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June 08, 2021

What they're saying: Cox's control over Eagles, Howie's successful 2018 draft and Gannon's scheme

Eagles NFL
3_01052020_EaglesvsSeahawks_Fletcher_Cox_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

The Eagles offseason continues this week with even more practices and team meetings, as well as Zoom press conferences with the team's new (and some old) assistant coaches. 

We'll have more on that as we go through today's edition of What They're Saying, but first let's dive right in with the big story so far this week, which came from Jeff McLane of the Inquirer and calls into question not only the work ethic, but also the influence of one of the team's star players.

Cox in control?

Jeff McLane |

On Monday, McLane published a lengthy story about Eagles veteran defensive tackle and team captain Fletcher Cox, who is suddenly on the wrong side of 30 and has left some inside the building concerned with his desire to remain one of the team's best players. 

"There was a feeling among some coaches, however, that Cox wasn’t maximizing his ability over that span, or taking the necessary preventative steps in terms of his health, team sources said," McLane wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "And there is an internal concern that he won’t take the extra steps as he enters his 30s to retire in Philadelphia."

That was obviously one of the big takeaways from the story, but it wasn't the one that struck me most. That came later when McLane revealed the influence that Cox has over the team's decision-makers. 

The Eagles, of course, aren’t alone among NFL teams in favoring franchise cornerstones. But Roseman’s emotional attachments and favoritism, sources said, have led to player power beyond the expected norms. And Cox, to no surprise, took advantage.

“Howie basically checks everything related to the defensive line with Fletcher to make sure it’s OK first,” a team source said. “So that has often led to certain people getting jobs, and in some cases, the same losing them.”

The Eagles and Cox, through a team spokesperson, declined to comment on the various claims made in this story.

Cox isn’t the lone reason why the Eagles have had four defensive line coaches since 2016. There have been myriad factors, more recently the hiring of a new head coach. But the defensive tackle’s sentiments did play a role in the departures of two assistants, team sources said.  []

So, why does that seem more important than some staffers questioning Cox's work ethic and ability to remain at the top of his game? Well, for starters, the questions about Cox would be indicative of a personal failure, while what's described in the pull quote above and the paragraphs that follow in McLane's story is a total organizational failure, one where Roseman's getting told what to do by a player. It's fine if Roseman wants to be friendly with some players, but he can't let that blind him to other issues that need to be addressed. And I don't blame Cox for taking advantage of the situation. The conditioning part? Sure, that's on Cox. But the other stuff? That's on Howie.

Either way, it didn't seem like Cox was a fan of the story... 

Hindsight is 2018

Dane Brugler | The Athletic

Speaking of Howie, he's taken a lot of flack in recent years for draft misses. Which is why it was somewhat interesting to see The Athletic rank his 2018 draft class in the top half of the NFL. But it's better than it sounds when you consider that not only did the Eagles not have any first- or third-round picks, but they only had five total. And all five are still on the Eagles roster, including a couple key contributors, which is something no other team can claim. 

Here's a look at Howie's five picks that year:

• TE Dallas Goedert | Round 2 (49)
• CB Avonte Maddox | Round 4 (125)
• DE Josh Sweat | Round 4 (130)
• OL Matt Pryor | Round 6 (206)
• OT Jordan Mailata | Round 7 (233)

Given that we now have three years of seeing these guys play (and in some cases not play) in the NFL, the rankings are much more accurate than the ones that came out in the hours and days following that 2018 Draft. And Howie's picks, according to Dane Brugler, held up pretty well for the most part. 

13. Philadelphia Eagles

Best player: Dallas Goedert

Despite being stuck in the shadow of Zach Ertz, Goedert has been productive in a supporting role as one of only 10 tight ends with 130-plus catches and 12-plus touchdowns over the last three seasons. With Ertz likely on his way out, Goedert will see his target share and role expand, which could put him in line for a rewarding extension.

Best value (outside the first round): Jordan Mailata

A native of Australia, Mailata was a professional rugby player before moving to the United States and trying out for NFL teams. The Eagles took a flyer on him in the seventh round, and after missing almost all of his first two seasons, he saw significant reps in 2020 filling in for the injured Jason Peters. Mailata improved significantly late in the season and is in position to earn Philadelphia’s starting left tackle job.

Biggest miss: Matt Pryor

The Eagles are the only team with all of their 2018 draft picks still on the roster. Pryor has outplayed most of the sixth-round picks from his class, and had double-digit starts last season at guard. However, he played closer to replacement level than starter level. If there has to be a “miss” from the Eagles’ class, he is the pick.  []

Finishing 13th isn't exactly something you'd write home about, but in a year with very limited picks, Howie's hit rate quite a bit higher than average. 

Worst to first?

