November 30, 2020
The Philadelphia Eagles are a very bad football team. That's obvious to even the most casual observers each week, as the team has stumbled to a 3-6-1 start, which doesn't even begin to tell the story of what the actual product has looked like on the field. Even more troubling is that the Eagles are also old, expensive, boring, and it's likely to only get worse.
As incredible as this statement may seem only 34 months removed from the team's heroic march up Broad Street with a Lombardi Trophy in tow, Jeffrey Lurie has little other choice than to move on from general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson once this debacle of a season is over.
The reasoning that we'll lay out is more complex than just, "Howie and Doug suck and they have to go."
Roseman engineered as impressive a turnaround of an NFL franchise as you'll see when he took a team that Chip Kelly left in shambles, and through savvy draft maneuvering, smart free agent acquisitions, and aggressive trades, assembled a roster so sturdy that even the loss of its franchise quarterback to a devastating knee injury couldn't stop it from winning a Super Bowl. And he did it in two years.
Meanwhile, Pederson was everything Kelly wished he could be, as he helped create a locker room with harmonious culture, he and his staff out-schemed defensive coordinators, and his "fearless" situational decision-making gave his team a substantial analytical edge over their opponents.
If Roseman and Pederson are both let go, the feeling here is that they will both land GM and head coaching jobs elsewhere. It just can't be in Philly anymore.
The reality is that the team has fallen short of expectations in each of the three seasons since that Super Bowl win, and while the team made the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, they only did so because other teams faltered.
• In 2018, the Eagles needed to beat a mentally checked out Washington team in Week 17, while also benefiting from a Vikings loss to a Bears team with nothing to play for in order to get in as the 6 seed at 9-7. Both things happened, and they backdoored their way in.
• In 2019, the Eagles were sitting at 5-7, before feasting on the dreck in their division for four games to close the season once again at 9-7, winning the NFC East.
• In 2020, the Eagles entered the season with their head coach, defensive coordinator, and quarterback all in their fifth year with the team, while all three of the other teams in the division hired new coaching staffs, and didn't have a full offseason to implement their schemes and philosophies. Yet, they have looked disjointed, and may very well finish last in what could arguably be considered the worst division in NFL history.
If you look at the teams the Eagles have beaten the last two seasons, seven of their 12 wins have come against quarterbacks who aren't currently NFL starters, at least by their respective teams' choices.
Take away those easy wins, and the Eagles are 5-13-1 the last two years.
Certainly, the surprisingly poor season from Carson Wentz has played a major part, but the team's struggles go well beyond the quarterback position.
Just before the start of the 2019 season, we analyzed the Eagles' rapidly aging roster, and warned that the team was running the risk of needing to undergo a major rebuild in a few years if they didn't change their strategic pattern of signing and trading for older players for short-term gains, while continually making a low number of draft picks.
In 2018 and 2019, the Eagles made a combined 10 picks. No team made fewer. As such, their margin for error in finding good young players was narrow. On the picks they did make, the misses outweighed the hits.
In 2020, they finally made a substantial number of picks — 10, to be exact — but oddly opted to select quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round, and developmental linebacker Davion Taylor in the third, both of whom were highly unlikely to make immediate contributions.
The combination of an influx of rookies unready to contribute and a core group of veterans from the Super Bowl season in obvious decline left the team devoid of good players in their prime years.
Going forward, when you look at the roster position-by-position, at best there are questions. At worst, there are glaring holes.
• Quarterback: Wentz has statistically been the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. Can he ever come close to regaining his old form? Jalen Hurts is an unknown.
• Running back: Miles Sanders is clearly a good player, but he has had injury issues early in his career.
• Wide receiver: The Eagles certainly hope they have a good 1-2 receiving combo in Travis Fulgham and Jalen Reagor, but that's far from a certainty. Meanwhile, they're going to have huge dead money hits when they make the obvious decisions to release Alshon Jeffery ($10,509,500) and DeSean Jackson ($5,802,000) this offseason. It's probably also worth noting here that over the last few seasons, the Eagles had the opportunity to add receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, DK Metcalf, Justin Jefferson, Robby Anderson, and Terry McLaurin, all of whom have at least 800 receiving yards already this season, but they are instead stuck with this overpriced, underperforming group.
• Tight end: Is Zach Ertz a goner this offseason? He should be. If so, the Eagles still have Dallas Goedert, who is a rare good young player on this roster, but once again like Sanders above, has missed time due to injury.
• Offensive line: Once the most stacked part of the roster, the Eagle O-Line is fading.
• Defensive end: Brandon Graham has been a star this season, but he'll be 33 in April. Derek Barnett is a solid starter, but has not developed into a stud DE, and he may have a capped ceiling because of a lack of special athleticism. Josh Sweat has become a good rotational end, at a minimum, and could very well continue to develop into a quality starter.
• Defensive tackle: The production is not coming close to meeting the cost. Fletcher Cox is still a good player, but he's no longer elite, and his cap numbers will be in the $24 million range the next two seasons. Malik Jackson is another quality player, but is overpaid ($13.6 million on the cap in 2021) and aging (31 in January). The Javon Hargrave signing has flown under the radar because the team has had so many bigger issues, but he has been a complete non-factor.
