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February 11, 2023

Mailbag: What is the Eagles' window for Super Bowl contention beyond this season?

In our Eagles chat on Wednesday, there were a crap ton of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, we're going to go triple mailbag leading up to game day to make sure we get to all the good questions. Part I was Thursday. Part II is below.

Question from Dodge: Not to be gloomy, but given that next year's schedule will be a lot tougher and the Eagles may be losing quite a few players and coaches, is this almost a must-win Super Bowl? It'll be harder for them to make it back next year, right?

I'll let Nick Sirianni handle the "must-win" aspect of that question: 

And yeah, it'll probably be harder to get back to the Super Bowl next year than it was this year. As you mentioned, they're going to lose players for sure, and maybe some coaches.

I do think that there is a reasonable enough succession plan in place for a lot of positions on the roster that could take a hit in free agency. Players like Cam Jurgens, Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Reed Blankenship, and maybe Zech McPhearson could take on bigger roles, should the Eagles lose players at their positions. They also have two first-round picks, one of which is in the top 10, and the Eagles' front office has done a good job of late filling in roster holes with low-cost free agents. They should still be a Super Bowl contender in 2023 and beyond, as long as Jalen Hurts continues to be a great player.

The one thing that would concern me going forward is that it is going to be nearly impossible to match the injury luck this team had this season. They're in the Super Bowl, and they're going to have all 22 starters available. That's incredible.

Question from Elsanjo: What week did Hurts pass the Malkovich Meridian? How many quarterbacks are in that group now, and how many are above Hurts?

Ah, yes, during the doldrums on the offseason, I was listening to the "Around the NFL" podcast with Gregg Rosenthal, Dan Hanzus, Marc Sessler, and guest Patrick Claybon, who were trying to come up with a new NFL quarterback "Prime Meridian" to replace Andy Dalton.

The late, great Chris Wesseling created the "Dalton Scale," which he described as the following:

"Andy Dalton is the 'Prime Meridian' of NFL quarterbacks. He represents quarterback purgatory. If you are ranked below Andy Dalton, your franchise needs a quarterback. If you're ranked above Andy Dalton, you're in ship-shape, everything is figured out, you're good to go."

To note, Wesseling said this when Dalton was still a starting quarterback a few years ago, and so, the Around the NFL podcast sought out to name a new quarterback to replace Dalton as the Prime Meridian.

It should be noted that the Prime Meridian is not necessarily the 16th or 17th best quarterback in the league, cutting the NFL's starters in half. The Prime Meridian can fall anywhere. If he's 10th, then there are only nine teams that don't need to be hunting for a new quarterback. If he's 20th, then the league has its fair share of quality quarterbacks. 

Got that? Anyway, it was a fun premise for a podcast episode, so I applied it to the Eagles. I started by ranking quarterbacks by who I would want specifically in 2022, with no regard for growth potential in 2023 and beyond (and ignoring contract considerations). My list — with Hurts' placement being uncontroversial at the time — went like so, submitted without analysis:

  1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  2. Josh Allen, Bills
  3. Tom Brady, Buccaneers
  4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  5. Justin Herbert, Chargers
  6. Joe Burrow, Bengals
  7. Russell Wilson, Broncos
  8. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
  9. Matthew Stafford, Rams
  10. Dak Prescott, Cowboys: MALKOVICH MERIDIAN
  11. Derek Carr, Raiders: 
  12. Kyler Murray, Cardinals
  13. Mac Jones, Patri*ts
  14. Kirk Cousins, Vikings: PRIME MERIDIAN
  15. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
  16. Ryan Tannehill, Titans
  17. Matt Ryan, Colts
  18. Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars
  19. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
  20. Jameis Winston, Saints
  21. Daniel Jones, Giants
  22. Carson Wentz, Commanders
  23. Jared Goff, Lions
  24. Davis Mills, Texans
  25. Trey Lance, 49ers*
  26. Justin Fields, Bears
  27. Marcus Mariota, Falcons
  28. Zach Wilson, Jets
  29. Drew Lock, Seahawks
  30. Mitchell Trubisky, Steelers
  31. Sam Darnold, Panthers
  32. Deshaun Watson, Browns

I landed on Kirk Cousins as my "Prime Meridian." He always has good stats, and if he's your quarterback you're going to get (mostly) competent play and win some games, but unless you have an absolutely stacked roster around him he's never really going to be a threat to win a Super Bowl because he doesn't have any elite skills and he tends to come up small in big games. He's the closest player to "quarterback purgatory" in the NFL, in my opinion. I think I nailed that one.

I had Hurts just below the Prime Meridian, and, well, so did the Eagles, since they unsuccessfully tried to trade for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson last offseason. I felt that Hurts had to be better in 2022 than what Kirk Cousins represented as of that publish date, last June. And then even if Hurts played slightly above the Prime Meridian level, if an opportunity to land a much better quarterback were to arise in 2023, then I felt that the Eagles should probably jump at that opportunity. In other words, passing the Prime Meridian would merely give Hurts the chance of keeping his job in 2023, while anything short of that should have resulted in a full-on effort to upgrade at quarterback.

I also included my own little spin, called the "Malkovich Meridian." What's that? Well, merely passing the Prime Meridian in 2022 wouldn't be enough to sign him to a long-term contract, sealing a marriage to him for the foreseeable future. He would need to pass the Malkovich Meridian to even begin those negotiations. Why call it the Malkovich Meridian? Well...

