Jim Schwartz Goes Down Swinging, What's Next on Defense?

The defensive coordinator's five-year run in Philadelphia is over
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PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz's "retirement party" was held at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night and the veteran Eagles defensive coordinator likely needed name tags for many of the stand-ins whisking him out of Philadelphia and back down I-95 to Baltimore, presumably, to watch a lot Jim Palmer highlights during his downtime.

The Eagles lost to the Washington Football Team, 20-14, and finished the 2020 season at 4-11-1, easily the worst mark in the Doug Pederson-Schwartz era.

Things are going to look very different in Philadelphia come September of 2021, especially on the defensive side of the football where Schwartz cobbled together his last in-case-of-emergency plan against the WFT, needed after losing two defensive backs to the COVID-19 list (Jalen Mills and Nickell Robey-Coleman) and another as a late scratch (Mike Jacquet).

With only two real CBs at his disposal - Darius Slay and practice-squad call-up Jameson Houston - Schwartz, who has decided to let his contract expire, according to an NFL source, threw another Mike Cuellar curveball by putting safety and special teams standout Rudy Ford at outside CB with Grayland Arnold working in as a slot player. Marcus Epps and K'Von Wallace were the safties with a little Blake Countess mixed in.

The Eagles came up short but it was a signature Schwartz performance, putting together something a little better, or in this case, a lot better than it should have been.

His "no-hat rule" was adhered to by his players, who allowed only 248 yards of total offense and generated two turnovers - interceptions by Marcus Epps and T.J. Edwards - and fought to the final whistle even when it was apparent Pederson, likely at the behest of Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman, didn't exactly coach like his job was on the line.

By losing, the Eagles have the No. 6 overall pick in April's draft. A win would have dropped that number to nine and that was evidently the first bullet point for the 2021 plan for Philadelphia.

Schwartz, however, obviously didn't want to go out on a losing note and was far more animated than usual, perhaps the only clue he gave to his players about the future.

“That’s the smartest football mind I’ve ever been around," said linebacker Alex Singleton, who flourished with 14 tackles and a sack. "Just the stuff that he knows. I take notes. Just all the stuff he says all the time. Just the little nuances of the game I’ve just learned by him talking, day in and day out in a casual meeting.

"On third down and short, just the stuff that he says. I think he knows so much football, you know, everything. I think he says it all the time, he might be the hardest guy on us, and I think that you just learn to respect him so much as time goes on. I respect him more than anything in the world and I couldn’t be happier to play for him.”

Schwartz, who loved to make baseball analogies featuring former Baltimore Orioles, ending up spending five years with the Eagles in what was an arranged marriage back in 2016 when Pederson was hired as choice No. 3 and told that Schwartz, a former head coach in Detroit would be leading the defense.

In the ensuing years Schwartz had as close to total autonomy over his side of the football as you could possibly have as a coordinator in this league and by any definition was a success.

Dating back to Andy Reid's arrival in 1999, the Lurie Eagles have believed in building up front on both sides of the football and the defensive line was always the hallmark of Schwartz's defense in Philadelphia.

That matched up perfectly with Schwartz's own default setting as a coach, however, and he's often called the D-Line "the engine" of his defense whether it was as a coordinator in Tennessee, Buffalo, and with the Eagles or as the top gun with the Lions.

The Philadelphia brass seemed to have such respect for Schwartz that the goal was to give him good defensive linemen built on the foundation of Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham and have him cobble things together on the back end.

It worked until this season.

From 2016 to 2019 he Eagles were top 10 in the NFL in rushing defense (No. 1), red-zone defense (No. 2), third-down defense (No. 3), scoring defense (No. 7), and takeaways (No. 9) over that span, along with a Super Bowl LII championship even if the win itself over New England was a shootout.

Without Malcolm Jenkins on the back end in 2020 and at least one veteran, somewhat proven linebacker in the mix like a Jordan Hicks or Nigel Bradham, things slipped and the Eagles entered Sunday ranked 21st in total defense, heavily-weighted down off consecutive dismal performances that were driven by attrition.

"I think historically, a lot of people have so much respect for Coach Schwartz including everyone in this organization," Edwards said. "Especially since this year, he found a way every single week to give us a motive to be angry and motivated every week. Just the way he talks about the game, different scenarios, you learn so much from a simple conversation.

"He means a lot to us and I appreciate everything. I don’t know if the report is true or anything like that. If it is, we hold him in a high regard.”

Pederson was recently asked about how his relationship with the DC grew over the years.

“I’ll tell you, our relationship has evolved tremendously,” said Pederson. “I think we've been more on the same page over the years, me just getting to know him each year and understanding him as a coach and a coordinator.

“Obviously, his defenses historically have been top defenses in the National Football League. Of course, when guys are healthy and all of that.”

If that's the case and Schwartz is leaving on his own accord that would likely mean the elevation of Matt Burke, a longtime Schwartz acolyte who was once the defensive chief in Miami.

Schwartz's current secondary coach, Marquand Manuel, is also a former DC in Atlanta and LB coach Ken Flajole ran the Rams defense from 2009-2011.

If the Eagles look outside the organization for a bigger name like Dan Quinn or John Fox, a former head coach who is close to Pederson and has visited Eagles practices in the past, it sends a different message, one of new voices to satisfy the Wanderlust of Lurie and perhaps to satiate a fan base that doesn't know what it doesn't know.

Whomever the next DC is, however, the odds he's better than Schwartz will be remote.

"I can tell you this: That I truly appreciate Jim Schwartz, and the five years that we've worked together and helped the Philadelphia Eagles win a championship in 2017, and he's really done an outstanding job for us, for me, and obviously the organization," Pederson said.

"So, whatever he decides moving forward, obviously I will support that."

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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