August 11, 2021
The Eagles will host the Steelers in their preseason opener on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field. And even though the outcome of game doesn't matter, it's an important one for the organization as it will be the first of the Nick Sirianni Era in Philly.
Birds fans will get their first taste of what the new head coach looks like calling his gameplan. They'll finally get a real look at how Jalen Hurts runs the Sirianni offense, and what it might look like. They'll get a chance to see Jonathan Gannon's mysterious defense for the first time.
It will be a lot to take in. And locally there's growing hope — as there is every year around this time — that this team can be better than it was the season prior. Given that they were one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2020, that hope may have a better chance at being realized than in years past. But nationally, there are still a lot of doubts about this team.
Even if Eagles fans don't like it, they have to at least understand where it's coming from. If not, the first item in today's edition of What They're Saying may shed some light on that...
You know how when someone presents you with good news and bad news and asks which one you want to hear first? Well, I just decided for you and you're getting the bad news first.
It comes from Defector.com's Drew Magary, who is in the midst of his annual "Why Your Team Sucks" series that dates back to his Deadspin days. If you're unfamiliar, it's quite similar to Jimmy Kempski's yearly Dumpster Fire series, except much, much meaner and containing far more NSFW language.
This year's post on the Eagles was... frighteningly hilarious. That's because it was also very accurate, as these posts often are when they're about an actually bad team. Maybe it's because I've become so separated from my Eagles fandom since getting into this industry, but I actually found funny, although I imagine most Philly fans won't.
The one part that may not get a ton of blowback is when Magary describes the team's general manager, even if he takes out the head coach in getting there.
"No one inside or outside of the NFL believes that Nick Sirianni is qualified for this job. But ultimately, it doesn’t particularly matter who’s in charge on the sideline," he writes, later adding that's because he "wouldn’t ask Howie Roseman to run a f--king bake sale."
He easily takes out Doug Pederson, Sirianni, Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie like it's nothing before moving on to the actual guys on the field.
Your quarterback: I guess it’s still Jalen Hurts, who had exactly one good start a year ago. Hurts may show the mythical “flashes,” but I’ve seen this movie before. I know when a punctured femur is in the offing. You will absolutely see both Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens start games for this team this season. And nothing about the Eagles quarterback situation will be any more resolved when you read this same preview a year from now, because Carson Wentz’s contract gives them more dead cap space than the back shelf of a Foot Locker, and because Wentz already gave his own foot COVID and blew the Eagles’ chance at getting a first for his sorry ass.
But by all means, keep assuming that a Deshaun Watson trade is forthcoming. Given what that man’s been accused of, he and this town belong together. [defector.com]
Ah, yes, the first reference of the fanbase. It doesn't get any nicer from there.
[NOTE: The censoring is my own. You can go over to defector.com to get the full effect.]
I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say this merely because the occasion to roast compels me to: Philly fans are now, bar none, the most annoying fans in sports. They’re worse than Boston. Worse than St. Louis. Worse than Pittsburgh. Worse than all of them. I f--king hate them.
There’s no story out there that Philly people can’t make about themselves. It’s constant, and it’s unbearable. Philly people post videos of each other every waking second. They point out each other’s accents every time a f--king local man-on-the-street news clip pops up on Twitter. OH MY GOD LISTEN TO THIS GUY’S SAY WOODER! THAT IS SO PHILLY! Even Boston fans don’t do this. This is just you, Philly. There is no group of people on Earth more determined to be uninteresting. And there’s no group of people on Earth who presume that their city limits extend all the way to f--king New Zealand. Haiti just had its President assassinated and I assure you that 900,000 Philly fans used that occasion as a mystifying excuse to bitch about Ben Simmons. If the whole of Philly was wiped out by a new Omega Variant of COVID that Carson Wentz left behind in his Evangelical food truck, I’d hold a goddamn boat parade. F--k you and f--k your idiot team. You deserve every horrible thing coming to you, and I promise you there’ll be many of those things.
Zach Ertz is still here for some reason. The Sixers will never win another title. [defector.com]
Honestly, I feel seen.
We gave you the stick and now it's time for the carrot.
Over at ESPN, Bill Barnwell ranked the eight teams who finished last in 2020 in terms of their chances of going from worst to first. And, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly given the state of their division, the Eagles checked in at No. 3.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Chances of winning the NFC East, per FPI: 11.7%
Philly fits just about every one of the criteria I posted above. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia's offense should be better -- and healthier -- than it was in 2020. The Eagles turned the ball over 29 times and posted a turnover margin of minus-10; they should be better in both categories in 2021. They'll have a new primary quarterback in Jalen Hurts and a new coach in Nick Sirianni. They were also unlucky last season, going 3-6-1 in one-score games.
The best argument for the Eagles is that the competition isn't likely to be any good. In a year in which just about everything went wrong for the organization, they still came within 2.5 games of winning the NFC East. They actually finished with the 11th-toughest schedule in the league, per FPI, but they're expected to have the sixth-easiest slate in football this season.
FPI has the Cowboys as significant favorites to win the division -- with a total of just 8.9 wins. If Hurts is better than expected, the Eagles will have a viable shot at competing for a title. [espn.com]
For what it's worth, Pickswise's consensus odds currently have the Eagles at +453 to win the NFC East this year, which is still the worst of the four teams in the division.
