December 01, 2020
It's another dark and cold Monday in Philadelphia as the Eagles lost their third straight game, dropping them to 3-7-1 on the season and third place in the dreadful NFC East.
But it's actually worse than it sounds — if that's possible — in large part to the high expectations placed on the Eagles, specifically QB Carson Wentz and the offense, after three straight playoffs appearances. Maybe they weren't Super Bowl expectations, but a trip to the playoffs was certainly the goal. And while that's still very much a possibility as they're somehow just a half game back of the division lead, that may be the worst-case scenario for Philly.
In each of the last two seasons, after winning the Super Bowl in 2017, the Eagles started slowly only to go on a run down the stretch and find themselves in the playoffs. Those playoff appearances helped to mask some of the growing problems within the organization, and there's justified fear among some that another such run could save some jobs and not lead to the substantial changes that are required to turn this around.
Of course, the Eagles have been so bad this year that owner Jeffery Lurie might have already seen enough and could opt to blow it up even if the team somehow ends the season atop the worst division in the history of football. Unfortunately, winning the division would do more harm than good even if Lurie goes that route, as the winner of the NFC East will likely pick 10-12 spots behind the division's second place team. And that's a big deal, especially when you're trying to rebuild your franchise.
No, we're not saying the Eagles should tank — heck, they've been doing a pretty good job of losing without trying — but continuing to lose wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. But what is the rest of the sports world saying? How do they think Lurie should go about fixing this thing? Will Doug Pederson or Howie Roseman be back next season? Will Carson Wentz enter next season under even more pressure than he's under this year with Jalen Hurts breathing down his neck? And — I can't believe I'm actually writing this, but — was Orlando Scandrick right?
We'll get into that and more in our latest edition of What They're Saying...
Let's start with the head coach, who might not be the biggest reason behind the team's struggles, but he's certainly played a major role. And, like his starting quarterback, it's difficult to comprehend how he went from one of the best play-callers in the NFL who seemed to know every button to push — and when to push them — to a guy who looks totally lost drawing up a gameplan. Some of that is certainly on the execution he's getting from his players. After all, it's not the coach's fault that his quarterback is missing wide open throws, even on the rare occasions when he has a clean pocket, or worse yet, not even seeing his open receivers and instead throwing into double coverage.
Still, Doug has not been good enough. There are still plenty of things that leave you scratching your head, like the fact that Pederson continues to abandon the run when it seems to be the one thing this team does well or how he's been using (or not using) Jalen Hurts on offense. There's also his questionable decisions on fourth down in recent weeks, something he excelled out in his first four years at the helm or the fact that he continues to play Alshon Jeffery at the sake of Travis Fulgham, who is younger, cheaper and at this point in his career better.
That's what we're seeing from the outside. What about the man who hired Pederson and holds his fate in his hands? Here's more from Roob, who doesn't think the head coach will be able to survive this disaster...
If it drives us crazy, how do you think Lurie feels?
The very things he hired Pederson for — his offensive vision, his strength as a motivator, his ability to get the most out of quarterbacks — are disastrous right now.
I don’t know why Pederson has changed so much since 2017 and why he’s struggling so much to do things that used to come so easily and so naturally. We know the Eagles miss Frank Reich, but this was a playoff team and a decent offense the last two years without Reich, and now it’s a train wreck. ...
And when Lurie is honest with himself and takes stock of his football team in January and asks himself whether Pederson still gives the Eagles the best chance to win a Super Bowl, how do you think he’s going to answer?
How would you answer? How would anybody answer?
That’s why I just don’t think Pederson can survive this nightmare of a football season. [nbcsports.com]
On Monday, prior to the Eagles latest loss, our own Jimmy Kempski wrote that it was time for the Eagles to blow it up and start from scratch. After their loss to the Seahawks, that seems even more appropriate. And apparently he isn't alone in that belief.
Over at The Athletic, Sheil Kapadia broke down the seven options Lurie will have when the season ends, from running it back to blowing it all up. And, in the end, Sheil came away believing that the best course of action is a complete rebuild with a new coach and GM leading the organization.
