August 10, 2020
Veteran observers of the NFL generally subscribe to a core ethos when it comes to understanding a plan: don’t listen to what an organization says, watch what it does.
A backup defensive end on a bare-bones one-year deal isn’t typically indicative of much.
For the Eagles, however, bringing back the 32-year-old Vinny Curry signaled a few things, the most obvious being that 2020 is going to be the veteran-laden season that Doug Pederson foreshadowed back in the spring.
For the fan base, however, it highlights something far more meaningful, a realization that Howie Roseman has at least somewhat backtracked on his intimation that the championship window was closing and the organization needed to get younger.
“Going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team,” Roseman said unprompted back in January after the disappointing playoff setback to Seattle. “... When we look at our team from 2017 to 2019, we knew that we had one team. Really, a team that we were going to basically stick with.”
After back-to-back years with only five draft picks and Carson Wentz’s monster extension about to kick in, Roseman realized the plan had to shift, and that part of things came off unencumbered with 10 draft picks back in the spring but the sentiment behind it (a correct one by the way) was born pre-pandemic.
The Eagles have always believed three things put you in the mix for being championship contenders — strong offensive and defensive line play, as well as a top-tier quarterback.
Philadelphia certainly has the latter two parts of the equation, with Curry, who had a very solid season as a rotational player in 2019, only buttressing things up front for the defense. There are more question marks on the O-Line after Brandon Brooks’ Achilles’ injury and the move toward the largely unproven Andre Dillard at left tackle. But it’s clear Roseman believes he still has all three pieces to the puzzle and added some key complementary components.
Understand the DNA of the Eagles’ current setup traces back to Andy Reid in 1999, and the future Hall of Fame coach, who is coming off his elusive first Super Bowl win in Kansas City, once described it like this:
“I want two offensive tackles, a quarterback, two pass rushers, two corners, and I'll figure the rest out.”
That’s O-Line, QB, D-Line and the luxury being the cornerbacks.
Philadelphia was able to add the best CB in the Doug Pederson/Jim Schwartz era in the offseason with Darius Slay, and arguably the best slot option as well with Nickell Robey-Coleman. Furthermore, it’s almost inconceivable that the somewhat remade receiving corps can’t trump what went on last season, and the coaching staff is the strongest it’s been since at least Pederson’s first group after adding Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg to the offensive stew and giving Matt Burke more responsibility while bringing on Marquand Manuel on the defensive side.
Pre-pandemic Roseman did more than intimate a youth movement was coming, because he believed that’s the way it had to be. But with COVID-19 pulling the plug on any offseason, it certainly looks like that the timeline was extended.
Curry is just the latest example of that thesis, with Jason Peters serving as the most notable and substantial proof. The attempt to sign Carlos Hyde at running back instead of handing the baton to Boston Scott as Miles Sanders' backup is also supporting evidence.
“You know it's not the best situation,” veteran defensive end Brandon Graham admitted via Zoom on Sunday when asked about the impact of his friend coming back on the younger options. “... But I do believe that these guys just got to make that adjustment, come in ready to learn, learn that playbook because the whole thing right now is building that trust with the (coaching staff).”
With a typical offseason, maybe the Eagles let Matt Pryor play through some hiccups in an attempt to replace Brooks at right guard. They almost certainly would have built on what Scott gave them at the end of last season and bumped up Josh Sweat’s workload while rolling the dice on a cast of thousands on the edge (Genard Avery, Shareef Miller, Joe Ostman, Casey Toohill) to handle the vapors of the rotational snaps at DE.
Instead, Roseman has surveyed the mess that is the NFC East — with three new head coaches in the other cities working with no grass time in the offseason — and has envisioned a clear and obvious path to the playoffs.
Once you’re in the dance, anything can happen. And the GM has defaulted to the old standbys while kicking the can down the road one more time.
More so, with 16 practice squad spots, up from the expected to 12, due to the pandemic, Roseman should also be able to keep most of his younger players by essentially redshirting them while pressing for a second Lombardi Trophy.
"I think, yes it's a messed-up situation but it is what it is," said Graham acknowledging the young players will not have much of an opportunity to open eyes. "You've got to go out there and prove yourself every day in practice because now you don't have no preseason games, and there are no excuses because I feel like whatever is coming to you [is] gonna come as long as you keep a good attitude and a good spirit and control what you can control.
“That's my message to the young guys coming in. Don't worry about all that. Just go out there and prove yourself every day, and keep that attitude.”
If you want to play Devil’s advocate and ask, ‘Why not Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue or Everson Griffen instead of Curry if you believe you’re that close to being a contender?" Familiarity is a part of that the answer, sure, but it’s even simpler than that:
Here are the teams in the worst cap shape in 2021 if there is a $175M cap (includes current cap as carryover)— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) August 9, 2020
1. Saints- -$70M
2. Eagles- -$67M
3. Falcons- -$39M
4. Steelers- -$17M
5. Raiders- -$15M
6. Chiefs- -$14M
7. Texans -$4M
8. Bears- $1M
9. Vikings- $2M
10. Cowboys- $2M
The Eagles still aren't the Saints or 49ers on paper. All of a sudden, however, that kind of pie-in-the-sky projection is worth discussing.
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John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for PhillyVoice and SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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