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December 18, 2023

Eagles mailbag: Should the Eagles finally start to invest at linebacker?

Also, did the Eagles make a mistake with their coordinators?

Eagles NFL
121723HowieRoseman Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Howie Roseman glares menacingly at a linebacker.

A few days ago, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter or whatever it's called now. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This is Part II of a two-part mailbag (Part I here). Let's just get right to it.

Question from @austinwullsch: Do you think the front office has gone a little too far in undervaluing the linebacker position? Do you think this year will change their position on putting resources towards linebacker?

The three positions the Eagles have historically refused to use premium resources on are running back, linebacker, and safety. I believe that they are correct not to prioritize running back and safety, but I think we've seen their defenses get repeatedly exposed under each of the last three defensive coordinators because of sub-par linebacker play.

It's probably also worth noting that the Eagles' two biggest threats in the NFC this season are well positioned to attack teams with suspect linebackers, you know, as we saw the last two weeks.

That doesn't mean that the Eagles should start using first-round picks on them, or pay some free agent $18 million/season. They have the right idea in using high picks / investing money in the trenches, but they do need to make linebacker more of a priority than it is currently.

And yes, I do think it'll be hard to ignore after this season how much poor linebacker play affected their defense this season. I don't think you'll see drastic changes, but I imagine they'll reevaluate to some degree. 

Question from Nicholas (via email): Has there been any indication Nakobe Dean is nearly ready to return, or is the Lisfranc likely to finish his season?

He was cruising around on a Roll-A-Bout this week in the locker room. That was the first time I have seen him since his Lisfranc injury. So that's not a good sign that he'll return this season.

Question from Kirk: For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to hire inexperienced offensive/defensive coordinators?

Brian Johnson is young (36), but I wouldn't necessarily call him inexperienced. He's been coaching since he was 23.

• Utah (2010–2011): Quarterbacks coach
• Utah (2012–2013): Offensive coordinator & quarterbacks coach
• Mississippi State (2014–2016): Quarterbacks coach
• Houston (2017): Offensive coordinator & quarterbacks coach
• Florida (2018–2019): Quarterbacks coach
• Florida (2020): Offensive coordinator & quarterbacks coach
• Philadelphia Eagles (2021–2022): Quarterbacks coach
• Philadelphia Eagles (2023): Offensive coordinator

After Shane Steichen got hired away by the Colts, Johnson was the very clear No. 1 option to replace him, given his success helping Jalen Hurts go from the very flawed quarterback he was in 2021 to the MVP candidate he became in 2022. If the Eagles didn't promote him, someone else sure as hell would have given him a better opportunity, and the Eagles didn't want to lose him. It's probably worth noting here too that his promotion was widely praised by the locals when it happened back in February.

And sure, he is a first-time coordinator, but it's with a team whose head coach has his own offense in place already.

By my count there were eight offensive coordinators with previous OC experience who were hired from the outside by their teams this past offseason:

  1. Brian Schottenheimer (Cowboys)
  2. Mike LaFleur (Rams)
  3. Bill O'Brien (Patriots)
  4. Nathaniel Hackett (Jets)
  5. Todd Monken (Ravens)
  6. Jim Bob Cooter (Colts)
  7. Matt Nagy (Chiefs)
  8. Kellen Moore (Chargers)

There are some hits in there, but there are more misses, and some of the misses (O'Brien, Hackett, and Moore, for example) have been disastrous.

As for the their defensive coordinator search, as we noted in the last mailbag, the Eagles had a contingency plan in place to hire Vic Fangio, who had 19 years experience as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach. Once that situation unfolded unfavorably for the Eagles, they had to pivot to hiring from the outside, after the Super Bowl, after other teams had already made their hires. And in Desai, they hired a guy with previous defensive coordinator experience (Bears, 2021). I do think that it's fair to wonder if they didn't already have a guy in house in Dennard Wilson who might've been a better fit.

I guess what I'm saying here is that retreads aren't necessarily the better answer for teams that believe they are contenders.

Question from dt3: What was an Eagles front office move in the last year or two that you loved/hated at the time but has proven to be the opposite?

I thought they wildly overpaid Fletcher Cox each of the last two seasons, but he has played well this year.

Question from SeanPatrickMac: There's been buzz about the Eagles being linked to Zach Ertz and Ndamukong Suh.  How do you think those situations play out?

I think the Eagles would be happy to bring Ertz in and not pay him much money, but I don't see much of a fit in Philly from Ertz's perspective. Dallas Goedert is the TE1, and Jack Stoll is the blocking TE. Ertz likely wouldn't take snaps away from either guy, nor should he. He'd be an upgrade over Grant Calcaterra and/or Julio Jones, but those guys just don't play much. There are other teams who make more sense for him, in my opinion.

As for Suh, honestly I haven't really even given that much thought. They traded a player in Kentavius Street because they needed a roster spot. Street probably has more to offer than Suh, so from that perspective I don't really see a fit there either.

Question from @kappellmeister: Maybe part of the reason we have seen very little of Penny is because he's [not effective running RPOs]?

That is actually something that I have considered, and I think there's maybe something to that. Penny is a north-south, one cut and go guy. When Penny gets to top speed, he's fast, but it takes him a bit to get into high gear. He is not shifty, and not very elusive in tight spaces. If you're giving him the ball on straight runs, he can get a head of steam in the backfield before he reaches the line of scrimmage. If you're running RPOs, you're creating more favorable numbers in the box, but you're also slowing a guy like Penny down.

Of course, that's all guesswork, since, you know, we haven't really even seen him in the offense yet, but it's a theory that I think makes sense.

Question from ItsMikeDeegan: Who’s more likely for a revenge TD Monday night: Rashaad Penny or Jason Peters?

Ha, well, unless Penny has suddenly jumped Boston Scott in the pecking order, he'll be inactive again. I'd probably still take Penny on the premise that maybe Scott will stub his toe getting off the bus. Or maybe Nick Sirianni would let Penny dress against his old team or something? I could also see Pete Carroll rubbing it in late with a JP goal line play call in a Seahawks blowout. 

Question from @d0cdank: Why did you fill your diaper over fans wanting to run the ball more?

Lol, we're still on this? It's been two weeks. Isn't there some "full diaper statute of limitations" where if you continue to bring something up loooong after that debate has run its course, then you, in fact, are swimming in your own full diaper? Also, doesn't "full diaper" just mean "You have an opinion I don't agree with?" Like, if you agreed with me, I probably wouldn't have a full diaper, right?

Anyway, my opinions on all of that are here, if anyone is still interested. The Pulitzer committee has already advised me to make room on the mantle for my work on that piece, so I have nothing to add.

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