Adam Schein |

While we're on the subject of rankings, let's take a look at how's Adam Schein feels about the Eagles chances at going from worst to first in their division this year. He ranked all eight bottom dwellers by their chances of winning their respective divisions in 2021, and he doesn't quite think the Eagles are ready to make that jump. 

6. Philadelphia Eagles

NFC East · 2020 record: 4-11-1

I don't think the Eagles are very good, but the NFC East is objectively bad. So maybe I have Philly a little low on this list -- especially considering I'm more of a believer in Jalen Hurts than many other folks in this industry. I love DeVonta Smith, too, and think he will be a star right away. So, what's the problem?

Well, I'm concerned about ... um ... everything else. From a snake-bitten offensive line to a defense riddled with holes in the back seven. I know new coach Nick Sirianni loves rock-paper-scissors, but don't know much about his potential as a head man.  []

It all comes down to Hurts

John Stolnis | Bleeding Green Nation

If the Eagles do plan on winning their division this season, it's going to have to be Jalen Hurts who gets them there, according to Bleeding Green Nation's John Stolnis. On Tuesday, he wrote that there's a blueprint for the young QB to follow: Donovan McNabb's 2000 season. 

McNabb almost single-handedly took the Eagles to an 11-5 record and finished runner-up in the MVP voting that year, second only to Marshall Faulk, who ran for an insane 26 touchdowns that season. McNabb had 3,365 passing yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, completed 58.0% of his passes, and also rushed for 629 yards with 6 scores on the ground. Those wouldn’t be tremendous numbers by today’s standards, but in 2000, they were quite good. And it wasn’t just the production on the back of the football cards. McNabb carried the Eagles to numerous victories throughout the season, many times with his legs. He quickly became one of the most dynamic forces in the NFL, as evidenced by his second-place finish in the MVP vote.

Will Hurts have the same kind of impact? It’s hard to predict Jalen finishing runner-up in the MVP vote in his first full season, and it would be unfair to expect it. Still, Hurts has talent. Anyone with eyes who watched the end of the season can see the glimpses are there, glimpses we saw in Donovan McNabb in his rookie season. And while Hurts was not drafted nearly as high as McNabb was, the path to Hurts becoming a franchise quarterback is certainly right in front of him.

The defense is not going to carry the 2021 Eagles. Nor will the running game, nor the receiving corps. If the Eagles are going to challenge for the division title, Jalen Hurts is going to have to become something close to what McNabb was in his first full season as the team’s starter. He’s going to have to become a force in the NFL, someone who beats teams with his legs and his arms and makes his teammates better.  []

Gannon's scheme still a mystery

Zach Berman | The Athletic

Much of the conversation this offseason has focused on the Eagles offense — and for good reason. But what about their defense? What kind of scheme will new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon run in his first season? As it turns out, not even he knows that yet. 

“When I got here, I didn’t drop a book on the table and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re running.’ If you actually ask the head coach, when we first talked about this when he interviewed me, it was, ‘Hey, what scheme are you going to run?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a scheme,’” Gannon said. “And I believe that you have to be adaptable. But the first thing is we’ve got to figure out what our players can do, and then we’ve got to put them in those situations as much as possible to utilize their strengths. The main thing for us is it’s not what we play, it’s how we play. And if you asked our players that, I think they know that from the jump as far as we’re going to run to the ball, we’re going to outhit people, we’re going to take it away, and we’re going to be smart. Those four things: hustle, intensity, take away, smart. The acronym for that is the ‘HITS’ principle, and that’s what we’re going to hold our hat on.”

His point has merit, and a coach should adapt to a team’s personnel. Of course, the Eagles signed Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson for a reason. They’re good players, but they also have experience in the Vikings defense that is expected to be a big part of the scheme Gannon implements in Philadelphia. (Gannon is a former assistant under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.) Based on some of the early indications and roster decisions, look for the Eagles to implement a stand-up pass rusher at times in their defense and utilize a nose tackle more than they did under Jim Schwartz. The Eagles could use more two-deep safety looks compared to a single-high safety that was preferred with Schwartz.

A big question remaining is how much zone the Eagles play compared to man-to-man defense. If you remember, the Eagles acquired Darius Slay with the intention of emphasizing man coverage. (Interestingly, the Eagles were in zone on 55.6 percent of passing plays last season, per Pro Football Focus.)

“As far as the man and zone thing, that’s going to be predicated by who we have and who we’re playing,” Gannon said. “So I believe in playing different styles of defense. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I think, and we’re going to figure out. … But once we get into training camp, we’re really going to evaluate: ‘Hey, what can our guys do?’ That’s the first part of it. And from there, who are we playing, and what do we have to stop?”  []

So the scheme is going to depend on who you have? Does that mean there could be more additions on the way? Steven Nelson is still available, just sayin... 

More important (and realistically) is going to be the impact this will have on Darius Slay. Following a quiet year in 2020, perhaps he can return to form this season in a new-look defense. 

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