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July 02, 2021

What they're saying: Only three NFL teams have a worse roster than Eagles

Eagles NFL

I know, I know. You were just about to leave work early and head to the beach to get a jump start on the holiday weekend, and this was not the headline you were hoping to read. 

But it shouldn't ruin your mood. Why? Because it seems pretty obvious. Doesn't it? I mean, the Eagles are admittedly in a transition period and don't have much to brag about on their roster except for a few guys here and there. And it not like they make up for their lack of star power with an overwhelming amount of depth. 

And hey, being that it's a holiday weekend, look on the bright side — it's difficult to go anywhere other than up (although even as I write this it feels like I'm tempting fate).

Anyway, you saw it in the headline and are probably eager to see why, so let's dive right in to this Friday edition of What They're Saying... 

Starting from (near) the bottom

Ben Linsey | ESPN+

Before you start tweeting at me for where the Eagles are ranked, we should note that it was actually Ben Linsey of ESPN who put together this ranking of every NFL roster prior to training camp.

The three teams that were worse than the Eagles? The Jets (30th), Lions (31st), and Texans (32nd). The next closest NFC East team? The Giants, a full 10 spots ahead of the Birds at 19, while Washington and Dallas were both in the Top 12. 

Here's what Linsey had to say about Philly's roster... 

29. Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest strength: Over the past three seasons, Philadelphia's defense trails only the Steelers in team pressure rate (39.5%) despite ranking just 29th in blitz rate (20.2%). Their defensive line is fully capable of generating pressure on its own, and that shouldn't change this season. Javon Hargrave's addition gave the Eagles another legitimate pass-rushing threat next to Fletcher Cox. Hargrave ranks in the 95th percentile of qualifying interior defenders in pass rush win rate since 2019.

Biggest weakness: The Eagles ranked third in pressure rate as a defense in 2020 but just 21st in average yards allowed per pass play. As you can probably guess, that's because they fielded one of the NFL's worst secondaries. Things aren't looking much better in that regard for 2021, either. Avonte Maddox, fresh off a 37.1 coverage grade in 2020, is still the team's No.2 cornerback behind Darius Slay. Philadelphia will also be relying on starter contributions from either fourth-round rookie Zech McPhearson or an unproven player such as Craig James or Michael Jacquet.

X factor for 2021: Size be damned. DeVonta Smith couldn't be covered in the SEC or on the game's biggest stage last season at Alabama. He went from averaging an already impressive 3.5 yards per route run in 2019 alongside three other first-round talents to averaging an otherworldly 4.4 yards per route run in 2020. Smith now has the opportunity to elevate the league's lowest-graded wide receiver unit since 2018 as a member of the Eagles. PFF projects Philadelphia's first-round pick for 60 receptions this season.  []

Doug Pederson Revenge Tour?

Mike Kaye |

We'll change gears for a minute here and check in with former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who took some time away from his gap year to play in Ron Jaworski's Celebrity Golf Challenge earlier this week. And while he was there, he hopped on the air with Anthony Gargano on 97.5 The Fanatic and discussed his desire to return to coaching. 

“The competitor inside wants to continue to compete,” Pederson said. “Hopefully, I get an opportunity to lead another football team and do the same things again and learn from the last five years—what a great teaching moment for me. I always talk about how we learn from failures and different things like that. I don’t want to say that this was a failure, but at the same time, I want to learn from the last five years moving forward in my next opportunity.”

The Eagles finished with a 4-11-1 record last season. After having a couple of meetings with owner Jeffrey Lurie, the two concluded that it would be best if both sides went their separate ways. Pederson said he understands how the business works but that he was happy that he did have some success with the team.

“We got accomplished in Philadelphia what I wanted to get accomplished, and that was winning a world championship. I wish everybody, Nick (Sirianni) and all the guys best of luck moving forward, and I’m focused on my future.”  []

Stuck in the middle with you

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

Earlier this week on BGN Radio, Brandon Lee Gowton and Jimmy Kempski discussed their biggest concerns about the Eagles, and BLG expanded on two of his worries in a recent post. While his first was also a valid concern of mine, this second one about Jalen Hurts putting the Eagles in QB Purgatory is probably my biggest fear, especially since they're uniquely positioned to grab a QB in next years draft (or via trade) and might not have that opportunity again if they don't get a solid answer this year as to what Hurts is.

For most teams, seeing your starting quarterback play like the worst quarterback in the NFL (relatable feeling) is the worst-case scenario. Not so for the 2021 Eagles! It’s obviously not ideal if Hurts is really, really bad in his first season as a full-time starter. But at least the Eagles would know for sure that they need to move on from him and find a new long-term option. And, thanks to Roseman’s maneuvering, the Eagles potentially have three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to help them quickly pivot away from Hurts.

But what if Hurts isn’t super terrible but also isn’t super awesome? He’s too good for the Eagles to easily move on from him but not good enough to inspire confidence as a championship-caliber quarterback? Quarterback purgatory is one of the worst places to be in the NFL. Just look at the Las Vegas Raiders with Derek Carr or the Minnesota Vikings with Kirk Cousins.

Hurts falling somewhere between really bad and really good feels like a realistic outcome this year, meaning the team could have a tough decision to make about his long-term viability. The thinking here is that the Eagles have a high bar for what Hurts must accomplish this season. They might very well look to move on if he doesn’t erase all doubts about him. But maybe the decision gets muddied if his teammates and coaches and Eagles fans really end up loving him? Maybe the front office ends up being fractured on a quarterback decision? Hey, it sure wouldn’t be the first team the people in charge weren’t on the same page.  []

The right move

Zach Berman | The Athletic

Over at The Athletic, their writers broke down the best move for each NFL team. Here's what Zach Berman had to say about the Birds... 

The Eagles’ best offseason move was actually two connected transactions. It was their decision to trade back from No. 6 to No. 12 in the draft, adding a 2022 first-round pick in the process, and then moving up from No. 12 to No. 10 to ensure they landed DeVonta Smith. If the Eagles remained at No. 6 and drafted the Heisman Trophy winner, few would have complained. An argument could have been made for Jaylen Waddle or Penei Sewell, or perhaps even a quarterback, but Smith would have been considered a fine outcome once Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase were off the board at Nos. 4 and 5. So for the Eagles to still land Smith and the first-rounder next year should be considered a boon. Smith steps in as the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver and will be needed to jump-start an underachieving receiving corps. And if Jalen Hurts doesn’t prove to be the team’s long-term answer at quarterback, then the pick the Eagles acquired could be used to help land a quarterback next offseason.  []

Unfinished business

Field Yates | ESPN+

And finally, now that we've seen the best move the Eagles have made already, let's head back to ESPN, where Field Yates outlined one move that each NFL team still has to make. The options for the Eagles were two fold: do something with Zach Ertz, or bring in someone to start opposite Darius Slay. Yates went with the former. 

Trade tight end Zach Ertz

We floated Buffalo as a logical landing spot for Ertz earlier, but no matter the destination, a trade of the franchise stalwart seems best for all parties involved. I understand Philly's reticence to simply give Ertz away, but for a team that could use some cap wiggle room to operate through the season (and potentially put toward an extension for Ertz's heir apparent in Dallas Goedert), a trade helps.

The Eagles have the makings of a really fun, young skill group on offense, and Ertz could provide a boost for a tight end-needy team elsewhere.  []

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