March 05, 2021
Long before the Eagles traded quarterback Carson Wentz and back before they fired Doug Pederson and replaced him with first-time coach Nick Sirianni — and even well before their disastrous 4-11-1 season unceremoniously came to an end at MetLife Stadium — there was a chorus chanting for the Eagles to tear it down and finally begin the rebuild that they've been putting off since winning the Super Bowl three years prior.
So when the team started making big changes at the top — like trading their former starting quarterback and firing their Super Bowl winning head coach — many naturally assumed that a full-blown rebuild would follow, with the team moving on from as many veterans as possible, especially the ones who were still under contract, as they could potentially be flipped for draft compensation that, if used correctly, could help accelerate said rebuild.
Even owner Jeffrey Lurie, on the day the team announced Doug Pederson's dismissal, admitted his team was in a "transition period," which is about as close as you'll get to hearing an owner use the word "rebuild." Lurie said this whole mess a result of the team knowingly making shortsighted decisions to try to maximize what they viewed as a window in which they could legitimately contend. But even then, that admission was hedged by Lurie also saying that he'd like to keep the team competitive in the short-term as well.
"I think we gained from the short-term decision-making but there was no stage where we weren't aware that a lot of those decisions and resource allocations and the lack of volume of draft picks wasn’t eventually going to create a real trough, a real transition period, and I think that's what we're in," Lurie said. "We're in a real transition period, and it's not unlike 2016. We have to retrench and rededicate and allocate resources to what can make us the best possible team in the mid-term, in the long term and hopefully compete in the short term because I think we can, but honestly, that's really where we're at."
Now, with less than two weeks before the new league year begins, it's time for Lurie — and his right hand, Howie Roseman — to back up that statement, by clearing out aging vets, trading what they can for draft picks, and turning the team over to young players as they try to identify their core for that next championship window, whenever that might be.
Unfortunately, it's easy to fall in the trap of holding on to too many veteran pieces, not for sentimental reasons (although that is certainly sometimes the case) but because committing to a rebuild is scary. You have to willingly trot out an inferior team and somehow identify in them the promise of better days. And it's often difficult to see that, so instead of fully committing to the rebuild, teams will only go halfway. That's always a mistake.
By the time they're ready to contend, it's often the moves they didn't make in the early stages of the process that come back to bite them.
So, will the Eagles avoid that common mistake? Or will they go all-in and do it right? To a certain extent, they won't have a choice, as they still need to trim $40 million just to get under the salary cap — not to mention that there are plenty of players on the roster who it won't be difficult to say goodbye to. The rest, however, will be up to Roseman and Lurie, and just how far they'll go depends on who you ask. That's where we'll start today's edition of What They're Saying...
Over at NBC Sports Philadelphia, analyst Chris Simms hopped on the Eagle Eye podcast with Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro to discuss the Herculean task ahead of the Eagles this offseason, calling it "the biggest rebuild in football right now." You can apparently count him among those who believe they need to blow the entire thing up.
“It’s maybe the biggest rebuild in football right now,” said Simms, NBC’s NFL analyst and former NFL quarterback. “There’s holes all over the roster.”
Simms, who co-hosts Pro Football Talk Live and the Unbuttoned podcast, spoke on the Eagle Eye podcast this week.
“I hate saying that. I have so much respect for that front office and the things they’ve done over the last decade and things like that,” he said. “But the way the salary cap is, all the older players, everything about the football team just says, ‘It needs to be blown up and we’ve got to start from scratch.’” [nbcsports.com]
Simms also spoke about who is to blame, and while he points some of the blame at Lurie, he clearly thinks the biggest culprit here are those dreaded half measures, with Roseman trying to patch things over like Merlin's roof in The Sword in the Stone.
Here's more from Simms:
“I don’t know who to blame here, maybe the owner’s involved in this too - but they let the shelf life of that Super Bowl team just go on a little too long,” he said. “And they kept trying to put little Band-Aids on it and it was like, ‘Oh no, the cut got too bad, that Band-Aid’s not big enough, let’s get another one. And it just fell out of control here.” [nbcsports.com]
If Simms expects a full-on rebuild, than that would logically suggest that this team is going to stink in 2021, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world as top draft picks are now a premium, especially if they opt to pass on drafting a quarterback this year and instead intend to revisit that option next offseason.
