More Sports:

March 13, 2023

Mailbag: Should the Eagles be content with an average defense and go all-in on offense?

The Eagles are losing key pieces on defense this offseason. Does it make sense for them to build their team entirely around an elite offense?

Eagles NFL
031323EaglesOffense Patrick Breen/USA TODAY NETWORK

Should the Eagles just keep adding to their already potent offense at the expense of the defense?

Last week we solicited questions for an Eagles mailbag via Twitter. Thank you as always for doing half the work for me. This is Part II of a two-part mailbag (Part I here).

Question from Footba11Joe: Eagles had a top 6 defense (DVOA) and it didn't matter in the Super Bowl. Why not go all out in the draft to attain the No. 1 offense by drafting a TE like Darnell Washington and a RB like Bijan Robinson. The Chiefs won it all with the 17th defense; why not replicate that?

If Bijan Robinson is there at pick 30, then sure, go get that guy. But at 10, no way. While he may be a player who can be impactful in the short term, there's just no justification for drafting a running back that high when the long-term positional value is so obviously poor.

In regard to replicating other teams' successes, I love the following answer from Howie Roseman: 

There are so many different ways to win in the NFL, and the truly elite franchises are the ones that find their own path. As Roseman notes, if you're trying to be some other team, you're going to be a step behind. (Also, you can try to replicate the Chiefs all you want, but there's only one Patrick Mahomes.)

But even if we're looking at the most recent game result (which, again, I don't think is good way to formulate an offseason plan), the defense is what failed them in the Super Bowl. The Eagles hadn't faced a top tier quarterback all season and when tasked with trying to slow down Mahomes and Andy Reid, Jonathan Gannon and the Eagles defense failed pretty miserably, looking completely helpless in the second half.

The Eagles' offense is already pretty loaded and often looked unstoppable in 2022. Assuming Jason Kelce decides to continue to play, the offense will be returning almost everyone. There's room for improvement at slot receiver and running back, but I would be shocked if the team made an offensive skill position selection at pick No. 10. 

Question from @daruz51: Why can’t Kenny Gainwell step up and be the lead back next season? Seems like the Eagles won’t even give him a shot.

The Eagles have given Gainwell opportunities. For the first year and a half of his career, he was a somewhat disappointing player, but Nick Sirianni and the coaching staff stuck with him in his role as a third down back and Gainwell rewarded that patience by producing down the stretch last season.

As far as being the "lead back," I'll assume you mean making him the primary early down back in addition to his third down role. I don't think it's realistic to count on him as a three-down back.

Miles Sanders had 259 regular season carries last season, which was the eighth-most in the NFL, and even he wasn't even a three-down back. The top ten backs in terms of carries, and their respective weights: 

Running back Carries Weight 
Derrick Henry, Titans 349 247 
Josh Jacobs, Raiders 340 220 
Nick Chubb, Browns 302 227 
Saquon Barkley, Giants 295 232 
Najee Harris, Steelers 272 232 
Dalvin Cook, Vikings 264 210 
Jamaal Williams, Lions 262 224 
Miles Sanders, Eagles 259 211 
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers 244 205 
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys 231 228 

The three lightest players on that list — Sanders, Cook, and McCaffrey — had rare healthy seasons in 2022. The rest are all at least 220 pounds. 

Gainwell is 5'9, 200. He has a 121 career carries in the NFL, and just 235 career carries in college. While the Eagles can perhaps grow his role some in 2023, there's no evidence that points to him being able to take on the physical workload of a three-down back in the NFL. 

Question from @TaeKwonTyler: How confident are you that there is enough youth on the defensive line to take over for aging Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham? I expect Milton Williams and Jordan Davis to play significantly more snaps next year. Do they need to draft a first-round defensive lineman or are do they have enough?

Here's what their depth chart looked like to close out the season (free agents bolded in red):

LDE Brandon Graham   
DT Fletcher Cox Milton Williams 
NT Linval Joseph Jordan Davis  
DT Javon Hargrave Ndamukong Suh 
RDE Josh Sweat Robert Quinn 
SAM Haason Reddick Patrick Johnson Kyron Johnson 

Having Reddick, Sweat, and Graham in place as an edge rushing trio is a great start to rebuilding the defense. They're fine on the edge in the short term. They'll also be getting Derek Barnett and Janarius Robinson back from injured reserve for depth.

