It’s not hard to figure out my sports team predilections — when I’m thirsty, I grab a glass of wooder and when I go on vacation, I’m going down the shore. Ronde Barber hurt me more than my first breakup. I have a Pavlovian reaction to dry heave the moment I hear the term “Jones fracture.” Competent goaltending is something I’m conditioned to believe doesn’t exist. I don’t give a crap how much money John Middleton lost during the pandemic. Sign good players anyway!
In the Philadelphia area, we call ourselves “Four for Four” — we root on the Eagles, Sixers, Flyers, and Phillies in good times and in bad.
But my job in professional football — first working in the NovaCare Complex right out of college and now covering the NFL as a whole in the fantasy industry — has allowed me to reshape my relationship with the Eagles as a “fan” to someone who should and can look with a more critical eye. (Though to be fair, few can be more critical than even your run-of-the-mill Eagles fans.) And since the Eagles’ 2020 season has had such a profound effect on fantasy football, I figured I’d throw my thoughts down here.
The Philadelphia Eagles are broken.
That’s not something you needed me to tell you, and I would suspect fans of teams like the Lions or Browns would roll their eyes at the wails of the Philly faithful given the “Birds” raised a Lombardi Trophy just three seasons ago. But the Eagles’ collapse is one that feels so different than just a bad franchise going through the motions of failure. It’s so extreme… and so unnecessary.
In 2017, Carson Wentz was going to be the NFL MVP before he shredded his knee in Los Angeles. Backup Nick Foles played so poorly the rest of the season that some Eagle fans called for Nate Sudfeld to start in the playoffs. Don’t believe me? Read through the tweets here. We know what happened next, and now there’s a subsect of Eagle fans that basically believe Foles is a breed of quarterback who is built to succeed in Philadelphia but literally nowhere else.
But there is an element of truth to the Foles stans’ cries — take a look at the offense coach Doug Pederson ran in Super Bowl LII, less than three years ago, and compare it to the slow, miserable dirge Philly vomits out there every Sunday this season. How did Wentz, how did Pederson, how did this organization get here? That’s the big question, and it’s on owner Jeffrey Lurie to figure out who is to blame, whether it’s Wentz, Pederson, GM Howie Roseman, or all three.
Let’s start with Wentz. He’s the easiest one to blame, after all. He’s the face of the franchise, and he’s the guy going out there every week getting sacked, missing throws, and turning the ball over. He was given a $128 million contract. There is a multitude of excuses to be made for him, and we’ll get to them, but he has to be better. Full stop. There is absolutely no one in the galaxy who would deny that, Wentz chief among them. He’s been one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL by every reasonable metric and the eye test this year, and that’s an apocalyptic collapse from someone who was going to be MVP at this point three years ago and is still in his 20s.
But in trying to contextualize Wentz’s struggles, inevitably you’ll get a Foles stan or someone with no rooting interest in the equation screaming that you’re not blaming Wentz enough. It’s all crap, of course. We’re just on the heels of a Monday Night Football game in which Pederson dropped back his struggling quarterback over 50 times and gave his running backs 9 carries. Wentz is on pace to be sacked 67 times, which would be the fourth-most in NFL history.
Pederson utterly refuses to roll the mobile Wentz out more than once or twice a game — Wentz might not be the athlete he was before the knee injury, but his 42 yards led the Eagles in rushing on Monday. Wentz is playing behind a decimated offensive line, and he isn’t seeing things well from the pocket. He clearly can roll out effectively, but they don’t do it. Why?
There was a five-week stretch in which waiver gem WR Travis Fulgham and Wentz developed such remarkable, immediate chemistry that Fulgham led the NFL in receiving yards over that span. On Monday, he played fewer snaps than Alshon Jeffery, whom the Eagles pulled out of a sarcophagus three weeks ago. Why?
During Fulgham’s stretch of success, the Eagles appeared to have a legitimate building block for the future also emerging along the offensive line in LT Jordan Mailata, a 23-year-old athletic freak who never played a down of American football before the Eagles selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. His development has been one of the few good stories for the Eagles all season. The Eagles relegated him to the bench when the ancient Jason Peters was able to come off of IR, and only reinserted him into the lineup when Peters got hurt again and moved to right guard to compensate. Why?