However, Simms also thinks the Eagles could be back to being good again as soon as 2022, which is probably a pipe dream at this point, but hey, the Eagles won the Super Bowl in Year 2 under Pederson, so...
“I don’t expect 2021 to be anything special,” Simms said. “I’m hoping to see things going in the right direction, and we can all see, ‘Ooh, this coach has something, like Kyle Shanahan out there with the San Francisco 49ers. His first year there they were 0-9 at one point, but the fans were kind of excited because every week, ‘Wow, look at these exciting plays and we’re exciting on offense and this is fun to watch.’
“That’s what I want to see in Year 1 and hopefully you can start to get the pieces that really fit the system and the guys that Nick Sirianni thinks, ‘Hey Howie, I like these kind of guys at receiver, I like these kind of guys on the offensive line, they fit my system,’ and then you can go, ‘Hey, 2022? Watch out and maybe we can start competing again and get back in the thick of things in the NFC and get back in the playoff picture.’ I don’t put that out of the realm of possibility at all.’” [nbcsports.com]
But then there's Mike Garafolo, who was talking about Jason Peters' comments on Good Morning Football on Thursday. The NFL Network reporter believes that the Eagles won't go all the way with their rebuild, instead calling it a "retool" a process that he believes actually began last offseason.
And while that's certainly true to an extent, Howie Roseman admitted in his year-end press conference this offseason that the team had every intention of competing in 2020, so much so that they abandoned their plan to get younger early in the offseason, instead opting to bring back some more veterans who they believed would be assets during a pandemic-shortened offseason.
That being said, they can't change the whole roster, so obviously some guys will stick around, including some select vets...
"Now you enter what Jason Peters said himself on GMFB this morning, an era of a sort of rebuild. But I'll say this, the Eagles are not going to do a complete teardown. This is not going to be like the Browns from a couple years ago, this is not going to be the Jaguars where all of the sudden they're just looking to compile as many picks as possible. I believe there's going to be an element of that, but I will also tell you that there are core players — Lane Johnson is one of them, Brandon Graham, who told The Athletic that he wants to stay — there are going to be those players that are going to stay because this team wants them there and wants to remain competitive as they retool, a process that really began last year when Howie Roseman admitted, 'Hey, we extended ourselves to win that Super Bowl, and to try to get back to doing it again. Now we've got to get back to restocking the cupboard.' You're going to see that certainly a little more here now that Carson Wentz is gone." [via yahoo.com]
Speaking of veterans returning for another season, Tommy Lawlor over at Iggles Blitz also makes the case for bringing back guys like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and others...
Young players need good veterans to learn from.
Players like BG, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce are important. They will help the Eagles compete on the field and they will help the young talent develop at the same time.
Brian Dawkins learned from Troy Vincent.
Brandon Graham learned from Trent Cole.
Jason Kelce learned from Evan Mathis.
Zach Ertz learned from Brent Celek.
Chuck Bednarik learned from Frank Gore.
As you can see, this stuff matters. [igglesblitz.com]
OK, I had to include that just for the joke, but on a more serious note, the Eagles likely won't be willing to undergo a full rebuild because, well, owners are typically super competitive people — there's a reason, aside from being born on third base, that most of them got to where they are — they don't like losing.
There is also the point that Jeff Lurie can handle rebuilding, but he can’t just throw out a completely hopeless team. Going through a 5 or 6 win season is very different than going 2-14 or 3-13. There is bad and then there is awful. Lurie knows he must keep some of his veterans to keep fans somewhat interested.
NFL teams just don’t tank. Fans and media sometimes think that is happening, but it isn’t. The 2019 Dolphins were awful early on and looked like they would have an embarrassing season. Brian Flores shed dead weight and gave young guys a chance to play. He and his staff got the most out of that team. After an 0-7 start, they went 5-4 down the stretch. That helped set the tone for 2020, when the team went 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs.
Barring a miracle, the Eagles won’t be good in 2021. Lurie needs them to be competitive and/or entertaining. If fans stop watching and stop caring, that’s a problem. And that’s why the Eagles need to make sure they keep some good veterans around. [igglesblitz.com]
It already looks like the Eagles are planning to bring Brandon Graham back, so it will be interesting to see what other veterans they return in 2021...
