January 17, 2020
The Philadelphia Eagles currently have four coaching vacancies to fill after parting ways with defensive line coach Phillip Daniels on Friday, but none is as important as the offensive coordinator position, which opened up last week when the team fired Mike Groh two years after he took over for now-Colts head coach Frank Reich.
There was some thought that the Eagles might bring back a familiar name like John DeFilippo or Pat Shurmur, but both of those guys have already been hired elsewhere. There's another school of thought that the team could keep the hire internal and promote either running backs coach Duce Staley or quarterbacks coach Press Taylor. There have been other position coaches rumored for the job, like Ravens QB coach James Urban, but it was recently announced that he'll be returning to Baltimore. Some believed the Eagles could dip into the college ranks and try to target LSU's Joe Brady, but he went to the Panthers earlier this week.
However, an interesting name surfaced on Friday suggesting the Eagles aren't done looking at college coaches as the potential 2020 offensive coordinator: USC's Graham Harrell.
The #Eagles are interviewing Southern Cal OC Graham Harrell for their OC vacancy today, NFL sources said.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) January 17, 2020
And that would be an interesting hire for several reasons, most notably that his age and that he came up under Mike Leach. And if you know anything about Leach's offenses, it's that they
like love to throw the ball. Here's more from McLane on the latest candidate to fill the Eagles OC vacancy:
Harrell oversaw the Trojans’ offense last season and was their quarterbacks coach. He previously was the offensive coordinator at North Texas for three seasons, and the wide receivers coach at Washington State for two years.
The 34-year-old former quarterback was a backup with the Packers from 2010-12 and with the New York Jets in 2013. After graduating from Texas Tech, Harrell played a season in the Canadian Football League and spent a year as a quality control coach at Oklahoma State under head coach Mike Gundy.
Harrell’s time under Mike Leach at Washington State was the most significant in terms of his offensive philosophy, however. He is of the “Air Raid” school, which greatly emphasizes passing the ball over running. [inquirer.com]
With Doug Pederson, another former Packers backup QB, calling the plays on offense, the Eagles already have an affinity for passing the ball, so it seems like Harrell would fit in perfectly. Maybe too perfectly? At least that's likely the case for anyone who was hoping to see the Eagles run the ball more in 2020.
Now, let's take a look at what else they're saying about the Eagles as the offseason starts to heat up...
At times, this Eagles season was hard to watch, but sometimes it's seasons like this that teach you the most about a group of players and coaches. And that certainly seems to be the case with the 2019 Eagles.
Over at NBC Sports Philadelphia, Reuben Frank broke down 10 things we learned about the Eagles, and it's a fascinating way to look back on a season in which so much went wrong for the Birds, who wound up winning the division anyway. In addition to the two listed below, this season taught us that Carson Wentz is clutch, the practice squad is actually important, the roster is too old (more on that in a minute) and the Eagles might've found something special in Miles Sanders.
But week in and week out in 2019, there were complaints about either the wide receivers or their defensive counterparts, and no matter who the Eagles hire to coach these two positions, they're going to need improved personnel if they hope to see a marked difference on the field in 2020...
4. They need receivers
The Eagles came into the season with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. Back then, we thought that was a pretty formidable group of receivers. We were wrong.
DeSean got hurt, Alshon and Nelly were bad before they got hurt, JJAW was a disappointment and Hollins played more than I’ve ever seen a receiver play without catching a pass. It all went bad. By the end of the season, the Eagles had their disappointing second-round pick playing alongside several guys who were on practice squads earlier in the season. Good for those guys, bad for the team.
And as you’ve probably heard a bunch by now, Wentz became the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4,000+ yards without a receiver over 500. It has become very clear the Eagles need to get receivers.
5. They need guys to stop receivers
It has also become clear the Eagles need to find cornerbacks to solidify their secondary. The Eagles in four seasons under Jim Schwartz have the NFL’s-best rush defense and the NFL’s 23rd-best pass defense. The Eagles had the 19th pass defense in the league in 2019 and they gave up more 40-yard pass plays (15) than all but one other NFL team.
They had more injuries at the position with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, and now both are set to become free agents. Meanwhile, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas haven’t developed the way second- and third-round picks probably should. It’s a big problem. [nbcsports.com]
Let's check back in with Jeff McLane — I actually had this one queued up before the Harrell news broke, and I didn't want to throw it out just for the sake of having only one section per writer — who tried to figure out why the Eagles have suddenly struggled to find consistency at cornerback, despite having one of the most consistent groups for well over a decade not all that long ago.
