Good morning, Eagles fans! If you’re still with us, the Eagles are somehow in first place in the NFC East despite losing their last two games. [Deflating balloon sound] Someone’s got to win the division, why not the Eagles!? How’s that for a rallying cry? They hold a half-game lead over Washington, the New York Giants and Cowboys — all of them with 3-7 records — because of that Week 3 tie with the Bengals. And y’all thought that Doug Pederson punting for a tie was stupid.
On a more serious note, the Eagles do have six games to turn this season around, or at least play at a consistent level. I know many fans would rather see them lose out and get a higher draft pick, but that doesn’t automatically guarantee that they’ll actually make good use of a top 5-10 pick. Carson Wentz isn’t going away for the foreseeable future, so it would behoove Pederson and company to try and fix the 27-year-old quarterback, or at least reverse what has been a troubling season. And if Wentz gets the opportunity to finally play in the postseason for more than just six snaps, all the better.
The schedule gets more difficult. The 7-3 Seahawks are up next at home on Monday night. The Eagles played Seattle tough last year, losing 17-9, in both the regular season and playoffs. They struggled to score points, but Jim Schwartz’s defense was able to keep quarterback Russell Wilson pretty much in check. But the quarterback tests don’t end there. The Eagles travel to the 7-3 Packers and Aaron Rodgers, then the 8-2 Saints — and possibly Drew Brees — and then the 6-4 Cardinals and Kyler Murray.
The Eagles won’t be favored in any of the games and could be 3-10-1 with two games left against the Cowboys and Redskins. It’s possible they win a game or maybe even two, but they’ve yet to put together anything resembling a strong outing, and have beaten only teams with less-than-stellar quarterback play.
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Is the Eagles’ 2021 salary cap situation as bad as it looks?
On paper, yes, but there should be a fair amount general manager Howie Roseman can do to trim the figure down. The Eagles have about $265 million earmarked toward 2021, which would put them approximately $65 million to $75 million over the projected cap number.
That’s a lot of money, but they should be able to save about $13 million just by releasing receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. They still have to eat some of their contracts in dead money — about $16 million — but getting rid of both would almost be addition by subtraction at this point.
But the Eagles still need to make some cost-cutting moves. They’ll need to look at contracts without any remaining guaranteed money and whether they want to restructure deals for core players they see staying through 2022. They may simply have to discard some of those players.
Defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, and defensive end Brandon Graham could be restructure candidates. But they will be 30, 31 and 33, respectively, next year. The Eagles have to be careful about committing too much to aging players.
Zach Ertz and the Eagles have tabled extension talks. The tight end isn’t happy about his contract, and the Eagles have so far held firm. He could be a trade candidate, especially with Dallas Goedert younger and cheaper.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, tackle Lane Johnson, guard Brandon Brooks, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave still have high guarantees remaining. They, too, could agree to restructures that would likely have the Eagles increasing their guarantees.
But Roseman got himself into this bind partly by borrowing against the future. He also gave out some bad contracts. He kept pushing money ahead, though, to keep the core of the team together and to make another Super Bowl push. That just hasn’t happened, and what he has left himself with is a still-aging roster that has declined.
The Wentz contract, more than anything, has tied Roseman’s hands. He had the benefit of his rookie deal from 2016-19, and a relatively low cap number in 2020. But the number skyrockets in 2021 ($34,673,536) without any plausible way out with a near $60 million hit in dead money if the Eagles were looking to move on from the 28-year-old quarterback.
What you need to know about the Eagles
From Les Bowen: A sluggish offense? A crumbling Eagles season? The defense must stay focused on its job, Jim Schwartz says.
From EJ Smith: The Eagles’ misplayed punt return that led to the safety was a tough play for Greg Ward, his coach says.
Birds’ Eye View Podcast: The root of the Eagles’ problems starts with Carson Wentz.
From the mailbag
“Is Travis Fulgham’s production reduction over the last several weeks a result of Fulgham’s issues, Wentz’s issues, Pederson not calling his number, defenses catching up to him … all of the above?” — Stephen Bansazak via Twitter @steviebansazak
All of the above. Goodnight, everybody … OK, you probably want a more detailed answer. But, yes, it seems to be a combination of a number of things. Fulgham has 12 total targets the last two games, but most of those passes haven’t come until the second half. Pederson hasn’t stressed getting Fulgham involved early, or at least to the point where he’s being schemed open.
Wentz is a hot mess right now, so clearly his issues have had an effect on everyone. But Fulgham’s recent struggles — he’s caught just two passes for 16 yards the last two games — can partly be attributed to being matched up against two good cornerbacks. The Giants’ James Bradberry and the Browns’ Denzel Ward played a lot of man coverage on Fulgham, and he just couldn’t create enough separation.
I don’t think that means Fulgham’s previous five games were a mirage. But there’s a reason why the Eagles were able to pick him up off the waiver wire before the season: He isn’t very fast. He’s a good receiver who runs crisp routes and can high point the ball, but he may need a precise passer to really thrive, and Wentz, right now, for whatever the reason, isn’t.