UPDATE: And now it's beginning to become a bit more clear. On Friday, not long after news came down that the team was looking to restructure Brandon Graham's contract, it was reported that the Birds were working on restructuring three other veterans: Darius Slay, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.
Could one of those returning vets be free-agent-to-be Jason Peters? The 18-year NFL vet told GMFB that he still has some left in the tank and would love to play another year to help mentor some young players, whether that's in Philly or elsewhere.
He also talked about the two players he was tasked with protecting this past season, Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts. Here's more:
Asked about the trade of Wentz to Indianapolis, coached by former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, Peters said: “I was surprised, but I wasn’t, like, super-surprised because when they benched him and put Jalen [Hurts] in, things went left. And I always encouraged him and told him, ‘Keep working; everything happens for a reason,’ and, like I said, I wasn’t crazy surprised when it happened, but any team that was gonna pick him up, I knew it was gonna be Frank Reich ‘cause when he was there, Frank had him running smooth. Super Bowl run, we went and got the trophy, and that was my deal on that.
“Carson is a great player. Nothing really went wrong on that. He was just in Philadelphia. It’s a hard city to play for, man. They’re critical of every play, inch, foot, year. You gotta bring it every year or Philadelphia will eat you up, man.”
Peters was complimentary toward Hurts.
“His leadership and his swagger” stood out, Peters said. “He comes to the huddle; he demands your eyes, your ears. He’s definitely ahead of his time as far as his leadership and his swagger.” [inquirer.com]
We'll stick with Hurts here for a second. This actually comes from the same clip as the Garafolo entry above, and it was immediately after he said about the Eagles needing to restock the cupboard.
Pelissero believes that the Eagles will add a veteran quarterback in free agency, but also sees a way in which Hurts remains the starter in 2021, largely because of the intangibles that Peters mentioned...
"The Eagles are taking the approach that everybody needs to compete as they start over with a new regime led by head coach Nick Sirianni. I would expect them to sign a veteran quarterback at some point through the course of free agency here, but there is absolutely a path for Jalen Hurts to be their starting quarterback in 2021. I heard Jason Peters talk about Hurts on Good Morning Football this morning, talking about him being ahead of the game in terms of his confidence, his swagger, saying that he demands your eyes and ears in the huddle. We got a glimpse of Hurts, certainly had some good moments, had some rookie moments as well in his first time out after replacing Carson Wentz down the stretch last season. The real question is also going to be who is protecting the quarterback, who is catching footballs for the Eagles — a lot of moving parts as they sort through some things from a roster and a salary cap perspective." [via yahoo.com]
We mentioned free agency a few times already, and there was some bad news for the Eagles on that front earlier this week. The Vikings decided to release veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will likely take at least one team out of the Zach Ertz trade market. That's never good, especially when Ertz is already coming off his worst season and would cost teams a considerable amount, both in salary and (the Eagles hope) in trade compensation.
While Rudolph, 31, is a full year older than Ertz, 30, the former Vikings tight end is now a free agent and wouldn’t cost trade compensation to acquire, making him notably more appealing to a team that is looking to hang onto draft picks.
Rudolph is also coming off a comparable season to Ertz, who is set to make $8 million on the final year of his contract. Rudolph caught 28 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in 12 games last season. Ertz caught 36 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown in 11 games last year.
Due to his age and production, Rudolph will undoubtedly cost less than Ertz would in trade, both in salary and additional compensation. If a team is looking for a veteran tight end, they are likely to turn toward Rudolph first, especially now that he will be available before the start of the new league year. [nj.com]
Finally, this isn't exactly abut the Eagles, but with free agency on the horizon, it's an important watch for all football fans.
The biggest lesson? NFL contracts are more of a suggestion than an actual contract. Yes, you read that correctly.
Last summer, Patrick Mahomes signed a record-breaking $503 million contract to stay with the Kansas City Chiefs. But how much of that money will he actually make? NFL contracts are notoriously convoluted, with few similarities to their NBA and MLB counterparts. NFL players rarely play the amount of years on their contract, and the amount of money listed in their contract is more often than not a guideline rather than a sure thing. So why does it work this way? The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz breaks down how NFL salaries actually work, navigating all the intricacies from guarantee mechanisms to non-guaranteed buckets. [theringer.com]
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