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February 09, 2023

Mailbag: Who are the Eagles' future legends in the footsteps of Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, and Fletcher Cox?

Jimmy answers fan questions ahead of Super Bowl LVII.

Eagles NFL
020923DeVontaSmithJasonKelce Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

DeVonta Smith, Jason Kelce, and A.J. Brown

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 below.

Question from Kephas: Who on the team right now has the chance to be viewed in sort of the same standing as the big four (Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox) in the future?

We'll call that the "Eagles Royalty Tier." Those four guys have a number of things in common:

  1. They all are/were great players (duh).
  2. They all have 10+ years of longevity.
  3. They were all drafted by the Eagles, so far have spent their entire careers in Philly, and have already won a Super Bowl.
  4. They are all very popular players, though the city perhaps hasn't gotten to know Cox as well as the other three.

Zach Ertz might have been included among these players in the "royalty" tier, but I think he's now a notch below after asking to be traded and missing out on this current Super Bowl run.

I think the top candidates for future "Eagles Royalty Tier" are Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, and Jordan Mailata. Thereafter, you have guys like Dallas Goedert, Landon Dickerson, Josh Sweat, and Avonte Maddox who will be in Philly for a while, as well as T.J. Edwards, Isaac Seumalo, and Miles Sanders if they stick around.

And then I don't know if players who signed in free agency or were acquired via trade should be disqualified, but if not, then guys like Haason Reddick, A.J. Brown, Darius Slay, and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (if he stays) could certainly make their mark in Philadelphia.

I kinda love the idea of creating a yearly "Eagles player hierarchy" prior to the start of training camp each season. I'm putting that in the calendar.

Question from Put the Hurts on 'em: Hurts is due for a big contract, but he's been at least a bit hampered by late-season injuries this year (shoulder) and last year (ankle). I know people are worried about the top line money, but I am wondering about how his history of (smallish) injuries coupled with his status as a running quarterback will play into any negotiation for guaranteed money.

I understand what you're saying, in terms of a quarterback who has running ability in his arsenal perhaps being more susceptible to injury. On top of that, I think that a former concern was that if you took that running ability away to some degree, like when he was hobbled by the ankle injury last year, could he switch gears and lean on his passing ability? I do not think that is a big concern anymore. 

In the lead up to the Super Bowl, Howie Roseman was asked an unrelated question by a reporter who also referred to Hurts as "a running quarterback."

"I would take issue with how you just described Jalen, running quarterback," Roseman said. "This guy has had an MVP year because of how he is as a passer. His will to work, his understanding about the things that he can change to go from good to great, it's an unbelievable success story for him and he deserves a tremendous amount of credit because it's about him, and our coaches, and the work they put in."

So that's where their heads are at.

Question from Naas: What is the record for total playoffs point differential in a season?

The 1989 49ers were +100. Here are the top 15, all-time:

Team Point differential 
1989 49ers +100 
1986 Giants +82 
1985 Bears +81 
1983 Raiders +73 
2000 Ravens +72 
1992 Cowboys +69 
2002 Buccaneers +69 
1977 Cowboys +64 
1998 Broncos +63 
1994 49ers +62 
1991 Washington +61 
1990 Bills +57 
1978 Steelers +56 
1984 49ers +56 
2022 Eagles (1 game to go) +55 

We'll see on Sunday if the Eagles move up on this list, or drop out. If they win, I think it's fair to think of them as one of the top 15 or so teams in NFL history.

The 2017 Eagles were +44, in case anyone was wondering.

Question from Taco J: With the cap being tight given a huge contract for Hurts on the horizon, I think the Eagles would be wise to let James Bradberry and one of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson or Javon Hargrave walk, thus getting some high compensatory picks. What says the master of the comp picks about this strategy?

I'll get to this more once the offseason gets underway because it's difficult to explain, but there's a way the Eagles can retain Hargrave and actually save money. I expect him to return. I also expect Gardner-Johnson to return because (a) the Eagles traded for him, and (b) he exceeded expectations. They won't want him to walk in free agency.

