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July 14, 2023

Mailbag: Are the Cowboys or 49ers the Eagles' biggest threat to get back to the Super Bowl?

In a new mailbag, Jimmy Kempski answers Eagles fans' questions.

Eagles NFL
071323DakPrescott Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Nick Bosa and Dak Prescott

Earlier this week, we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter and Threads (shameless plug: follow me here). Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This will be Part I of a two-part mailbag. Let's just get right to it.

Question from @bagzyyy: Which team is the Eagles’ biggest threat in the NFC to get back to the Super Bowl?

For the bulk of the offseason I've been pretty convinced that the Cowboys are a bigger threat to the Eagles than the 49ers. Both teams have a bunch of star players, but in my opinion Dak Prescott has a decent chance of putting together comeback season while the 49ers have a below average quarterback situation.

Position Cowboys 49ers 
 Running back  ✔️ 
Wide receiver ✔️  
 Tight end ✔️ 
 Offensive line
 Edge rusher ✔️  
Interior DL  ✔️ 
Linebacker  ✔️ 
 Secondary ✔️  
 Coaching staff ✔️ 

However, in writing my dumpster fire series this year, the Cowboys edition was surprisingly easy to write. They have major concerns at head coach, offensive coordinator, and just the general depth on their roster. I also believe that their offensive line is a ticking time bomb that is primed to wreck their season if they don't do something between now and Week 1 to fix it. In past years I have found that if it's easy to write those dumpster fire posts, there's a good chance that team just isn't that great.

So I guess I'm back to thinking that it's the 49ers, which means that the second best team in the NFC is going to be quarterbacked by either Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, or Sam Darnold.

Question from @89tremaine: Besides injury, the most likely reason the Eagles don’t make the playoffs is _______?

It's pretty much just injuries.

Question from @strikevillain (via Threads): How has each previous MVP runner-up performed the following year?

Here's the list of MVP runner-ups, going back 10 years, not including 2022:

Year MVP runner-up 
2021 Tom Brady, Buccaneers 
2020 Josh Allen, Bills 
2019 None (Lamar Jackson got all 50 votes) 
2018 Drew Brees, Saints 
2017 Todd Gurley, Rams 
2016 Tom Brady, Patriots 
2015 Tom Brady, Patriots, and Carson Palmer, Cardinals 
2014 J.J. Watt, Texans 
2013 Tom Brady, Patriots 
2012 Peyton Manning, Broncos 

2021: Tom Brady, Buccaneers: Brady had a down year behind a makeshift offensive line while dealing with a divorce in his personal life. The Bucs won an awful NFC South and were easy picking for the Cowboys in the wildcard round.

2020: Josh Allen, Bills: In 2021, Allen threw 36 TDs vs. 15 INTs and ran for 763 yards and 6 TDs. The Bills went 11-6 during the regular season, they smashed the Patriots in the wildcard round, and then lost to the Chiefs in the divisional round in one of the craziest football games ever played.

2018: Drew Brees, Saints: In 2019, Brees threw 27 TDs vs. 4 INTs and completed 74.3 percent of his passes, despite missing five games in the first half of the season. The Saints went 13-3, but were one-and-done in the playoffs (overtime loss to the Vikings).

2017: Todd Gurley, Rams: I was reminded here that Gurley was actually the MVP runner-up, not Carson Wentz. Gurley was still a stud in 2018, rushing 256 times for 1251 yards and 17 TDs, while also chipping in 59 catches for 580 yards and 4 TDs.

2016: Tom Brady, Patriots: Brady and the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl in 2017, and lost.

2015: Tom Brady, Patriots and Carson Palmer, Cardinals: Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2016. Palmer threw 26 TDs vs. 14 INTs, and he posted a 6-8-1 record as the starter.

2014: J.J. Watt, Texans: Watt led the league with 17.5 sacks in 2015.

2013: Tom Brady, Patriots: Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2014.

2012: Peyton Manning, Broncos: Manning and the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl and lost to the Seahawks.

In conclusion, if you finish No. 2 in MVP voting, you're probably an elite player and there's a good chance you're going to have a good follow-up season.

Question from @StokesTheWriter: Who is the outgoing free agent the Eagles will most likely regret not re-signing? Isaac Seumalo could be a dark horse, in my opinion, seeing as his deal was $8 million per year and they'll be relying on a rookie or a center to play RG this season.

It took a while for the light to go on for Seumalo, but he quietly had a pair of really good seasons in 2021 and 2022, and yep, there's a good chance that the Eagles see a dropoff in play from him to whoever wins the starting RG job in training camp. Still, RG is by far the easiest position to play in the Eagles' offense sandwiched in between a Hall of Fame center and the best offensive lineman in the NFL at RT. 

The Eagles were certain to lose good players in free agency, and ultimately they were able to keep both starting cornerbacks while locking up the star quarterback long-term, which in my opinion was more important than retaining the RG. Would the Eagles liked to have kept Seumalo? Sure, and while $8 million doesn't look like an exorbitant figure on the surface, I think they were rightfully prudent to let Seumalo walk.

Question from @Eaglesindgest: Why has no one suggested Jack Driscoll at RG. It seems to be a two-person battle between Cam Jurgens and Tyler Steen.