Hey, it’s easy now to believe the coach is the problem here. When it comes to dropping Wentz back an infinite number of times into a pocket that collapses on him frequently and Wentz doesn’t pull the trigger on throws the rare number of times it doesn’t, that’s on playcalling. But when the playcaller has a perfect call — a screen against an all-out blitz — and the receiver who is supposed to be running the screen doesn’t run it, that’s not on the playcaller or the QB. That’s on player development and attention to detail.
Regardless of what’s happened in 2020, Pederson and Wentz had a hell of a final month of 2019, dragging a corpse of a roster to the NFC East championship with an offense that got Wentz on the move and got the ball into the hands of young, hungry playmakers like Greg Ward, Dallas Goedert, and Boston Scott after old heads like Jeffery and DeSean Jackson were lost for the season. But in another twist of fate, after all the scraping and clawing to reclaim the Philly QB throne that many wanted to be ceded to Foles, after reaching the magical “16 games played” mark, Wentz’s first playoff start was dramatically cut short following a cheap shot to the head from Jadeveon Clowney.
And then that brings us to the real elephant in the room — Jalen Hurts. The Eagles took Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the 53rd overall pick. That is not a throwaway pick — the Eagles reportedly were considering drafting S Jeremy Chinn, who might be the frontrunner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year, before settling on Hurts. Still, the Eagles drafted Hurts just 10 months after they signed Wentz to his monster extension, and just three months after Wentz and Pederson led the Eagles to the playoffs with almost quite literally no wide receivers. Why?
Roseman might have an answer for that, but at this point I wouldn’t expect the answer to be anything but awash with arrogance. The Occam’s razor reasoning for the Hurts pick is that the Eagles had doubts about Wentz. Wentz’s play this year certainly would justify that point of view.
But if they had doubts about Wentz, why did they sign him to a $128 million deal in June of 2019? And what happened in the 2019 season, given Wentz’s strong play down the stretch, that would change that?
If the Eagles were so worried about Wentz’s injuries, why did they extend him in the first place? Did the shot from Clowney change so much in their minds?
Wentz, as any competitive person in his position would be, was reportedly frustrated by the Hurts pick, because he finally felt like his 2019 play allowed him to shout down the “SHOULD OF KEPT FOLES!!11!” (grammatical error intended) choir. And while Wentz should block that noise out, it’s entirely possible he’s looking over his shoulder. Roseman created a QB controversy months after Wentz ended one.
And here’s where I’m just going to make the declaration that the Hurts pick was bad process. First of all, what has Roseman done to earn the benefit of the doubt here? The Eagles’ drafts have been miserable for years. The only Pro Bowler Roseman has drafted since reassuming power following the Chip Kelly fiasco in 2016 is… *drumroll*… Wentz. Pro Bowls are an inexact science at best as a metric for success, but given how many players drop out and how easy it is to be named to a Pro Bowl as a result, that’s a pretty damning though simple way to look at things.
Roseman has a reputation as a cap wizard, but the Eagles are in cap hell. I’ll give Roseman some slack on trying to overextend the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl window — in the moment, signing guys like Jeffery to extensions seemed obvious and popular. These were players who delivered a championship to a city starved for one, and there needs to be some human element in making personnel decisions, especially in a city that has such civic pride in its teams. But when the Eagles’ roster broke down around — and including — Wentz in 2018, then broke down around him again in 2019, changes needed to be made to try to open another window with younger players. Given the Eagles’ usage of Jeffery and Peters this season, I’m wondering if Roseman ever acknowledged that.
Roseman took JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin and others last year when the Eagles needed receivers badly. He took Hurts in 2020 over Chinn when the Eagles needed to replace team leader Malcolm Jenkins. He took Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson (though I think it’s totally unfair to evaluate Reagor in this environment, Jefferson was indeed the “chalk” pick at the time). He took Hurts instead of trying to trade the pick to help Wentz with someone like DeAndre Hopkins. There is absolutely nothing in Roseman’s history that suggests he’s a quality — or even average — evaluator of talent. The Eagles’ big misses just seem to be bigger than others.
Moreover, one of the major benefits of having a quarterback on a rookie contract, as the Eagles had with Wentz in 2017 when they won it all, is the ability to splurge elsewhere and strengthen the roster. Wentz’s cap number is currently massive, and even moving him to another team would have the Eagles taking on a significant hit. His play right now isn’t justifying his salary, it goes without saying.
