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Who to watch
Whether it’s because 2021 is fast approaching or because the Eagles are eliminated from the playoffs, it’s safe to say the majority of those reading this are more interested in the offseason and next year than they are about the details of this weekend’s game. Below, we’ll talk about eight Eagles to watch, four of whom have something to prove for next year, and four who could be wearing midnight green for the last time.
1. Jalen Hurts has the most to gain from a strong performance in the season finale, especially if it comes at the expense of the Eagles’ draft stock. An Eagles loss would guarantee them a pick in the top six of the draft and could vault them as high as the third pick. Depending on who you ask, there are three or four quarterback prospects with a realistic chance of becoming an elite-level franchise quarterback. Of course, the Eagles have plenty of needs outside of quarterback, but this is the QB factory we’re talking about here, and any team with an opportunity to get a guy like Justin Fields shouldn’t completely shrug it off. Hurts, who would like to make his case that he can be a starter long-term, would do well to keep the team from facing such a decision by helping the Eagles play spoiler to Washington’s season.
Even if the Eagles decided to pass on a quarterback in the draft regardless of their position, Hurts is likely to enter next training camp in a competition with Carson Wentz for the starting job. He showed plenty of promising signs in his first two starts before regressing a bit against the Cowboys. If his regression continues against Washington, it will open the door for Wentz just a bit more going into the offseason. A solid performance would do exactly the opposite.
2. Zach Ertz had a forgettable season from start to finish. Ertz came into training camp unhappy about his contract status, questioning whether his desire to be an Eagle for his entire career was something the front office shared. A few hours before the season-opener against Washington, reports surfaced that Ertz got into an argument with Howie Roseman the day before.
The 30-year-old tight end will cap off one the worst season of his career in terms of production. He battled an ankle injury that cost him five games, and he’ll set career-lows in almost every stat category, including yards per reception, yards per game, and touchdowns. Whether Ertz will be back after this year will likely be one of the biggest question marks of the offseason. He’s under contract through next season, but it’s unlikely he’d be content playing on a one-year deal worth about $12.5 million considering his standing in the league going into this season combined with the contracts given out to tight ends with a similar track record. The Eagles, who are projected to be around $70 million over the cap next year, will be forced to part ways with several established players this summer. When you consider the team already has Dallas Goedert, a younger and more productive option, Ertz’s outlook becomes dubious. All this to say, this could be Ertz’s last game as an Eagle.
3. Jason Kelce was the only point of stability for the Eagles’ offensive line this season, which was marred by a constant shuffling to compensate for injuries. It’s not clear whether this will be the last game for the 33-year-old center. He’s still playing at a high level and could be named to his fourth consecutive All-Pro team in a few days. But he’s considered retirement each of the last few off-seasons, and there’s no reason to believe this time will be different. Considering the team could be in for a rebuilding year in 2021, Kelce might decide against another year fighting with 330-pound people every weekend. If it is the end for Kelce, he’ll go down as the best center in franchise history and on a short list of the greatest offensive linemen to play for the Eagles.
4. Jalen Reagor’s jury is still out. It’s too early to really know how good the Eagles first-round receiver is going to be, but it’s fair to point out this year was a bit underwhelming considering the production from so many receivers taken in Reagor’s class. Reagor dealt with injuries both in training camp and during the season, which certainly could have stunted his progression. But this Sunday will be the latest opportunity for Reagor to give the team something to be optimistic about going into next season.
5. Speaking of receivers, DeSean Jackson is another Eagle worth taking a good, hard look at before the end of Sunday’s game. It’s far from a foregone conclusion that Jackson will be back next year, meaning his 96th game as an Eagle could be his last. Jackson is under contract for next year and is due to make around $11 million. The team could save about $5.8 million against the cap if he was released or traded before June 1. Considering the team is going to need to shed about $70 million in salary to get under the cap, Jackson could be a cap casualty, even though it would end a storied Eagles’ career.
6. Nate Herbig has had a quiet few games since being placed back into the starting lineup three weeks ago, and that’s a good thing. The second-year interior linemen could figure into the team’s post-Kelce plans if the veteran does indeed retire in the offseason. Even if Kelce returns, Herbig has played well enough to presumably serve as a backup at both guard spots and possibly even at center. Another uneventful evening against Washington would do the undrafted lineman well going into the spring.
7. Alshon Jeffery has a real chance of becoming one of the quickest victims of the Eagles’ cap crunch this offseason, so Sunday could be the end of an era. Jeffery may have experienced a sharp decline in the last two seasons, but you still have to acknowledge his contributions to the Super Bowl LII team and the production he had the following year. Still, the team can save about $8 million in cap space by cutting Jeffery before June 1. If they wait until after June 1, they can save about $13 million, but his cap hit would linger until 2022 instead of going away after next year.
8. We all know last Sunday was nightmarish for Michael Jacquet, so any semblance of a bounce-back game could be huge for him. Whether or not you think that can happen, it’s obvious the undrafted rookie would be in much better shape going into the offseason if he put together a good evening of tape against Washington. The Eagles will certainly need to reshape their secondary for the second offseason in a row, and outside cornerbacks should be atop the list of needs. But Jacquet will be in a decent position to make the 53-man roster again next summer. A lot can change between now and then, but based on the current roster, it would make sense that he’d be back as a developmental backup corner. If Jacquet has a quiet Sunday evening, it would go a long way toward that outcome.
What you need to know about the Eagles
The Eagles will be deciding between Hurts and Wentz soon enough. As Les Bowen reports, Hurts is trying to put another win on his resume before the decision needs to be made.
It’s obvious Hurts didn’t have his best game against the Cowboys, but just how bad was it? Jeff McLane went through the film to figure out where the rookie quarterback needs to improve.
From the mailbag
“Doug Pederson commented this week on not wanting to overstep when it comes to player acquisition, which the team has been criticized for throughout the season. However, player development doesn’t nearly get talked about as much. In your eyes, which is the bigger issue?” — From Art (@Art_Vandelay44) on Twitter.
Good question, Art. I think the struggles in player development and the lack of young talent on the Eagles’ roster are tied together. There have been absolute whiffs on draft picks, but the fact the team got so little out of the 2017 draft class has as much to do with player development as it does with missed picks. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were both cut by the Eagles and became starters at their next stop. It’s fair to point out both went to inferior defenses, but it’s not like the Eagles’ defense was star-studded this year, especially in the secondary.
All this speaks to a bigger problem that’s affected more than just the rookie classes each year. It’s obvious there’s a slight disconnect between what the coaching staff and the front office value. Look at JJ Arcega-Whiteside the last two years. He struggled at times, but he’s hardly even gotten on the field. Same goes for Davion Taylor this year. Of course Taylor came in expected to be a project, but it’s still clear the coaching staff doesn’t always favor young draft picks.
There have been veteran players who flamed out with the Eagles only to find homes elsewhere, whether it be L.J. Fort, Jordan Hicks, or even Mack Hollins to a lesser extent. Nelson Agholor has been playing well in Las Vegas, too, but I think that might be down to a change in scenery more than an Eagles’ failure. The Eagles were dysfunctional on many levels in 2020, which could negatively impact some of the younger players and the team’s ability to evaluate them, but the coaching staff and the front office have to get on the same page.