It’s enormous over there. In terms of it’s potential. So, cell phone technology, portable video technology is exploding around the world. Though for many of us, who are extreme fans and obsessed fans, we wouldn’t think of casually watching a game on a small cell phone, but if you are in Malaysia, China, Brazil or wherever you are and you can quickly turn on with your cell phone turn on whatever sporting event in the world is on, at least on a casual basis explode the casual education of fans around the world. Why couldn’t the most popular sport in America have some fans around the world? I think that is the biggest technology increase that is going to make a difference down the road. You always have to emphasize that the most important thing for the popularity of the game is to maintain equal competitiveness across all markets, the motivation for players to not have just guaranteed contacts, where they are able to function in a different way as you see in other sports. Football requires that young players and older players have an equal opportunity to make a roster. It’s not fixed and you don’t have a set system. That flow is what makes this game so great. If you ask me the teams that are going to compete best with us in the 2005 season, it’s the teams that have drafted the best over the past four and five years. Many of these players you may not have heard of, but those are the teams that are going to be most competitive. It’s why Carolina was such a great rival and will continue to be. They have drafted exceptionally well. Atlanta with Michael Vick; they have a great winning percentage. People criticize his throwing arm; the guy has a great winning percentage. He’s 25 years old and the future is ahead of him. Because we have a flow of young ascending talent in this league, that the fans can relate to it and it’s not about just guaranteed contracts.”

On whether he is saying that because the NFL has no guaranteed contracts, it is the best sport in America:
“There’s no question about it. Plus, one thing that hardly ever gets said is the fact that the reason players get a much larger percentage of the revenue in football is because there is no guaranteed contracts. We could easily make a deal with the players for guaranteed contracts and you would have a much lower percentage of the revenue going to the players. That’s not in the interest of 99% of the players because their benefits, pensions and salaries are all tied to the growing cap. For 99% of the players, you want to have as large of a salary cap as possible. How do you do that? Grow the revenues. How do you grow the revenues? Make the game as popular as possible. The revenues are based on how popular the sport is. The way to start decreasing the popularity is to make it where certain big markets have advantages, where players are guaranteed contracts and teams are stuck in a dilemma where you can’t improve your team. Make it where 21 to 25 year old players don’t have roster opportunities or salary opportunities to make a lot of money. They will shift sports. It’s a collision sport and you want to attract them. For every reason that we have succeeded over the years in this league that system is the best possible system for 99% of the players. A lot of the attention goes to, ‘well they don’t have this and they don’t have that.’ What they have is the best benefit system and best growing salary system in sports. That’s why it’s so great. If you go over to the EPL, the other most successful league in the world, but it has so many problems. You have Manchester Untied and Chelsea buying up all the players. I have spent a lot of time over their recently and the fans for the teams that aren’t Man U, Chelsea or Arsenal it’s hopeless. They are just hoping not to drop down to division II. It’s a whole other thing and it’s why the popularity of this league has skyrocketed.”

On whether he believes that the drug testing problems in baseball is having a negative effect on all professional sports:
“The leadership of Tagliabue and Upshaw has been very important in this. That partnership goes than from what I said. It goes to security, drug testing and when a fan pays the kind of money that fans pay, they should expect players that are clean. The NFL has clean players. They should expect teams that have an equal chance to win and they should expect a flow of players where there are not rosters that are blocked because of contractual situations. So, you have to maintain all of that in a way that really benefits the fans and I am talking to the best fan base in America. Last year I was asked a question, would you ever sell the team or move it someplace else, and there can be no more pleasure than owning the Philadelphia Eagles. In every single way, it’s the very best. The attention it gets nationally and locally is off the charts.”


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