The Eagles endured a 57 percent increase in regular-season games in which their players were lost to injury in 2018.
Senior executive Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson cite the disproportionate number of injuries as a prominent reason that the Eagles started the season 6-7 and ultimately fell short of repeating as Super Bowl champions.
“It’s something that we don’t take for granted, and something that we want to improve on, because we know that it affects our record, it affects the bottom line of it,” Roseman said Tuesday at their end-of-season news conference. “Certainly, they would have helped in New Orleans. It’s something that we’re going to take a long look at and study and try to get better at.”
The Eagles experienced a brief reprieve late in the year and into the postseason, but in Sunday’s 20-14, season-ending divisional playoff loss to the Saints, at least 11 players left the field to be treated. Most returned and played through injury, but some didn’t, most notably guard Brandon Brooks, who ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Brooks and some other Eagles suffered injuries this season that could be labeled as matter of fact — torn ligaments and broken bones. But there were as many injuries that were dubious in recurrence, recovery, and diagnosis, particularly the timeline of quarterback Carson Wentz fractured vertebra and how long it took for the team’s medical staff to identify it.
Last offseason, the Eagles decided not to retain Peter DeLuca and Gary Dorshimer, their head physician and internist, and head trainer Chris Peduzzi. They had been with the team for nearly 20 years.
Roseman, who oversees the medical staff, and who had been made available to reporters only twice since DeLuca, Dorhsimer, and Peduzzi were effectively fired, was asked Tuesday to explain the changes and whether he saw a correlation between the injuries and the new staff.
“All of those reasons were different. All three were personal in nature,” Roseman said of the departures. “Those were guys who had been here for as long as I have been here. Certainly, when you’re coming off a Super Bowl victory, it’s not something that you’re anticipating making a lot of changes in that area. You have a shortened offseason.
“By the same token, we put people in place that we have a lot of confidence in. We have to allow them to grow in their jobs and continue to show faith in them, because we do have faith in them.”
DeLuca, Dorshimer, and Peduzzi declined to comment Wednesday.
The previous regime endured its share of injury irregularities, as well. Receiver Jordan Matthews was openly critical of the staff in the handling of his knee injury during his first stay with the Eagles. Former long snapper Jon Dorenbos could have died from an aortic aneurysm that went undetected when he was with the team.
Roseman had come to suspect that one or more of the medical staff was responsible for leaking information to the media, per sources close to the situation, and had become fixated on plugging that hole.
In June, the Eagles hired Jerome Reid to replace Peduzzi as head trainer, and in August, they announced that Christopher Dodson and Stephen Stache would replace DeLuca and Dorshimer. They also created the position of director of rehabilitation and hired Shireen Mansoori.
Dodson, an orthopedic doctor, isn’t the Eagles’ head physician — Stache is — but he has that title with the 76ers. He was increasingly absent once the 76ers season started, per team sources. Eagles players then mostly dealt with a revolving door of other orthopedics from the Rothman Institute.
Replacing the medical staff after a successful season, as Roseman noted, was irregular, but the Eagles also had many key players coming off surgery — Wentz, tackle Jason Peters, receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Derek Barnett, defensive end Brandon Graham, linebacker Jordan Hicks, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, running back Darren Sproles, receiver Mack Hollins, and safety Chris Maragos.
Roseman and Pederson cited the lack of continuity at the start of the season as another reason for the Eagles’ slow start. Aside from Graham, each player would either miss time because of the original injury or suffer another one. Maragos, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament in his knee in October 2017, never practiced or played and underwent an additional knee surgery in December.
He might never play football again.
Maragos, Graham, and other players have declined to comment about their surgeries and rehabs. Wentz, Sproles, and others have expressed confidence in the new medical staff.
Overall, the Eagles had 28 players miss 221 games to injury. The players were either on the 53-man roster at some point during the season, on some form of injured reserve, or on the physically unable to perform list. In 2017, the Eagles had 23 players miss 126 games to injury.
Of the 28 players who missed time, a significant number experienced abnormal recovery, which increasingly raised questions about how the Eagles were treating their injured.
Sproles and cornerback Sidney Jones re-aggravated hamstring strains on two separate occasions. Running back Jay Ajayi played with a torn ACL after he was outfitted with a knee brace. Cornerback Jalen Mills suffered a foot injury and was said to be nearing a return but then was placed on IR five weeks after his original injury.
Barnett played two games with a torn rotator cuff. Jernigan missed 10 games after back surgery, returned for one game, and then missed the next two with a back issue. Hollins, who had offseason sports hernia surgery, said days before the season opener that he would play, but he was placed on IR just before the game.
Wentz, who tore the ACL and LCL is his left knee in December 2017, was a full participant on the third day of training camp in July, but the Eagles inexplicably dialed him back the next day, and he was limited for the next month. He returned by the third game of the season, but popped up on the injury report on Oct. 10 — the day before the Eagles traveled to play the New York Giants — with a “non-injury related, rest” designation.
The following two Wednesdays, however, he was limited with an unspecified “back” injury. Wentz played each of the following Sundays and five games over six weeks. But, on Dec. 11, the Tuesday after the Cowboys game, the Eagles said a CT scan detected a stress fracture in his back.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the injury happened,” Wentz said Monday, in his first public comments since the injury. “Obviously, you guys saw the reports earlier in the year. [I] was limited in practice because of the back, at times. But it was something that developed over time.”
Wentz confirmed that he sought outside medical opinions and that those doctors said that his injury could have been difficult to diagnose from tests. The Eagles, he said, were basing treatment off his symptoms, which, he said, were “up and down.”
Roseman, when he was asked why the Eagles weren’t able to diagnose Wentz’s injury earlier, especially once he popped up on the injury report, declined to offer details.
“I am going to let what Carson talked about his own injury" stand on its own, Roseman said. "Everything we did complied with the NFL rules.”
Wentz was never placed on injured reserve, but he missed the final three games of the season as backup Nick Foles helped lead the Eagles into the postseason. Wentz also missed both playoff games and said he was hoping to be available had the Eagles advanced further.
Wentz said that he is expected to make a full recovery and should be fine long-term. Roseman said the Eagles had confidence that their 26-year-old quarterback, who Pederson declared as the starter for next season, can be “a 19-game starter” in the future.