My take: By all accounts, Pederson and Roseman have worked hard. They delivered the city a Super Bowl and have families who will be impacted by whatever Lurie decides. Having said that, it’s a tough business, and there’s a strong case that this is the option that makes the most sense for the franchise. The offense has been a disaster. It has no identity, the play calling has been bad and the quarterback has reached a floor that nobody thought was possible. That’s on Pederson. He gets credit for the team playing hard and staying together, but it’s tough to envision a scenario where Pederson fixes the offensive issues. Football Outsiders has DVOA data going back to 1985. The Eagles rank third worst in the league on offense. The only other time they’ve been that bad during the 36-year span was 1998 when they were second worst. Going into this year, I didn’t think there was a realistic scenario where Pederson would be coaching for his job. But I also didn’t think there was a realistic scenario where the offense would be this bad.
As for Roseman, I realize I’m repeating myself, but the roster is old, expensive and bad, and their cap situation is among the messiest in the league. The 2021 offseason has to be about having a smart vision for the next three to five years. That starts with the draft. It’s not just that the Eagles have failed in identifying talent under Roseman. Every team has misses. But their process has also been unsound. They’ve failed to draft for volume and have spent picks on players with limited upside (Dallas Goedert, Jalen Hurts), given the construction of the roster. They spent two years failing to upgrade at wide receiver via trades and free agency. And they’ve sunk money into unnecessary areas (like Hargrave at defensive tackle), knowing that they face cap challenges in the offseason. Bottom line: Roseman’s decisions over the past three years have played a huge role in where the Eagles are today. And Lurie can’t overlook that.
Finally, there is an advantage to tying the head coach to the general manager and vice versa. You can hire both at the same time and let them know that they’ll either succeed together or fail together. That you’re not interested in power struggles and have no interest in assigning blame if things go badly. It’s going to be a truly collaborative partnership that both parties have to make work. This is the only option that allows for such a dynamic. [theathletic.com]
Over on ESPN+, Jeremy Fowler published a deep-dive look at Carson Wentz's struggle and where the Eagles go from here, with input from NFL executives from around the league. It was a very in-depth piece that covered a wide variety of topics, so we'll try to run through some of the best nuggets.
First, there's this report, which isn't all that surprising but still isn't the kind of thing you want to read about a guy playing a position where mental toughness is paramount.
Using a second-round pick on a former national champion in Hurts was a bold move by Philadelphia, and a source with knowledge of the Wentz-Eagles dynamic said Wentz was not exactly thrilled with the pick.
"All that ground he gained over Nick, everything he fought past to get to this point, you pull it right back," the source said. "Here is your franchise quarterback, the guy you paid a lot of money to keep long-term, and he's having to prove himself all over again." [espn.com]
Furthermore, Wentz shouldn't feel the need to "prove" himself. Not after that contract he signed last year. That's all the proof he needs that he's the Eagles' guy moving forward. That's because not only is the money large, but the contract is structured in a way that makes it almost impossible for the Birds to move on from him, even if they wanted to.
It would cost the Eagles a ridiculous dead-money hit of $59.2 million if they release him in 2021. They can spread that out if they designate him as a post-June 1 release, but the long and short of it is that this contract was done this way because when it was signed, they never envisioned a scenario in which they want to cut him within the first three years.
If they wait until 2022, the Eagles would get some relief, as that dead money would drop to $24.5. But still, that's a lot of money committed to a guy who is no longer on your roster and could be helping another team win (more on that in a minute).
"Otherwise, their options are really limited," one exec told Fowler. "They are stuck with him. They could ask him to take a pay cut, but that wouldn't save enough for the potential headache associated with that."
Another option for the Eagles would be to trade Wentz, but that's again almost impossible to do, as the Eagles would have to absorb a dead cap hit of $33.8 million. That number drops to the same $24.5 million cap hit as above if they wait until 2022 to trade him.
And trading Wentz would be the way to go for another reason. He'd actually have some decent value despite his recent struggles. Here's more from Fowler:
Multiple execs believe that Wentz, if available, would garner more interest on the market than any other available quarterback, save Dak Prescott. One NFC exec said that putting Wentz in a system that uses his mobility as a weapon would be critical.