• Linebacker: Perhaps the worst off-ball linebacker group in the NFL.
• Cornerback: Darius Slay has been good in 2020, but he has no INTs, and he'll be 30 in January. CB2 is a clear glaring need this offseason, as always.
• Safety: Jalen Mills' transition to safety hasn't been smooth, and Rodney McLeod will be 31 in 2021.
It's never great when there's a decent argument to draft any position in the first round, aside from running back, tight end, kicker, punter, and long snapper.
The Eagles were already going to have salary cap challenges in 2021 even before a pandemic began spreading across the globe early in the 2020 NFL offseason. Because of lost revenue as a result of COVID-19, the 2021 salary cap could be as low as $176 million, down from approximately $198 million in 2020. Based on that $176 million figure (which we should note could rise a bit), the Eagles are scheduled to be approximately $69 million over the cap.
The Eagles will be able to roll over their remaining 2020 cap space (currently about $23 million) into 2021, and they'll be able to get back under the cap by the time the new league year begins in March, through player releases, a possible rise in the $176 million cap figure, and some perhaps some necessary — but less than ideal — contract restructures.
For years, the Eagles have, in NFL salary cap vernacular, "kicked the can down the road" with contract restructures of their most expensive players by converting salary into signing bonuses, and spreading cap hits into future years, often times beyond the duration of the players' contracts. In fact, the following players all have salary cap hits on years after their contracts have already voided:
At some point, you have to pay the bill.
Anyway, the point that we have gone a long way to make is that the Eagles are not going to be able to improve their roster in free agency, as leftover money to sign appealing players on the open market isn't going to be available.
The Eagles will get some players back from injury, like Brooks, for example, but they are also going to have to get rid of players from this already bad roster, and begin solely turning their attention to building through the draft.
After he worked magic in 2016 and 2017, Roseman has had three consecutive downright bad seasons. Once general managers know they are on the proverbial "hot seat," they often manage their team in a way that helps their short-term survival, eschewing what is best, long-term.
There is no more short-term for this team. It's over. As we detailed above the roster has the trifecta of doomsday issues:
And it's going to take years of losing before it will be fixed.
The longer the team "kicks the can down the road," the worse it's going to be when they inevitably have to blow it all up. In the interim, the team's old core players will continue to decline. The time to go full-on rebuild mode is now.
Of course, "blowing it up" requires patience. Lurie will have to allow the general manager to formulate a plan to get out from under of a slew of albatross contracts, and then re-build a winner. Seeing as Roseman has had three consecutive bad seasons, as noted above, he does not deserve a multi-year commitment going forward. It's also probably worth pointing out that a multi-year rebuild can only be successfully accomplished if the team substantially increases their hit rate in the draft, which has been Roseman's biggest weakness.
Pederson has had his worst season since the team hired him in 2016. His offense has been out-schemed, his play-calling has been uncreative, at best, and his usually strong in-game strategic management has been surprisingly bad at times. His players have always played hard for him, but as this season spirals out of control, it doesn't feel at all like 2018 or 2019 when the team still fought like hell when the they were at their bottom points.
Would Pederson even care if he were let go? The pressure of this season has no doubt worn on him, as is plain to see when he has been the sole face that has to answer difficult questions from the press three times per week for organizational-wide failure.
Keeping Pederson around for a rebuild only ensures that fans will call for his head when the team inevitably continues to lose in 2021. There's no sense in putting anyone through all that. A fresh start with a new GM and a new head coach would allow for a clear-eyed perspective across the board, and create an environment in which the brass can operate with the long-term health of the franchise in mind.
As we noted last week, Wentz likely isn't going anywhere. If you trade Wentz, it's $33,820,608 in dead money, and that's sort of where the discussion hits a major roadblock. Back in February, in researching a deep dive piece on Alshon Jeffery, I asked Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap to give me the biggest dead money hits in NFL history. His list is below (I added in Brandin Cooks and Nick Foles, who have since also had sizeable dead money hits):
If the Eagles were willing to trade Wentz and take on $33.8 million in dead money, it would be the biggest dead money hit in NFL history by a country mile, clearing the previous dead money hit leader (Cooks) by $12 million.
Using the aforementioned $176 million as a temporary 2021 salary cap number, Wentz's dead money hit would take up 19.2 percent of the Eagles' cap. So there's that.
Now add in the dead money releases of Jeffery ($10,509,500) and Jackson ($5,802,000), and we're up $50,132,108, or 28.5 percent of a possible $176,000,000 salary cap.
In pie chart form:
There's no denying that Wentz has been bad this season. However, he's not that far removed from dragging a practice squad offense to the playoffs, and there's also the reality that the Eagles very likely would not have a Super Bowl trophy displayed proudly at the NovaCare Complex if not for Wentz leading the team to an 11-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC in 2017.
The compensation it would take from some other team to make Lurie willing to take on almost $34 million in dead money would have to be huge (multiple first round picks?), and clearly, nobody is giving that up for player whose current team would be willing to have one-fifth of their cap spend play for another team.
If the Eagles really, really wanted Wentz off of the roster, like the Steelers really wanted Antonio Brown of off their roster, then sure, maybe you take less to get him out, but obviously, that is not the case here.