But even if the Eagles hit on Hurts and Hurts becomes a franchise QB during his rookie contract, they don’t have the same flexibility they had with Wentz on his rookie deal in regards to the rest of the roster. By the time the Eagles can clear most of Wentz’s cap hit, Hurts himself would be due an extension. It’s been said the biggest advantage in the league is a good quarterback on a rookie deal. The Eagles currently have a struggling QB on a massive deal, and even if their rookie QB becomes good while on his current deal — certainly a big “if” — they won’t even reap the benefits of that. If Hurts is good, you make the cap work, but there’s no real wiggle room. If the Eagles are able to move Wentz but Hurts is just OK, they’re still strapped financially without the resources to improve the situation around Hurts. How is Hurts supposed to succeed and develop in this environment?
Then, there’s the usage of Hurts and what that tells us about the franchise. Is there a single Super-Bowl winning coach in NFL history that seems to have less respect from his franchise than Pederson? Roseman apparently has power over gameday actives and inactives, which is laughable. It at least lends a little bit of reasoning to why guys like Mailata and Fulgham are losing snaps to mummies.
And reports suggest Pederson needed to get permission from ownership to even consider playing Hurts more. With the understanding that quarterback is completely different from any other position in sports in terms of what it means both on the field and off it, think of how preposterous this is. A Super-Bowl coach needs permission to play the #53 pick in the draft! Someone drafted at 53 overall is supposed to help a team win, and the coach who delivered a title to the city can’t even use him at his own discretion?
Pederson’s usage of Hurts in Week 12 against Seattle also suggests he wasn’t exactly on board with the pick, either. After all the talk that Hurts got more reps in practice and would play more, he played a grand total of two snaps, despite Wentz’s now-characteristic struggles reappearing.
On the first snap, Hurts entered on 2nd-and-9, and the Eagles immediately false-started. He completed a 6-yard pass to Jeffery on 2nd-and-14… and then the Eagles put Wentz back in and asked him to try to convert a 3rd-and-long. (He didn’t.) Hurts’ second snap was a 3rd-and-short uncreative zone read that went nowhere. He was then done for the night.
If the Eagles were going to put Hurts in, why 2nd-and-9 instead of 1st-and-10? Why take him out after a short completion and ask Wentz to clean up the rest of the meat on the bone? Why did he get just one more play, and it was the same uncreative slop the Eagles had run with Hurts all year? It set up both Hurts and Wentz to fail. For a team that was so collaborative in its decision to draft Wentz in 2016 and so collaborative in its brilliance in coaching Foles to success in 2017, the Hurts situation is alarmingly disjointed. While Hurts probably should play more, I see nothing here that suggests this is the kind of environment in which he’ll succeed.
I don’t think there’s a simple fix here. While the average Eagle fan holds up Frank Reich on a Bill Walsh style pedestal and claims he was the true brains behind the Eagles’ Super Bowl in 2017, I don’t think Reich departing for Indianapolis is the reason alone for these struggles. Pederson isn’t like Krang with a disembodied brain operating the humanoid structure. That said, I think it’s insane that Pederson doesn’t have an offensive coordinator (seriously, he doesn’t). If Pederson were even open to ceding playcalling, who would take over? There’s no coordinator!
The alarming thing about Wentz is that, after the brief stretch when he and Fulgham were lighting up fantasy scoreboards, he’s not even flashing. There aren’t even the “There you are, Peter!” moments. Wentz has cleaned up the hero ball tendencies that led to many of his early-season interceptions, but now there’s no playmaking element to his game. He’s stuck in quicksand.
But the constant I keep coming back to is Roseman, someone who very clearly has Lurie’s ear. Lurie is exceptionally loyal and truly loves his team. He surrounds himself with people who care as much about the team as he does. But it’s time he gets an outside perspective in here to try to fix this mess. I thought Louis Riddick and Brian Griese were phenomenal on the MNF telecast last night. They criticized Wentz when he deserved it — which was often — but also contextualized the performance.
If someone new comes in and decides Wentz has to go and the Eagles need to eat the money for the good of the franchise, so be it. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Wentz would have a market from around the league, as other organizations view him as a spectacular talent burdened with carrying an entire franchise on an irreversible course into the mouth of a volcano. Those same executives also felt the Eagles should stick with Wentz. But I just wonder if the entire well is poisoned here. Wentz is struggling because Pederson is struggling. Pederson is struggling because Wentz is struggling. And both are struggling because the roster is old and injured, and there is a clear disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff.
There are real discussions to be had on Wentz’s future, and the future of Pederson as well. Decisions must be made here.
What’s obvious to me, though? Roseman shouldn’t be the one making them.