"Get him on the move and simplify things for him with a lot of play-action, and he can thrive," the exec said.
One team that might make too much sense to ignore, according to another exec: the Colts, who could offer a reunion with Reich. ...
"I think he would be a borderline MVP candidate with Indy," an NFL personnel evaluator said of Wentz. [espn.com]
While most execs that Fowler spoke to believe the Eagles should roll with Wentz and work on shaping the offense to play to his strengths — moving the pocket, throwing on the run, etc. — and surrounding him with better talent, some think it's time for the Eagles to move on.
Looming large is Hurts. Many execs like him as a player but thought a second-round pick was a little rich for him. Giving him another year in the third-down, change-of-pace role could work.
One AFC exec who thinks the Eagles should find an exit strategy with Wentz as early as next year believes that perhaps the North Dakota State product isn't built for the big stage. From Steve McNair to Joe Flacco, many small-school signal-callers have had sustained NFL success. But Wentz never faced elite competition in college, so it has always been an uphill climb during his pro career.
"Maybe this is just who he is," the exec said. "To make some of these mistakes in Year 5 is a problem." [espn.com]
Speaking of Wentz and the guy who has him looking over his shoulder, Jalen Hurts, Zach Berman of The Athletic wrote about the Eagles' plan, or lack thereof, for their second-round pick.
This isn’t a column about benching Wentz or keeping him in the lineup. If the Eagles wanted to sit Wentz, they could have done so by now within reason. They’ve stuck with their franchise quarterback, and that’s their prerogative. But the lack of a plan for Hurts is jarring. Two plays in a game in which the Eagles scored in the single digits through 59 minutes during a three-game stretch when they’ve failed to exceed 17 points? That’s as many plays as offensive assistants/consultants they hired last offseason with “senior” in their titles. If these are the best ideas they’re using, what are the ideas they’re turning down?
And this isn’t an undrafted passer promoted from the practice squad. Hurts was their second-round pick — a valuable resource, especially during a period when draft capital has been scarce. The Eagles’ rationalization for the Hurts pick was that he could be a dynamic reserve for Wentz and even be mixed into some offensive packages. A compelling case could be made to either turn to the reserve or mix Hurts into packages. There’s more reason than ever to justify the selection.
If this is the best they can do at this point in the season, it speaks volumes about either the coaching staff or Hurts. Neither answer is promising for the Eagles. [theathletic.com]
If it's the former, that's on Doug, obviously. But if it's the latter, the blame has to go on Howie Roseman more than Hurts, right? After all, he was the one who thought taking a quarterback in the second round was such a great idea in the first place. His "Quarterback Factory" factory comment is looking worse and worse with each passing week.
We've talked about the coach and the quarterback, so it's only appropriate that we end this post talking about the general manager. We could break down the bad moves he's made in recent years — trades, free agent signings, draft picks — but instead, we'll let former Eagles quarterback Orlando Scandrick give his take. Here's what he had to say on FS1's "Undisputed," with a h/t to 94 WIP for the transcription.
“You can bench (Carson) Wentz, fire Dougie P, but you still got the same little weasel snake picking the players. He has been God awful," Scandrick said. "You say Wentz doesn’t have any help, well how is he supposed to have help if you draft J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf? Then we go to the offseason and we say ‘Wentz still doesn’t have any help', and we draft Jalen Reagor who was a punt returner. He was basically known for being a punt returner at TCU over (Justin) Jefferson. It is time to blow the whole thing up. Blow it all up. Enjoy the Super Bowl, give him his Super Bowl ring, give him all the little nice pats on the back, call him a nice Uber XL and get him on out of there.” [radio.com]
Scandrick, a former Cowboy as well, caught a lot of heat from Eagles fans when he appeared on "Undisputed" last year after being released and claimed that the Eagles were in trouble. This certainly feels like a victory lap.
If you need any further proof of how bizarre 2020 has been, here it is. Orlando Scandrick is actually making some sense. On a related note...
“About a year ago I came on here, I was called bitter, upset. But I was truthful,” Scandrick said. “You know what they say, they will forgive you for telling a lie, but they will hate you for telling the truth.” [radio.com]
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