Fast forward to the present date, and, uh, yeah, Hurts blew right by the "Prime Meridian" and has more than passed the "Malkovich Meridian." Some of the quarterbacks listed ahead of him back in June look silly, in hindsight. If I were to rank quarterbacks by who I would want specifically in 2023, my new top five look like so:

  1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
  2. Joe Burrow, Bengals
  3. Jalen Hurts, Eagles
  4. Josh Allen, Bills
  5. Justin Herbert, Chargers (with a big gap between Allen and Herbert)

Hurts is going to get paid handsomely this offseason. Book it.

Some other quarterbacks making substantial moves up would be Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa (if he's able to continue to play), Jared Goff, and Justin Fields. Some of the quarterbacks taking massive tumbles would be Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Mac Jones, Matt Ryan, and Carson Wentz.

Doug pee
Question from RKotite: Which is more likely: The Eagles' young coaching staff makes an in-game blunder due to inexperience or Andy makes an in-game blunder due to just being Andy?

I remember back during the last Super Bowl, there was this feeling — mostly among Boston media doofuses — that felt that Doug Pederson was going to pee his pants at the mere sight of Bill Belichick (as shown to the right). But... nope. Doug called his game fearlessly, and actually out-coached Belichick.

I have full confidence in Nick Sirianni to go out and perform at the same high level he has the rest of this season. Andy is better during the week(s) of preparation, but I would take Sirianni over him on the in-game decision-making front.

Question from Arby1: Do the Eagles run to set up the pass and keep the ball out of Mahomes' hands, or do they pass first on the young KC secondary?

The Eagles are thought of as a run-first team because they were the fourth-most run heavy team in the NFL in 2022. But I don't think of them as a "run first" team. I think they're actually more of a "pass first" team that often put points on the board early in games and then chokes opponents out in the second half with a heavy dose of the run.

My bet is that they come out with a mix of RPOs so that they can run or pass while they start to get a feel for how the Chiefs intend on defending them. My guess is that the Chiefs are going to have a bunch of defenders near the line of scrimmage, and dare Hurts to show that he can be accurate down the field. If Hurts can hit on an explosive play or two early, I think that'll be really bad news for the Chiefs. Conversely, if big plays are they to be made and Hurts misses (like he did against the Niners in the NFC Championship Game), then the Chiefs' path to victory becomes wider.

Question from Pragmatic: I saw someone pick Sanders as the Super Bowl MVP before the playoffs figuring the Birds were the most likely team in the Super Bowl. I think that was a good pick?

Ha, was that you? I actually like his chances. He has had very low milage over the last five weeks, and if the run game is working, the Eagles might just ride him.

The top 12 Super Bowl MVP odds look like so:

• Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs: +130
• Jalen Hurts, Eagles: +140
• Travis Kelce, Chiefs: +1300
• A.J. Brown, Eagles: +2200
• Miles Sanders, Eagles: +2500
• DeVonta Smith, Eagles: +3000
• Haason Reddick, Eagles: +3500
• Chris Jones, Chiefs: +5000
• Isiah Pacheco, Chiefs: +5500
• Dallas Goedert, Eagles: +8000
• Jerick McKinnon, Chiefs: +8000
• Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Eagles: +8000

The player I love above is Goedert at +8000. The Chiefs give up a lot of red zone TDs to tight ends, and if Goedert can haul in a couple of them in addition to a big day otherwise, I could see him taking home that award. 80/1 feels like a decent enough investment.

The other longshot I like is Josh Sweat at +20000. I like his matchup against Orlando Brown.

Question from DB: If the Eagles dominate the line of scrimmage and run the Chiefs into the ground, does Jason Kelce get the MVP? Or do they just give it to Hurts by default?

Jason Kelce is at +250000, meaning that if you throw a hundy on that, you win $250,000. In Super Bowl XXXV, the voters just gave it to Ray Lewis for no good reason. Dude had four tackles in the game and was the subject of heavy scrutiny for his suspected role in two unsolved double murders the year before. But sure, give it to that guy!

If you look at ESPN's list of Super Bowl MVPs, they name the player as well as their stats in the game, but since "4 tackles" would look ridiculous they wrote, "Led a dominant Ravens defense," lol.


What if the Eagles run the ball well with Kelce making some great blocks in space and then he scores a TD in garbage time? If there aren't any super obvious MVP choices, maybe some sportswriters are swayed by the whole Jason Kelce / Travis Kelce / Kelce parents storyline and just give it to Kelce? It's not that crazy.

Question from The Next Jimmy Kempski: Jimmy, I know you're not busy or anything. Would you be willing to provide some advice on breaking into the sports writing world for someone who has zero sports writing experience?

I was actually just discussing this very topic during a recent podcast appearance. When I was trying to break into the business in my mid-30s, I had identified a beat writer in Washington named Rich Tandler (rest in peace), who successfully became a full-time reporter covering the Washington football team* in his 30s or 40s. He was generous with his time, giving me some helpful tips, and really just serving as proof that I could do what I was trying to do.

And so, whenever someone approaches me asking for advice on how to get in, I try to pay Rich's generosity forward.

I've been interested in writing a book of late. If the Eagles win the Super Bowl, it'll be something about that. If they don't, then I've always sort of wanted to get the perspectives of a bunch of my colleagues and show their individual stories of how they broke in.

But sure, if you're looking for advice, shoot me an email and I'll always try to find some time. Just, like, give me a month though to close out this season and get a little break. 😉

*Lowercase intended, because they weren't yet changed their name to "Washington Football Team". They were just the Washington football team.

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