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October 18, 2019

Mailbag: Are the Eagles headed toward a rebuild in the not-too-distant future?

In our Eagles chat on Wednesday there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow.

A slew of questions from LostInChiTown: Since none of my questions posted, welcome to the Lighting Round!

1) Are the Eagles on the Falcons' failed path to a rebuild? Your year-by-year obituary of them looked a lot like the Eagles since our Superbowl.

2) Any advanced metric on pocket size? I feel like even when he's not pressured, Carson doesn't have room to move/step into throws. Any data to back up the eye test telling me the OL is under performing?

3) Is the compressed passing attack a byproduct of purposeful roster building rooted in analytics? Doug, Carson, Groh all stress 3rd down and red zone as the money downs/situations. Two TE, big WR, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside instead of speed, etc. The team does excel in those situations, but realllly lacks speed.

4) Eagles have actually weathered injuries well again - what, 4 top CB, 2 DTs, a top WR and OT all injured, plus the game-to-game stuff? However, OL and DL are aging. How does Howie add youth there, quality at DB and speed at WR quickly enough to remain competitive? The old guy strategy is fine for role players like a 3rd safety, but it obviously doesn't work everywhere.

5) I saw someone else ask about Reich vs. Pederson, but it's obvious that Groh is a massive downgrade there, right? Does Pederson need a great offensive mind? Team really hasn't looked the same since Reich left.

I'll answer all five of these.

1) I like where your head is at. The same thought occurred to me when I wrote the Falcons' obituary earlier this week. I'll save you all the click:

• 2016: They made it to the Super Bowl, and led 28-3 mid-way through the third quarter. And then, we all saw what happened.

• 2017: They still had a strong roster, made the playoffs with a 10-6 record, won a road playoff game, and went toe-to-toe with the eventual champs before a pass to Julio Jones in the closing seconds fell harmlessly to the turf. But clearly, their offense wasn't the same powerhouse as it was the year before.

• 2018: It starts to really fall apart, as the Falcons experience some injuries, and can't overcome them. They begin their season at 4-9, but a three-game winning streak to close the season only provides false hope for 2019.

• 2019: Six games into the season, they're already dead.

The Falcons have been one of the oldest teams in the league for half a decade, and in the three-year span from 2016-2018, they only made 18 picks in the draft. Similarly, the Eagles are now the second-oldest team in the league (behind only the Patriots), and in the three-year span from 2017-2019, they too only drafted 18 players.

Here is where the two teams differ, in my view:

  1. The Eagles won their Super Bowl, so if they are the second-coming of the Falcons, at least they made the most of their golden opportunity.
  2. I'm not there on the "It starts to really fall apart" year yet. This Eagles team is still good, in my view. They're not going to start this season at 4-9, for example, like the Falcons did in 2018. I still believe that 10-6 is a reasonable expectation, and they should win the division.
  3. Carson Wentz is a lot younger and more talented than the current version of Matt Ryan.
  4. The Eagles' roster construction remains sound. They prioritize quarterback, offensive tackle, the defensive line, and to a lesser degree, cornerback and wide receiver. All of those positions have been addressed early in the draft since Howie Roseman reemerged from his basement hideout in 2016. I think that philosophical approach to roster building will keep them competitive, even if they have missed badly at CB and WR.

Still, the team cannot continue to make a small number of draft picks anymore, or they run a serious risk of a major rebuild in a few years, like the Falcons will probably have to do beginning this offseason. And maybe they're a cautionary tale when it comes time to adding talent at the trade deadline. If you're going to acquire players, acquire guys who fit with what you do long-term. No more Golden Tates.

2) Yes, indeed I have noticed that Wentz is often unable to step into throws. I think the two games that were the best examples of this were against the Falcons when Isaac Seumalo just didn't block anybody, and this past weekend against the Vikings. And it hasn't mattered. Wentz has still delivered on-target throws.

But I don't think it's a matter of the offensive line crumbling. To me, it was more of one player getting destroyed all game, and then a team with a great pass rush got a big lead on them and just pinned their ears back and went full-blast after the QB.

3) I really can't say whether that's a product of their analytics or not (they keep all that stuff super-close to the vest), but yes, they have built a very slow offense that, between the 20's, is boring and sometimes tough to watch, though as you noted, they do get the job done in the money zone. The offense is completely changed for the better with a healthy DeSean Jackson, but again, maybe it was unwise to completely rely on him as their lone field-stretching option, especially given his history of injuries.

4) They're not fixing everything, in-season. They're going to have to determine which positions need the most attention, and address them. I'd rank them like this:

  1. Some kind of additional pass rusher, whether that be on the edge or the interior
  2. Speed WR, if DeSean isn't coming back anytime soon.
  3. Corner
  4. Speed WR, if there's realistic hope that DeSean is returning soon, and it's not a situation in which he's likely to re-aggravate his injury.

5) Reich, in my view, is already one of the best head coaches in the league, much less coordinator. So yes, I think you're on solid ground in considering Groh a massive downgrade. As for the Doug part of your question, I think he's really good, but like anyone in any profession, he could benefit from someone working alongside him who has great ideas, like Reich. I think Jay Gruden would make a lot of sense as a guy who can bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas to the table. 

OK, so that wasn't exactly a "lightning round."

Question from SPQR13: Are the Eagles approaching "blow it up" territory?

What? They won a Super Bowl 20 months ago, and they made it to the divisional round of the playoffs with a chance to win it in the fourth quarter last season. But also, what does "blow it up" even mean? Are they going to start trading their best players for draft picks? No, they're nowhere close to doing that. They're 3-3, not 0-6.

Question from Hinkie: Would you have made the Jalen Ramsey deal if you were the Eagles' GM?

There are good arguments on both sides, and it's way more than I would have liked to have paid, but I've landed on yes, I'd have done it. He's 25, and he's an elite player at an important position that severely lacks elite players. For example, how many elite receivers are there in the league today? 10? How many elite corners are there? Two? Three? Maybe four?

Question from Bob: While the offense could arguably be "fixed" with an infusion of speed and more consistency, are we close to looking at a total rebuild on the defensive side of the ball?

Fair question, for sure. Looking at the defense, how many players can you really feel good about in the long-term? I think Fletcher Cox will rebound at some point, and I while I know some are down on Derek Barnett, I would include him. Maybe Avonte Maddox as well? Beyond them, who can you really envision starting on this defense, in, say, 2021?

Question from Highly Irritated: During the draft, it was generally thought that the Eagles were going to be drafting speed. In the 2nd round, the Chiefs traded up just ahead of the Eagles to select speedy Mecole Hardman. Do you think Hardman was the Eagles' actual target and JJAW was selected just as consolation?

I can't say if the Eagles were targeting Hardman, but I do know that they tried to trade out of that spot to gain more picks, and when there weren't any suitable offers they just took J.J.

Question from Hinkie: If the Eagles win this weekend, Jason Garrett is done right? It will be a sad day, if true.

Hm, the last coach Jerry Jones fired was in-season. That would be Wade Phillips, who went 1-7 in 2010, and was replaced by Garrett. At the time though, Garrett was a hot head coaching name, so I think they thought of him as a long-term replacement. I'm not sure a long-term replacement is on their staff currently, so I think they'd just ride it out a while longer with Garrett. The guess here is that if they fired Garrett, defensive backs coach (and quasi-DC) Kris Richard would become the interim coach?

But yes, the Eagles should be thankful that the other NFC East teams have had some pretty crappy coaches in recent years, and it'll be a bad day for them whenever Jerry realizes that Garrett isn't the guy he should be hitching his wagon to.

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