September 24, 2020
Forget "Malcolm in the Middle" for the defense, something many Eagles fans believed would made a difference against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Eagles are stuck in the middle, trying to satiate a fan base with unrealistic expectations.
You'll never hear the "R-word" in Philadelphia. Rebuild is something for organizations whose standard is something less than gold.
So the plan for Howie Roseman seems to be straddling the fence in an effort to serve two masters, those who need hope on an annual basis and others who understand the cyclical nature of professional sports and conclude it's OK to take a step back every now and again as long as the end the game is two steps forward.
In the aftermath of the grief and agony of a season-ending playoff loss to Seattle back in January, Roseman seemed to be cognizant of what needed to be done.
The roster was too old and too expensive as the can was kicked down the road in an effort to squeeze one more Lombardi Trophy out of the nucleus that finally got it done for Philly.
It was time to turn the page.
“Going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team,” Roseman admitted without prodding.
“We have a lot to do going forward,” the GM explained at the time. “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. We didn’t have a lot of resources in terms of draft picks. That’s on me.”
To be fair to Roseman, his off-the-cuff assertion was a theme, not a hard-and-fast rule. That kind of thing always is. Every team in the NFL has expensive veteran players at all times, the good ones and the bad ones. But, that stated theme was clear and correct for Philadelphia.
The roster-building ethos had to change if only because Carson Wentz was coming off his cost-effective rookie deal and into his mega-extension, which looks more team-friendly by the day even with the signal caller off to the worst start of his career.
Before COVID-19 took its pound of flesh from society the Eagles declined their team option on the 32-year-old Malcolm Jenkins, refusing to guarantee money into 2021, and seemed to say goodbye to the 38-year-old Jason Peters.
Instead of five picks in the draft, the Eagles had 10 and stocked the back end of the roster by keeping everyone either on the 53-man, injured reserve, or the practice squad. At the premium level (Rounds 1 through 3) the Eagles went contributor (Jalen Reagor), luxury pick (Jalen Hurts), and project (Davion Taylor).
Roseman went after only one high-profile free agent, turning to the organizational default setting of building up front with Javon Hargrave after getting outbid for Byron Jones. From there it was only Walmart clearance-aisle options like Will Parks, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Jatavis Brown, with the GM even holding his nose at the $4 million-or-so it would have taken to get a competent backup running back like Carlos Hyde or Devonta Freeman.
The virus affected the plan greatly.
There would be no offseason to get the rookies and younger players up to speed. No preseason and a truncated training camp. When the coaches finally got to the NovaCare Complex, reality set in as did the injuries, starting back in June with a second Achilles' tear for Brandon Brooks.
Brooks' bad luck brought Peters back, ostensibly to move to right guard up until Andre Dillard, one of those young players who probably wasn't ready anyway due in part to COVID, went down with a torn biceps.
A ludicrous week of Peters holding up his "best friend" Jeffrey Lurie for a little more money to move back to a position he wanted to play anyway held up getting the younger pieces on the right side (Nate Herbig and rookie Jack Driscoll) practicing together for the season opener, resulting in a disastrous eight-sack performance against the Washington Football Team.
Other Band-Aids have defaulted to veterans like tight end Richard Rodgers at tight end and offensive lineman Jamon Brown.
The communication on the back end of the defense was exposed against the Rams without Jenkins and the goal to savvy observers has already been downgraded like a struggling stock from contender to winning a bad division.
Remember not only are the WFT and New York Giants bad, but the Dallas Cowboys also seem ripe to underachieve again and the NFL has expanded the playoffs with an extra wild-card team in each conference.
By Week 17, maybe Reagor has learned how to run routes after UCL surgery on his thumb, Nate Herbig continues his ascent as an interior O-Lineman, the defensive line starts to dominate and the back seven begins to get on the same page.
The fool's gold of a 9-7 division title or the seventh spot in the NFC should serve the one master that dominates talk radio and believes the Eagles always have the most talent in the NFL. The other is more important, however, and developing the younger players should be the only tangible goal moving forward.
Roseman should keep his January press conference on a loop if he needs the affirmation to stay strong.
"You have to let young players play," he surmised. "It’s natural for us to want to have a safety net at every position. We have to allow these young players to play and get some experience. Just the energy they injected into the team [last season] and obviously the production that they had.
"We have to balance that."
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at email@example.com
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