The Philadelphia Eagles are the only team in the NFC East entering Week 17 without a chance to make the playoffs. Three years after winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history, they rank among the worst teams in the entire league and are guaranteed more losses than any season since 2012, which resulted in the dismissal of longtime coach Andy Reid. Needless to say, they need help.
What, exactly, should they do to right the ship during a crucial offseason? We've done our best to offer a five-step solution:
1. Reduce GM Howie Roseman's power over personnel
The Eagles' issues can be attributed chiefly to their poor foundation, which has clearly eroded since the Super Bowl. That's on Roseman. While owner Jeffrey Lurie has reason to find a new GM entirely, his longtime loyalty to Howie makes that unlikely. The most plausible option, then, is to reduce the GM's power over personnel. Maybe that means a "promotion" to other duties in the vein of his Chip Kelly-era relegation. Maybe it means forcing final say over the roster into another executive's hands.
The one thing Lurie can't do is sit on his hands. The coach and QB are also at fault for 2020's failures (we'll get to them soon), but nothing should concern this organization more than the fact Roseman, its top decision-maker, has:
- Backed the Eagles into one of the darkest financial corners in the NFL,
- Repeatedly saddled game-day lineups with older, injured and unreliable starters, particularly at spots critical to the QB, and
- Failed to draft more than a few obvious building blocks since returning to power in 2016
Roseman deserves all the credit in the world for resurrecting the Eagles post-Chip Kelly and assembling championship depth, but since then, he's failed to deliver both short- and long-term promise. If your GM isn't drafting well, isn't hitting on veterans and has overseen three straight years of decline, he either needs help or needs replacing.
2. Replace Doug Pederson with another offensive head coach
This is not a decision you make flippantly. Pederson is not a bad coach. At his best, he's paced the NFL in bold decisions and crunch-time delivery. His upstaging of Bill Belichick to hand Philly its first Lombardi Trophy will live in Eagles lore forever. And, perhaps most importantly, his players have never once quit on him. But much like Nick Foles, the QB who helped him win that Lombardi but never carved out a long-term gig in Philly, Pederson's peak accomplishments shouldn't guarantee he's part of the current Eagles' future.
If Lurie were to fire just one of Doug or Howie, there's a strong case to be made that Roseman deserves the ax. But since Pederson's magical 13-3 run in 2017, the Eagles have gone 22-24-1. They've gotten progressively worse every year since the championship. This season, in a historically bad division, his team -- with its lack of on-field discipline, with its sore absence of creativity, with its unprecedented QB regression, with its apparent lack of weekly preparation for crucial contests -- was the first eliminated. Worse yet, his "specialty," the offense, has gone from trend-setting to sluggish to now one of the most predictably listless and uncreative in the entire NFL. Not even Jalen Hurts' mobility could mask that against a porous Cowboys defense in Week 16.
Pederson may very well have the backing of players, and he may be able to point to his resume and even succeed in another job instantly. But if he couldn't come up with any answers in this trainwreck of a season, why should Lurie trust him to lead the team into new territory? If he couldn't identify proper offensive assistants up until now, why would he suddenly unearth innovative wizardry in 2021? It's not that Doug is incapable of a turnaround; it's just hard to believe, after three years of decline, that his turnaround will occur in Philly.
It helps that the pool of potential offensive head coaching replacements is deep. And these aren't just names. Most are guys who've either drawn the Eagles' interest before, or are widely considered among the best up-and-comers at their posts. We've limited prospective candidates, listed below, almost exclusively to offensive minds because Lurie has long preferred offensively-geared leaders (and, frankly, is smart for doing so).*
- Brian Daboll, Bills OC
- Mike Kafka, Chiefs QBs coach/passing game coordinator
- Arthur Smith, Titans OC
- Joe Brady, Panthers OC
- Graham Harrell, USC OC/QBs coach
- Duce Staley, Eagles RBs coach/assistant head coach
- Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma HC
- Luke Getsy, Packers QBs coach/passing game coordinator
- Leslie Frazier, Bills DC/assistant head coach
* = The one defensive-coach exception here has an Eagles connection, with Frazier spending 1999-2002 under Lurie and Andy Reid in Philly. He could make sense in the event the team wants to preserve Pederson's player-friendly approach while securing an "heir apparent" type on the offensive side of the ball.