And now, with their two starters potentially on their way out the door in free agency, do the Eagles have an answer for what comes next?
The Eagles once had some consistency at the position. From 1996 to 2009, they had essentially just five starting outside cornerbacks. But in 10 years since, there have been a dozen, the number significantly higher when injuries are factored into the equation.
Poor drafts begat free-agent signings, from extravagant to economical, that haven’t solved the problem. The Eagles found a feasible tandem in recent seasons, enough to win a Super Bowl, if not in spite of, but Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills haven’t been reliable enough to guarantee their returns in 2020.
Both could leave via free agency this offseason. The Eagles had prepared for that eventuality. But recent draftees Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox, to a lesser extent, haven’t shown enough to be labeled obvious replacements. [inquirer.com]
Age may be a number, but it was certainly more than that for the Eagles in 2019. It was one of the reasons they struggled to stay healthy at so many positions this season. In his end-of-season address, Howie Roseman said flat out that the team needs to get younger — and it will as soon as the team uses its 10 draft picks — but that youth movement will likely come at the cost of many veterans, whether in free agency or otherwise.
Roseman said they viewed the 2017 through 2019 squads essentially as one team. With the Eagles' draft resources depleted by trades -- most notably, the one with Cleveland in 2016 that landed them quarterback Carson Wentz -- they stuck with most of their core guys and tried to supplement the roster by looking for value in the over-30 bin in NFL free agency.
The approach will shift now that Philadelphia's draft capital has been rebuilt. The Eagles are projected to have 10 picks in April's NFL draft, including the 21st overall pick, two third-round picks and three picks in Round 4. That haul will help Lurie reach his goal of getting his roster closer to the league average in terms of youth.
In order to make room for the next generation, the Eagles will have to part with members of the old guard. [espn.com]
One way the Eagles could find themselves getting younger is by losing players to retirement. Jason Peters is certainly a candidate for that, but in the immediate aftermath of the wild-card loss, he seemed optimistic about trying to play another season. There is a guy, however, two spots down from Peters on the offensive line that is a real candidate to retire this season despite the fact that he's still the best in the NFL at his position, and not only earned an All-Pro nod this season but was also graded as such by Pro Football Focus this season:
Center Jason Kelce
Word got out that Kelce, 32, was pondering retirement last offseason following a grueling, injury-filled year. He returned to have an All-Pro campaign in 2019, but questions about his future understandably came up as the season was winding down. "I mentioned it last year. This is something that goes through your head and has been for three or four years, so I don't want to say this offseason was any different at all [from the previous ones]," Kelce said. "The bottom line is I'm a Philadelphia Eagle. I'm playing until I'm not, and the only reason this ever got mentioned is because the media found out and leaked it." [espn.com]
Despite Roseman's desire to get younger, losing Kelce is probably not the ideal way to go about that. Isaac Seumalo has been developing nicely, but he's nowhere near the player Kelce is — and that's no slight on Seumalo.
Over at BGN, Brandon Gowton is running annual Stay or Go package and their most recent look was at the tight end position. Here's a look at Zach Ertz, who might be in line for an extension this offseason despite having two years left on his current deal.
Regular season stats: 932 snaps, 135 targets, 88 receptions, 916 yards, 10.4 average, 6 TD, ... 1 fumble
Playoff stats: 61 snaps, 4 targets, 2 receptions, 44 yards
Review: Ertz’s volume stats predictably took a dip in 2019 after he broke the NFL single-season reception record for tight ends in 2018. Still, Ertz had his second highest yardage total and his third highest touchdown total in 2019. He was Carson Wentz’s most reliable target once again. Ertz, ever the reliable chain mover, led the Eagles in first downs ... in addition to receptions of 20-plus yards. Ertz only missed one game despite suffering broken ribs and a lacerated kidney in Week 16. Pretty tough dude.
Outlook: A report emerged in mid-November stating that Ertz was one of three players with which the Eagles were having contract extension discussions. Ertz, who turns 30 in November, is currently under contract through 2021. It doesn’t seem like the Eagles should be in a rush to pay a player with two years remaining on his deal, especially when there’s a replacement waiting in the wings. From Ertz’s perspective, he has a case for a raise. Ertz currently ranks tied for sixth in annual salary. I’m guessing he feels like he should at least be in the top five. [bleedinggreennation.com]
You can check out Jimmy Kempski's take on the Eagles tight ends and our entire stay or go series below...