In Magary's roasting of the Eagles above, he mentioned that Eagles fans deserve Deshaun Watson, who currently has 22 civil and 10 criminal complaints against him. Despite his obvious talents, most Philly fans (rightfully) want nothing to do with him, even if the team can get him at a discounted rate.
According to Andrew Brandt, who knows a thing or two both about how front offices work and how the legal system works, provides a compelling argument as to why it might not matter what Eagles fans want. There's a good chance Watson doesn't play at all this year anyway — or at least the vast majority of the season — even though the league has yet to take any disciplinary action while it waits for the legal matters to play out in court.
Brandt, citing precedents as lawyers are wont to do, broke it all down in a recent column for Sports Illustrated.
As a lawyer, my first question is always: What’s the precedent here? Two cases come to mind.
In 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a bathroom bar in Georgia (two years later, he also settled a civil case alleging sexual assault that took place in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, in '08). After a long investigation from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, no criminal charges were filed. Notwithstanding the lack of charges, Goodell imposed a six-game suspension (later reduced to four games) for one incident that drew no criminal charges. In '17, Ezekiel Elliott was accused of domestic misconduct with, again, no criminal charges. Goodell imposed a six-game suspension, one unsuccessfully challenged in court.
Thus, the precedent: two star players, both without criminal charges, both resulting in six-game suspensions from Goodell. So how on God’s green Earth is Deshaun Watson going to play this season, for the Texans or anyone else, until at least mid-November? I'm a lawyer; Goodell has many lawyers around him. I just don't see it.
And here is some more precedent. In 2014—against the backdrop of the Ray Rice video—Greg Hardy beat his girlfriend (charges were dropped when the woman failed to appear in court to testify) and Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest to a count of misdemeanor reckless assault after disciplining his son with a switch. At that time a top league executive told me: We’ll pay them, but we can’t put them out there on the field. We just can’t. So the NFL brought the commissioner exempt list out of cobwebs, a list that was used for completely different purposes, to park these players for the year while they were paid. Better to pay them for not playing than to have them playing, as if nothing had happened, in a sport trying to appeal to women. I don’t see how things would be different now with Watson.
As for these opportunistic teams trying to leverage his “circumstances” to better their trade value, good luck selling Watson to their fan base, no matter the bargain-basement trade price. [si.com]
Apologies if that was long, but I didn't want to snip any important info or take Brandt's words out of context when discussing such a sensitive topic. Now let's just hope the Eagles decide it's not worth the trouble, because it doesn't seem like the accusations themselves are enough to dissuade their interest. And that's disappointing.
Speaking of Watson, the Eagles continued interest in him is not only sending the wrong message to those outside the organization — that they're OK employing someone accused of the things Watson is accused of— but it's also sending the wrong message to those inside the organization — that it's OK to behave how Watson is accused of behaving.
But it especially send the wrong message to one person within the organization: Jalen Hurts, who the team has not even named the starting quarterback yet for 2021, let alone shown any indication that he's their guy moving forward.
Not giving Hurts that longterm commitment is fine, given that he only has a few starts under his belt, but they could at least name him their starter for the time being. Instead...
A lot of teams who otherwise might have been interested in Watson are not pursuing a trade because of the allegations. But apparently that’s not the case with the Eagles.
According to multiple league sources, they remain interested in the three-time Pro Bowler. That doesn’t mean something is going to happen, but it does mean the Eagles aren’t yet ready to hand the keys to their offense over to Hurts.
Assuming nothing happens with Watson in the next two days, Sirianni hopes to get a better read on Hurts in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Linc. The quarterback will finally get to shed his red practice jersey and face a live pass rush. [inquirer.com]
OK, we'll continue with a little bit of the good news-bad news flip-flopping and end it on a positive note (I think?).
Over at The Athletic, Sheil Kapadia ranked all 32 NFL defenses ahead of the 2021 season. And given that the Eagles have a new coordinator and several new pieces, I was somewhat surprised to find the Birds in the top half of the league, perhaps because so much is focused on the offense these days. But when you think about the talent they have — assuming they can stay healthy — it's not all that surprising.
The biggest question mark is coordinator Jonathan Gannon, but his wait-and-see approach to his scheme is quite intriguing. They could be a top 10 unit in the NFL by the time the season is over. But they'll need help from the offense. Too often in 2020 the defense would make a big stop and then find themselves right back on the field after the offense went 3-and-out. Eventually, they'd break.
Hopefully they won't have the same issue in 2021...
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Last season: 15th
They quietly added a trio of capable veterans in cornerback Steven Nelson, safety Anthony Harris and linebacker Eric Wilson. The strength of the defense — and maybe the entire team — is the defensive line, which features Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat.
New coordinator Jonathan Gannon figures to employ more pre-snap disguise, more diverse fronts and more split-safety looks than his predecessor, Jim Schwartz.
Overall, this is a veteran unit. All 11 of the Eagles’ projected starters are at least in their third year in the NFL. If the players take to Gannon’s high-energy approach, the Eagles’ defense could be a surprising group. [theathletic.com]
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