It wasn't the additions of expensive free agents or the commitment to Michael Vick that sank Andy Reid in Philadelphia. It was the death of Jim Johnson and the departure of Brian Dawkins.
Both happened after the 2008 season, and the Eagles never recovered.
Johnson was the coordinator of a defense that was the backbone of the team, and, after he passed away, Philadelphia never won a playoff game. In fact, the Eagles were 33-31, with the club unsuccessfully trying to replace him with three coordinators in four years.
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Dawkins was the leader of Johnson's defense, the most reliable guy on the field and the most reliable guy in the locker room. Whenever you needed him, he was there -- for the coaches, for his teammates, for the media. He was the voice of the club. And when you heard concern from him, you knew the Eagles were in trouble.
But Philadelphia let him walk to Denver as an unrestricted free agent when it could've kept him without breaking the bank. Instead, it followed a familiar script, not giving multiyear deals to thirty-somethings, and it was a mistake from which it never recovered.
The Eagles never found someone to replace Dawkins on or off the field.
I can't emphasize the locker-room aspect enough because it wasn't talent that sank Philadelphia the past two years. It was attitude. This group of Eagles didn't have it ... or didn't have the right attitude ... and Reid seemed unable to reach them. A guy like Dawkins might. A coach like Johnson might, too.
All I know is that when Philadelphia was rolling, it was with an opportune defense that created havoc and forced turnovers. That didn't happen the past two years, with the Eagles producing a league-worst 13 takeaways this season as they fell to 4-12, Reid's worst season with the club.
The players who were there didn't seem to fit the Eagles' system, or the system that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles implemented didn't seem to fit his players. So the Eagles made changes. They fired their defensive coordinator. They cut their most proficient sacker. They fired their defensive line coach.
One of Reid's strengths is hiring smart and experienced assistants. He knows just the right guys to put in just the right places. When he first took over, several GMs marveled at his staff, with assistants like Pat Shurmur, Leslie Frazier, John Harbaugh, Brad Childress and Johnson among them.
All but Johnson went on to become head coaches. Johnson was courted but stayed when the Eagles made him an offer that he couldn't refuse.
They were smart. As long as he was there, their defense was in decent shape -- and I'll give you his last game as an example. It was the 2008 NFC Championship Game, when Kurt Warner and Arizona surprised him with a first half of calls and big gains that he hadn't expected. Johnson later admitted he couldn't wait to get to intermission to make adjustments. When he did, the Eagles pulled together, and the club fell just short of catching the Cardinals with a furious second-half comeback.
Dawkins was a declining player by then, but he was better than anything that Philadelphia would wheel out afterward. In fact, he started all 16 games in 2009 and was a Pro Bowl starter.
He was an asset in Denver, where he steadied the Broncos' defense and played well enough in three seasons to demonstrate that Philadelphia made a mistake. The Eagles never found a solution at safety, and it handicapped them. They never found a suitable replacement for Johnson, and it sabotaged them.
Sure, they went on to win in 2009 and 2010. But they never won another playoff game ... and there are a couple of good reasons.