January 07, 2021
It’s time to tank the tanking talk when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like a Band-Aid on a broken leg, focusing on something dozens of other teams have done over the years because a 6-10 major market team is morally outraged is obscuring the real issues in Philadelphia, which are both significant and many.
It starts with the quarterback and the decision of football vs. finances. From there, it moves on to everything from the new defensive coordinator, the potential for other coaching staff tweaks, and then the biggest hurdle of them all, restocking the cupboard at One NovaCare Way when it comes to personnel.
Two of the Eagles' team leaders — Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham — tried to turn the page Wednesday by dousing the accelerant Miles Sanders threw onto the smoldering embers of something Sam Hinkie might describe as trying way too hard when the second-year running back was talking with SportsRadio 94 WIP earlier in the week.
“Man, if I’m being honest, nobody liked the decision, nobody,” said Sanders when discussing the move from rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts to Nate Sudfeld in-game in what turned out to be a 20-14 loss to the Washington Football Team. “That’s all I can say, really. I don’t know who was the main person behind that decision, all I know is that a lot of people on the team was confused.”
So what exactly happened here?
Here’s what we’ve been able to piece together:
The main person behind the decision was indeed head coach Doug Pederson and it was absolutely pre-planned.
Hurts himself wasn’t confused and admitted to PhillyVoice after the game that Sudfeld entering at some point was the plan, although he noted that as a competitor he would have liked to stay in the game. Graham also said he was aware Sudfeld would be playing at some point at virtual cleanout day on Monday and reiterated that again on Wednesday with WIP.
Behind the scenes, there was no neon sign flashing telling everyone that Sudfeld would be playing at some point, but it certainly wasn’t a secret to most of the players and was crystal clear to those paying attention at practice or even the pre-game warmups. By game-time, most reporters were aware that Sudfeld would be given some time under center.
Many players, in fact, had wished Sudfeld good luck with his opportunity which was considered important for a fifth-year player who has only been on the field sparingly and was trying to earn his next contract, be it here or in another NFL city.
Pederson himself told the NBC Sunday Night Football Crew in the weekly production meeting that some Sudfeld was on the docket and the coach maintained the goal was to win the football game throughout the session.
The disconnect was the timing.
With the WFT having everything to play for and the Eagles jockeying between Nos. 6 and 9 in April's draft, depending on loss vs. win and needing to utilize Matt Pryor and Brett Toth to block Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the thought for many was that Sudfeld would arrive for clean-up duty.
Instead, the Indiana University product was given the opportunity to win the game at the expense of Hurts, a player the Eagles want and perhaps need to develop in the shadow of all the issues surrounding Carson Wentz.
Then came the Philadelphia Inquirer report where a pair of defenders were described as trying to get to Pederson and Kelce actually confronting the coach about the change.
When Kelce, a team leader, didn’t speak on Monday’s virtual locker-room cleanout day, it only further fueled speculation that the All-Pro shut down on Wednesday via Instagram with a detailed explanation of what went down.
“Thought I would clear the air just to clarify and more accurately depict what happened during the game on Sunday,” Kelce started. “At the end of the third quarter I was told on the bench that Sudfeld was going into the game. I went up to Doug and asked him if he was taking Hurts out, he said 'yes, I think Nate’s earned the right to play,' I said 'everyone else is staying in?,' he said 'absolutely'.
“I then went to find Suddy. Started taking snaps on the sideline with him, called the other linemen over and had them listen to his snap count to make sure everyone was on the rhythm of his cadence, and then went out for the next drive.”
Kelce further explained none of this was confrontational between him and Pederson and simply designed to help the team prepare for the change.
“At no point was anything from me or anyone else confrontational,” Kelce wrote. “We all knew leading into the game that Sudfeld was told to be ready to play, and that Doug wanted to see what he could do in a game situation.”
Sudfeld has been portrayed poorly by others outside the organization and Kelce also made sure to endorse the long-time backup.
“All of us during the week leading up were excited for Nate, a guy that has been with us for 4 years to get an opportunity in a real game to show the world what he can do,” noted Kelce. “We all have complete confidence in Nate as a player, there’s a reason he’s been here this long, and a reason the team brought him back. And that’s because we feel like Nate is a guy we can win with.”
Graham offered a similar sentiment Monday.
“I’m always happy when a guy gets an opportunity to go out there. I knew Nate was going to be playing in this game,” said the Pro Bowl defensive end. “I couldn’t wait to see him because I know it’s been a minute. Normally we get to see him in preseason games, but didn’t have the luxury of doing it. I was happy to see Nate in there.”
Kelce, however, did admit the optics of the whole situation weren’t the best and he thought Pederson may have revisited the pre-game decision when it was clear the Eagles remained in the football game.
“I understand the optics of how it looked, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little surprised given the circumstances that the move happened when it did, but every one of us did our best, and all of us believe we can win with Nate Sudfeld,” said Kelce. “It was difficult situation to be put into, especially when you have a 10-year veteran center who doesn’t snap the ball to you accurately on your second drive of the game.
“I know we can win games with Nate, because I know Suddy can play, it didn’t work out on Sunday, but as always, that’s not just on him.”
In all honesty, Kelce helped create those optics with an impassioned soliloquy last month on always playing to win.
"I think at all times in the NFL, the focus should be winning the football game," Kelce said. "Nothing else takes precedence, no player evaluation, no amount of curiosity from anybody within the organization. Everything is focused, in my opinion in this league, about winning games."
That remains the sentiment you always want from players and Kelce, Graham, Zach Ertz and Darius Slay were some of the veterans who never stopped swinging.
Others have different job descriptions, however, and Pederson is one of them. He wanted to win with certain restrictions built-in.
Semantics can be a powerful thing but context always matters.
And now that we’re done that, it’s on to more pressing matters like what to do with Wentz.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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