I can't speak for what other reporters have or haven't said about Driscoll's chances of winning the starting RG spot, but certainly I've considered it. In my view, there are four things working against Driscoll:

  1. He had a down year in 2022.
  2. He's a better tackle than he is a guard.
  3. He's the top backup at both tackle spots at the moment, with not a lot of depth there otherwise.
  4. He's scheduled to become a free agent next offseason, and I would imagine he'll be eager to land with a team where he has a better chance to start, whereas Jurgens and Steen are ideally long-term answers along the offensive line. The team is always going to lean strongly toward playing guys here for the long haul over guys whose futures with the team are a little more in question.

Now, to be clear, if Jurgens and Steen both stink in camp, then sure, I think that opens up an opportunity for Driscoll to be the RG starter, but that's more of a worst-case scenario.

Question from Machplane: Assuming the Eagles are picking late in the next draft, what OT prospect that currently has a late 1st/early 2nd grade do you feel will be a good long term replacement (similar athletic profile, etc..) for Lane Johnson when he retires?

To begin, if there were one position that I would handicap the Eagles being the most likely to address with an early pick in the 2024 draft, it would be offensive tackle. As you're well aware if you follow the draft closely, the Eagles like to have succession plans in place a year early along the O-line. With Johnson having gone on record as saying that he would like to play two more seasons, it would make sense for the Eagles to select his replacement for 2025 and beyond. So I think your head is in the right place.

As far as who those offensive tackles will be, I'm not there yet. I'll start looking at college players when the college season begins, but the consensus preseason top guys are Olu Fashanu (Penn State), Joe Alt (Notre Dame), J.C. Latham (Alabama), and Kingsley Suamataia (BYU).

Fashanu reportedly got a first-round grade from the NFL, and very likely would have been a pretty high first-round pick if he entered the 2023 draft.

Question from @OfficeLinebacker: Good day, Jimmy. I’m enjoying the bike reviews, hope you are as well. Who do you think could be a surprise cut? Fletch, possibly?

Thanks! They've been fun to do.

There is a 0% chance they cut Fletch. His $10 million contract is fully guaranteed. But also, they have demonstrated over the last decade-plus that they love that guy.

Last year before the start of camp, I published an article naming the locks, near-locks, bubble players, and longshots. One "lock" got cut at 53-man cutdowns. That was Anthony Harris. Two "near-locks" also got cut. They were Davion Taylor and Jaquiski Tartt.

If I were to look at my locks and near-locks this year, it's really hard to make a case for any of the locks to get cut. Maybe Terrell Edmunds if he's just really bad? Among the "near-locks" I think the players most in danger of getting cut would be Grant Calcaterra, Nicholas Morrow, and K'Von Wallace. I'm not sure any of those would be super shocking on the level of a Fletcher Cox, for example, though.

Question from @PhillywannabGM: Will the Eagles make use of the practice squad call-up rules of the past few years post-COVID, and stuff 5 RBs onto the 53? With 2 years on the cheap, I would not like losing Sermon.

I'm unsure how practice squad call-up rules would increase the odds of the Eagles keeping five running backs. But that aside, no, I don't think the Eagles will keep five running backs. They usually keep four, and there have been times when they have only had three. With Rashaad Penny's injury history — and to a lesser degree D'Andre Swift's durability concerns — I think they'll keep four this year.

I do think that Boston Scott's value to the team decreased somewhat when the new kickoff rules passed. The Eagles are nearly certain to be a team that is happy to make fair catches on kickoffs and take the ball at the 25 yard line. Because of that rule change, all the Eagles need is a guy who can collect fair catches. Britain Covey can do that. So there is some opportunity for Sermon to make the roster, but if he can't beat out Scott in camp then let's be honest — he's not worth a spot on the 53.

I also think that the Eagles wouldn't have much difficulty bringing Sermon back on the practice squad if he got cut. Keep in mind that the Niners cut him in camp a year ago, and he got claimed by the team (the Eagles, duh) who were 19th in the waiver order. A lot of bad teams passed on claiming him. Since then, it's not as if Sermon has raised his stock. 

If Sermon crushes it in camp and in the preseason games, maybe he'll make the team. If he doesn't, there shouldn't be a line of teams eager to poach him.

Question from @andrewdeluxe (via Threads): Do you think the Eagles having one (paid) open training camp practice per year is the norm now? I missed the announcement initially and I don’t think tickets are available anymore. What is the reason for this? Secrecy?

I do think that only having one or two open practices per season is the now the norm. Secrecy could be part of it. But also, at the NovaCare Complex, they have three full football fields to practice on, plus some added space. At the Linc, it's one field (duh), and space is a little more limited. Personally, I'm fine with the cost. It's $10 per person, which goes to charity. And it does appear that tickets are still available.

Question from @ChipReiderson: Do you think Sirianni sticks with the pander t-shirts this season? Or does he go for more of a “it’s all business this season” vibe and go with a lot of polos and polar fleece?

I love that polar fleeces = "all business," lol, but it's kind of true in the NFL. And no, you can't just turn off the pandering. I think he likes it, it's part of his personality, and so far it has worked for him, so why stop? Coaches and players can have quirks and the fans will love it as long as the team is winning. Once the winning goes away, it's not so endearing anymore. It's kind of like being viewed as charming if you're good looking, but creepy if you're not:

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