I do think Bradberry is as good as gone. They already have a lot of money wrapped up in Slay, and it's going to be way too difficult to pay premium dollars to two cornerbacks. The Eagles have also found success playing the "sign a veteran CB during the summer if we don't draft one" game in each of the last two offseasons.

Question from Sam Becker: It is fairly hilarious how many mock drafts have the Eagles taking a CB at 10, but almost all of them have the Eagles taking a different CB. Clearly no consensus.

There are three corners that could be picked in that area. They are Penn State's Joey Porter Jr., Oregon's Christian Gonzalez, and Illinois' Devon Witherspoon. I had Witherspoon in my Eagles-only mock draft 1.0, because he's my favorite of the three.

I think a logical play for the Eagles would be to trade out of pick 10, and still land one of those three guys in, sayyyy, the mid-to-late teens?

Question from Norm Snead: What is the probability that Zech McPhearson can start next year if Bradbury plays elsewhere? Is McPhearson at least an average starting NFL CB?

For years the Eagles had injuries galore at cornerback, so they had to dip deep into their reserves. In the divisional round playoff game against the Saints after the 2018 season, for example, they played guys like Tre Sullivan, Cre'Von LeBlanc, and Josh Hawkins.

But beginning in 2021 they've had good injury luck at corner. With the exception of the Eagles' meaningless Week 18 game against Dallas last season, Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, and Avonte Maddox did not miss a single game.

This year, they lost Maddox for a stretch, but Slay and Bradberry stayed healthy. Had either of those guys gotten hurt, McPhearson would have been the first guy off the bench at outside corner.

So I guess the short answer is that we don't really know yet what McPhearson is as an outside corner. I will say, however, that his work ethic has been impressive, as he has legitimately worked hard at being the best special teams player he can be while he waits for his turn in the regular defense.

Question from RKotite: On the small chance this comes into play this week, who is the Chiefs' emergency QB?

Their backup is Chad Henne, and their No. 3 quarterback is someone named Shane Buechele, who will almost certainly be a healthy scratch for this game. Should Mahomes and Henne both go down, the emergency quarterback would probably be RB Jerick McKinnon, who played some quarterback in college for ultra run-heavy Georgia Southern.

Comment from Zach: Like in the past, I really enjoyed your piece on 4th down decision-making and the results. Not only did the Eagles add points all season that way but it got them a lot of practice and means that they will be better able to convert 4th downs in high leverage spots (as they did vs. San Francisco, and hopefully will vs. Kansas City). 

I was curious how those additional 65 points impacted their expected wins. According to the FO version of the famous Bill James Pythagorean wins formula, with 477 points for and 344 against in the regular season, the Eagles would have been expected to win 11.63 games (13.89 wins in 19 games if you count the playoffs). Without the points you calculated in your piece, they would have been expected to win 10.51 regular season games (1.12 fewer) and 12.69 overall (1.2 fewer). 

This is a long way of saying: according to your methodology (coupled with Football Outsiders' methodology) Nick Sirianni's 4th down calls added a number of points that is worth 1.2 extra wins on average. 

Thanks! In case you missed it, Zach is referring to my article on Sirianni's 35 "go for it" plays in 2022.

Remind me to consult you so that I can add in theoretical wins/losses when I do this exercise next year!

Question from Philly Rob: Hey Jimmy - hope you are enjoying the Super Bowl experience! Brett Kern has been shaky since his arrival. There was talk that Arryn Siposs might be ready to return before season’s end. If Siposs is ready, would GM Jimmy put him on the roster, or are you concerned about re-establishing the field goal operation?

I think Siposs will be the Eagles' punter in the Super Bowl. Siposs has been out two months, but they'll have plenty of time in practice to get that ironed out. Here he was in practice last week holding for Elliott, via E.J. Smith of the Inquirer:

I don't think the field goal operation will suffer. 

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