On the interior, Joseph, Suh, and Quinn are pretty much all goners. If Hargrave and Cox also leave, that makes five contributing interior defensive line players the Eagles will be losing (#math). I expect Williams to have a bigger role in 2023, and I think he'll be good. I also think Davis has a bright future and will make a some sort of jump from Year 1 to Year 2. The Eagles will also be getting Marlon Tuipulotu back from a meniscus tear. So if you take out all the free agents noted above and add in the guys returning from injury, it looks like this:

LDE Brandon Graham   
DT Milton Williams  
NT Jordan Davis  
DT Marlon Tuipulotu 
RDE Josh Sweat Derek Barnett 
SAM Haason Reddick Patrick Johnson Kyron Johnson 

So, uh, yeah, they need to reload on the interior of the defensive line. I don't know if that will happen in the first round of the draft, but you can be certain they'll add players to that group.

Question from @dommy_bunks: Would you trade for Derrick Henry, and if so what would you trade?

Henry has 1750 career carries. There are only two players on NFL rosters — Ezekiel Elliott (1881) and Mark Ingram (1817) — with more. Over the last four seasons, Henry has 1249 carries. That leads the league by a wide margin, as the next closest player (Dalvin Cook) has 1075 during that span. The thought of a beastly Henry running behind the Eagles' elite offensive line is fun to imagine, but he has a $10.5 million base salary in 2023, and I'd be really wary of his play falling off a cliff in the near future.

Question from @DrewSportsNews: The NFC East almost never has a repeat champion. How would you rank the Cowboys, Giants and Commanders from most to least likely to upend the Eagles in the 2023 division race?

Yep, the last time a team repeated as NFC East division winners was when the Eagles did it in 2004. In each of the last 18 seasons, we've seen the previous year's division champion dethroned.

 YearNFC East champion 

The chalk answer is Dallas. On the assumption that the Eagles are going to lose a lot of players in free agency, the Cowboys will have the best defense in the division heading into the season, at least on paper, and Dak Prescott is the second-best quarterback in the division behind Jalen Hurts.

I'm curious to see what mediocre quarterback the Commanders talk themselves into this season, and what the Giants do in free agency aside from running it back with Daniel Jones, but I think both of those teams are very clearly behind the Eagles and Cowboys in the overall talent department as well as at quarterback.

Question from @DanzMike: Not Eagles related but I'm interested in your take on Lamar Jackson situation. The team that knows him best can't meet his money demands. Isn't it a Twitter overreaction that other teams aren't jumping to give up two 1st round picks AND pay what the Ravens wouldn't?

Personally, I would not be interested in Lamar at the cost it would would take to land him, however, there is ample history of teams giving up a whole lot for quarterbacks of his caliber, and many significantly lesser quarterbacks for that matter. So it raised eyebrows when like a half dozen teams immediately leaked that they had no interest in him after the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him, when there was no need for them to say anything at all.

NFL owners were not thrilled when Deshaun Watson landed a fully guaranteed contract from the Browns, and they most definitely do not want those types of deals to become the norm. As such, the speculation is that teams actively sought to hurt Lamar's leverage, and in turn his ability to score the fully guaranteed contract he is reportedly seeking. I agree that the immediate and overwhelmingly negative reaction to his potential availability is a little fishy.

Question from @tweetjoshtweet: How can someone who never watches college football get excited about something Eagles-related this time of year? Mock drafts and the NFL Combines are meaningless to me, and studying players who have a 1/32 chance of being Eagles feels like a bit of a waste.

It's not for everyone. I get it. I like watching the Sixers, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time studying up on some 20-year-old kid from Serbia a few months before the draft. Some people love draft coverage. The draft was always one of my favorite weekends of the year before this became my full-time job, and it has only grown in popularity over the years into the behemoth it has become. 

Where I'll push back a smidge is that if you have a pretty good handle on (a) the needs of a team, (b) the positions the team prioritizes, (c) the traits that teams value at each position, and (d) the pool of players available, you should be able to narrow it down to something more accurate than 1/32.

For example, in the mock drafts I published last year, I identified the Eagles' first three picks — Jordan Davis, Cam Jurgens, and Nakobe Dean — as players who would likely interest the Eagles. Of course, I had a lot of players in those mock drafts that they did not draft. Still, if you're decent enough at narrowing down the pool of players of interest based on the four things noted above, you can whittle the odds down from 1/32 to maybe something closer to like, I dunno...  1/10? 1/12? 1/15? That still might not be enough to get some folks to learn about the prospects, but it's not a complete crapshoot. It's more like a semi-crapshoot.

Follow Jimmy & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @JimmyKempski | thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader