INDIANAPOLIS — Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon experienced nervousness and excitement during the offseason as Gannon interviewed for vacant head coaching positions around the league.
After the Eagles had a 9-8 season with an appearance in the NFC wild-card round, Gannon was a finalist for the Broncos and Texans jobs. He ultimately wasn’t hired, which means Gannon is back with the Eagles ... at least for one more season.
“We’re really excited that we’re going to have him back because we’re probably renting him,” general manager Howie Roseman said of Gannon. “He’s that good of a coach and that good of a person.”
Retaining Gannon could serve as a crucial factor to the defense’s success in the upcoming season. Last year, the unit struggled over the first two months when Gannon attempted to implement a scheme that required much from his players and asked them to play in roles they weren’t entirely familiar with.
Following the loss to the Raiders on Oct. 24, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox voiced his displeasure.
“Honestly, it’s just not what it’s been,” Cox said at the time. “Obviously, you just have to play what’s being called and when you’re so used to playing so aggressive — it just changed. I don’t get paid to play screens. I get paid to sack the quarterback, play in the backfield and tackle. I don’t get paid to play screens.
“I’m an aggressive player and that’s how I make my living, playing in the backfield and splitting double teams. Obviously, being the player I am, I can only take so much and I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to be aggressive.”
That 33-22 defeat served as the low point of the season for the Eagles, who later rebounded and won seven of their last 10 games. With the help of a weak back-end schedule, the defense climbed the league’s rankings, while players adjusted and discovered a middle ground between them and the coaching staff.
At age 39, Gannon has quickly become a hot commodity across the league. While his defense was suspect early on, the unit buckled down when it mattered most and helped push the team into the playoffs. Gannon carries an infectious personality that can serve him well in future opportunities.
If Gannon continues his upward trajectory, there’s a likely chance he’ll earn another round of interviews for a head coaching gig next offseason. Until then, Gannon’s focus will remain on improving the Eagles, who finished 31st in the league in sacks (29), 31st in blitz percentage (16.4), and 22nd in quarterback pressures (24%).
“The bottom line is we didn’t get enough pressure on the quarterback,” Roseman said. “We have to have pressure on the quarterback. We have to continue to have pressure on the quarterback. It’s a priority to us. We’ll have opportunities this offseason to do it, and I would be very surprised if we didn’t do something there.”
The Eagles currently have around $18.5 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap, and they boast 10 selections in April’s NFL draft, including three first-round picks. The team has multiple players set to hit free agency, including defensive ends Derek Barnett and Ryan Kerrigan, cornerback Steven Nelson, and safeties Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris.
“We’re going through the process of where we’re efficient, where we’re inefficient, and try to improve those things,” Sirianni said of the defense.
“And it’s the same thing that I challenge our players to do, right? What’s our weakness? How are we getting it better? If we can do that as a whole, we know how much strides we can make as an entire team.”