3. Retain both Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts with an eye toward 2022
It's certainly not impossible to argue the Eagles should trade Wentz. After 2020, in which he not only regressed but looked darn near broken -- devoid of confidence and any ability to rise above his mercurial surroundings -- he might actually benefit from a change of scenery. For crying out loud, the guy battled back from two serious injuries, won over a locker room that saw his backup beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, and is now faced with overcoming both his own shocking downfall and a promising challenger in Hurts. Maybe it's in both parties' best interest to cut the cord entirely -- acknowledge the memories and what could have been, then move his $128 million deal elsewhere.
If the Eagles wisely inject new life into their staff, however, the better gamble is to retain Wentz. That doesn't necessarily mean crown him the unquestioned 2021 starter. It doesn't mean commit to him long-term. It means give new leadership the chance to see what's really left of your franchise QB before selling him when his value is at an all-time low -- and for minimal savings, no less.
Hurts may be a star-in-the-making, or he may be just a talented backup. Four starts are not enough to determine that. Wentz, on the other hand, was downright bad in 2020 but consistently good, if not great, from 2017-19 -- a stretch that included 81 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, a 98.3 QB rating and a 25-15 record. Recency bias clouds that reality. Unless the Eagles and/or their new coach are 100 percent sold on Hurts or purposely bottoming out in 2021 (don't count on it), the idea of saving $800,000 -- while absorbing Wentz's $33.8M cap hit -- to write off a 28-year-old's chances of returning to top-12ish form seem ... less than ideal. Especially when there's no more important position to get right than the QB.
If the Eagles are entering or on the brink of a major overhaul, what's the downside to letting No. 11 be part of the mix? Better yet, does the upside of cutting the cord outweigh the potential consequences? In the best-case scenario, Wentz gets an offseason to catch his breath, earn back trust and work with a revamped staff, return to playoff contention with a healthier lineup in 2021, then reload with bigger additions in 2022. Worst-case scenario, neither Wentz nor Hurts pans out and the Eagles are bad again in 2021, but then you've got an even better shot to infuse youth -- and maybe a top QB prospect -- in 2022.
4. Sell off as many veterans as possible
Auctioning as many vets as possible might sound counter-intuitive if you're hoping for a quick 2021 rebound, but it's really not. How many current Eagles players, after all, are absolutely critical to a playoff run? Lane Johnson? Brandon Graham? This team had double-digit losses in 2020 because the current contingent is devoid of talent, not overflowing with it. It's hard for some, the Eagles included these last few years, to admit their one-time championship roster is saddled with old, unreliable pieces (an indictment of Howie once more), but it's true. That's why the Eagles must take an addition-by-subtraction mentality into 2021.
They also have basically no choice considering they're projected to be something like $70 million over the 2021 salary cap. At an absolute minimum, all of the following moves should be in consideration:
- WR Alshon Jeffery: $8M savings
- WR DeSean Jackson: $5.1M savings
- WR Marquise Goodwin: $4.45M savings
- DT Malik Jackson: $1M savings
- DE Derek Barnett: Due $10M
- DE Brandon Graham: Due $17.9M
- OG Brandon Brooks: Due $14.5M
- OT Lane Johnson: Due $17.8M
- DT Fletcher Cox: Due $23.9M
That doesn't include saying farewell to most, if not all, of the team's impending unrestricted free agents -- a group of 13 that includes notables like Jason Peters, Jalen Mills, Richard Rodgers and Nickell Robey-Coleman.
5. Stockpile assets during 2021 draft
The Eagles are going to have their highest first-round draft pick since 2016, when they traded all the way up to No. 2 overall to select Wentz. They'll be right around the top five, with an off chance of picking as high as No. 3. Typically, that means giving a long, hard look at the top QB prospects, because it's not every year you get such a clean swipe at that position. And don't be mistaken; if the Eagles truly love a QB within reach, they have to consider it. But here's the bigger issue they must weigh: This team needs a whole lot more than long-term QB hope. With both Wentz and Hurts in tow, Philly has every reason to sell its early pick and stockpile assets.
In 2018, just to move back from No. 3 to No. 6 in the first round, the Colts got an additional three second-rounders from the Jets. If the Eagles can strike a deal with a QB-needy franchise (and know they'll have their own shot at a top guy in 2022, should they stumble again in 2021), they could give themselves an instant opportunity to fill other holes across the roster, whether it be at offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback or safety.
Good, young talent is what the Eagles need more than anything. Auctioning premium picks to collect even more would go a long way, regardless of which guy is throwing passes and which guy is calling the plays in 2021.