Our perception of how an NFL team should go through its internal checklist after a bad season is at once probably far too optimistic and not optimistic enough. There are some owners who steep their organizations in complacency. Some who are more comfortable with the familiar. Some who blow it all up because some middling former quarterback on ESPN told them to. Perpetually good teams don’t normally have that problem because they are good at self-analysis. Of course, some teams get good for a little while and lose the ability to do that as well.
So that’s why we’re here. With each team that drops from playoff contention, we will answer a 10-part questionnaire on where they are, where they’re headed and how to fix the holes along the way. Some projects will be bigger than others.
Which brings us to the Eagles, who had a strange year to say the least. Carson Wentz is no longer the guaranteed quarterback of the future. An aging roster is beginning to break down. Questions are surrounding the long-term future of Doug Pederson.
1. What went right this year?
Jalen Hurts provided the requisite “spark” at quarterback over the final weeks of the season, but we should clear a few things up: He had a better passer rating than Wentz but not as good a total quarterback rating. His yards per attempt were better but his yards per game were less than half. Wentz had a lower bad throw percentage and was pressured significantly more than Hurts was (almost 8% more frequently). So yes, did the Eagles correctly guess that Wentz might ultimately not have the “stuff” to be their long-term quarterback of the future? Sure. Did they find his replacement? That’s harder to answer.
2. What went wrong this year?
Everything. The Eagles were ravaged by injuries and couldn’t stay afloat long enough to win the worst division in modern NFL history. Their roster is showing its age and a ton of their biggest stars have no guaranteed money left on their contracts (Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson). They will likely need to make moves on some or all of them to get under the salary cap for 2021, transforming the heart and soul of their championship roster.
3. The Big Question this offseason
What do you do with Carson Wentz? Reportedly, Wentz has no interest in being a backup over the long term but, in the eyes of his head coach, has not displayed enough to be the starting quarterback. It’s a difficult situation given how immovable Wentz’s contract is right now. While there are certainly possibilities out there (Frank Reich is in Indianapolis, after all, and Philip Rivers was on a one-year deal), so much of the Eagles’ time and energy next year will be devoted to downplaying any possible quarterback controversy while internally navigating its obvious pitfalls.
4. Coach/GM outlook
Could the Eagles conceivably move on from the coach and GM tandem that brought the franchise its first Super Bowl? I think if you’re Jeffrey Lurie, everything is on the table. He has made bold decisions before and, unlike many owners, has enough of a presence and pulse to complete a hardcore surgery like this to his front office. We’ll get into this more down below, but the Eagles need more of an offensive philosophy. They need an idea of who they are and where they are going in the near future beyond an itineration of the club that was successful a few years ago.
5. Key free agents
• Jason Peters, tackle
• Jalen Mills, safety
• Nickell Robey-Coleman, DB
• Vinny Curry, defensive end
• Hassan Ridgeway, DT
• Cre’Von LeBlanc, cornerback
• Richard Rodgers, tight end
• Boston Scott, running back
• Travis Fulgham, wide receiver
• Duke Riley, linebacker
• Corey Clement, running back
• Greg Ward, wide receiver
6. Top priority
The Eagles are devoid of an identity, which is why some of their best offensive moments in 2020 were thanks to Jalen Hurts or Carson Wentz extending dying plays with their legs and making incredible throws. It seemed like they tried to infuse what they’d done well in the past with a more modern wide zone running approach but they ended up non-committal, which was obvious during so many of their worst offensive performances.
The solution is to infuse some life into the offensive staff. Doug Pederson is a great coach to work for. He strives for collaboration and empowers his staff up and down the board. It would be a great place to break in some bright new offensive minds.
7. Positions of need
Cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker, interior defensive line, quarterback, offensive line, running back depth.
8. Sensible plan to fix them
Pilfer one of the top non-coordinator assistants in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Or, if Eric Bienemy does not get a head coaching job, punch the throttle on bringing Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in waiting, Mike Kafka, on board. There is a lot of talent in that Chiefs room beyond Kafka as well, which could aid in rejuvenating Pederson’s play-calling ability.
9. Outside-the-box idea to fix them
Trade Carson Wentz and replace Doug Pederson with Todd Bowles. Bowles can pinch a solid offensive coordinator from Bruce Arians’s staff in Tampa Bay and bring a different vibe to the roster in Philadelphia. The Eagles will be woeful defensively and having a solid coordinator can mitigate some of those shortcomings. To be clear, I think Pederson is worth keeping aboard, but Bowles would be the kind of mood stabilizer who could keep the Eagles’ roster from burning down amid an investable salary cap purge. No matter what, if they decide to gut the roster, an incoming head coach will need to factor that all in, making it difficult to attract a top-tier candidate.
10. Next time we'll realistically see them in the playoffs
2023. The NFC East is going to be good again at some point, after all.