With two-thirds of the Eagles’ preseason schedule complete, Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni, and all the other committee members at the top of the organization’s hierarchy are telling you everything you need to know about the team they have, or think they have, this season.
In that ugly, 35-0 loss to the Patriots last week, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert played a combined seven snaps. Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham didn’t see the field. Jalen Hurts jitterbugged during pregame warmups, then, after experiencing some gastrointestinal upheaval, never took a snap. He has overseen two offensive series this preseason, both in the Eagles’ first game, against the Steelers.
Here’s what that minimal playing time for the Eagles’ most important players says: that the Eagles know how thin their roster is, how damaging it would be to lose any of those starters, especially in a game whose outcome was irrelevant. It says that everyone should expect a similar allotment of snaps – maybe fewer – on Friday night at MetLife Stadium, when the Eagles play the Jets. It says that Sirianni and the people above him have prioritized health over honed skills and habits. Which they are right to do.
“He’s just trying to make sure we get to Week 1,” Graham said, “‘cause in the past, injuries have happened for this team. And so you’ve got to take a different approach. He’s a new coach. He’s going to take a different approach and try to make sure we are the healthiest and fastest we can be for Week 1. How we practice and how we do things behind closed doors, the extra conditioning and all that stuff, he’s happy with.”
If anything, Graham placed too much responsibility for the decision-making on Sirianni’s shoulders. Even if Sirianni wanted to play the starters more, he doesn’t have the power to make that call.
When it comes to choosing what players will be on the Week 1 roster and who will suit up game to game, when it comes to choosing his own assistant coaches, any Eagles head coach has little autonomy, if any at all, relative to his counterparts around the league. Chip Kelly didn’t have it, then decided he wanted more of it, then got it, then ended up getting fired. Doug Pederson didn’t have it, then decided he wanted more of it, then ended up getting fired before he got it. Everyone familiar with the franchise knows that’s how the Eagles operate. Sirianni himself acknowledged it Sunday night, after the team held an indoor practice at the NovaCare Complex.
“Everything is a group effort, especially when we talk about who is going to make the roster,” he said. “We all talk through everything, and that’s the same thing. We talk through everything together – what we want to see, who we want to see play – because we all have to help make that decision. Both of those things are no different. We talk through everything, whether it’s the draft, whether it’s, you know, practicing, and talking through all that stuff. But it’s a group decision in everything that we do.”
In that context, the limits that the Eagles have placed on their starters shouldn’t be surprising. Go back to the 2016 preseason, Pederson’s first as head coach. In the opener, Sam Bradford, who was presumed to be the team’s No. 1 quarterback, played one series, completing a 3-yard pass and handing off the ball twice, before exiting. In 2019, Carson Wentz didn’t even participate in warmups before the Eagles’ first preseason game, and Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and DeSean Jackson stayed in street clothes all night. This is what the Eagles – with Roseman atop their organizational pyramid – have done and will do. They do it when they think that they’re going to be good, and they’re doing it now, when they know, or should know, that they need everything to go right for them to be good.
If you want to argue that if the Eagles and the rest of the league’s franchises are going to charge fans full price for tickets to preseason games, they have an obligation to present a decent product, you’ll get no disagreement here. But that discussion is about the entertainment value of a preseason game, not its value as an instrument of preparing a team for the regular season.
If you want to argue that the Eagles should play their starters more, that those players need those reps so they’re as sharp as possible come 1 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Falcons, you can make a good case. But you’d have to demonstrate why those few extra snaps are so vital to Kelce, who is 33 and entering his 11th NFL season. Or to Graham, who is 33 and entering his 12th. Or Cox, who is 30. Or Brooks, who is 32 and playing on two surgically repaired Achilles tendons. Or Johnson, who is 31 and playing on a surgically repaired left ankle. Or even to Hurts, whom, based on the in-game performances of Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens, the Eagles ought to keep locked in a panic room until it’s time for the team to fly to Atlanta.
You’d have to lay out what the Eagles would do, who they would play, and how they would fare if one or more of those players – or any of their other, younger starters – were to suffer a serious injury during a preseason game. You’d have to explain why, given how overwhelmed the Eagles’ second- and third-teamers have been so far this preseason, you’re willing to expose those starters. You’d have to do the risk analysis, and you’d have to be right.
Or, you could put up with mostly meaningless football for one more night.