WHEN THE Eagles move on to Step 2 of their latest attempt to build a Super Bowl champion this offseason, Jim Schwartz is going to have to wait his turn.
I'm not breaking any news here by pointing out that Schwartz's defense needs some significant upgrading. The cornerback position needs to be addressed. Again. They need to find a difference-making edge rusher and also improve the linebacker depth.
But the Eagles' top offseason priority must be improving the offensive cast around their rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz. Starting with the wide-receiver position.
"When you draft a kid No. 2 at quarterback and you believe in his future, I think what you have to do is build around him," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "Regardless of what you need on defense, I think the priority has to be helping this kid out. 'How do we make him better?' 'How do we make him special?'
"If you look at what Bill Polian used to do, whether it was Jim Kelly in Buffalo or Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, when he got that guy, he built around that guy. He knew what he wanted on defense, but the bottom line was he was going to make sure he brought in talented offensive people to put around his young quarterback."
Mayock believes the Eagles should address their undernourished wide-receiver situation in both free agency and the draft. The more pass-catching weapons they can get Wentz, the better.
"I'm a big believer in building through the draft," he said. "However, I think it would be nice to get a quality veteran, hard-working, tough wide receiver in that room (in free agency). Somebody who people look up to and respect and you can build around and you know, every Sunday, you've got somebody who's going to be there for you.
"I'd love to see that happen with a veteran wideout. And then, in the draft, take at least two rookie wide receivers."
Thanks to the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles will have a full complement of picks in next spring's draft. Mayock said the wide-receiver class is going to be pretty deep.
"Through the first three rounds, there's going to be some interesting players," he said. "I don't think it's like the wide-receiver draft from three years ago with (Mike) Evans and (Odell) Beckham and those guys. It's not top-heavy that way.
"But it's a pretty solid wide-receiver class with enough guys that are either big-body type guys that can make a lot of catches and help out your quarterback, or smaller, quick guys that can make plays."
Protecting Wentz is every bit as important as making sure he has weapons to throw to. The jury still is out on 2016 rookies Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo. Lane Johnson is one more positive PED test from a two-year banishment. And left tackle Jason Peters turns 35 in January.
Four months ago, I would have told you there was no way Peters would be back in 2017. Now, I think there's a better chance he returns than leaves. His cap number jumps from $9.7 million to $11.2 million. But he has played amazingly well in this, his 14th NFL season. And he has stayed healthy.
With Johnson's cap number increasing to $10 million next season, that would mean your two starting offensive tackles would be taking up more than $21 million of cap space. But, hey, if that's the best way to keep your young franchise quarterback in one piece, it's worth it.
"Wide receiver and offensive tackle go hand-in-hand in making (Wentz) a better player," Mayock said. "However, I would heavily lean toward trying to find somebody who can make plays early in the draft.
"I think you can get by - Lane Johnson will be back and you've got Vaitai and Seumalo. At least they've got some juice in that offensive line now.
"The left tackle (Peters) has played better than I expected he would. They have to make a decision on his salary and what they're going to do there. But I think there's enough components in that offensive line that you can make wide receiver the (top) priority.''
After a red-hot start, Wentz has had his ups and downs the last two months. His 70.1 passer rating over the last eight games is the lowest in the league during that span among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts.
"Everything that we saw on his college tape has showed up in the NFL," Mayock said. "And that's both good and bad. And I'm bullish on him.
"The fact that he's highly athletic with a big arm and not afraid to push the ball down the field. Can be very accurate. All those things have shown up, as well as his work ethic and his toughness. I'm a firm believer that he's going to be a big-time franchise quarterback.
"However, in college, he tried to fit the ball into tight coverage at times. I thought his footwork got lazy at times. And I think what you're seeing right now is the classic case of a young quarterback with a lot of talent who's getting beat up and doesn't have a lot of offensive support, and he's trying to make things happen. And when you try to make things happen, a lot of times, the opposite happens.
"He's going through what a lot of young, talented rookie quarterbacks have to go through."
It's safe to say the Eagles would have been a better team had Lane Johnson not gotten slapped with a 10-game PED suspension. How much better, well, given all of their offensive and defensive shortcomings, that's hard to say.
That said, there are no hard feelings by his teammates, who will welcome him back with open arms in two weeks when his suspension is up.
"We're excited to get him back," center Jason Kelce said. "I think this was an honest mistake. It's not like he was trying to bend the rules. I think this was one of those freak instances - yeah, he made a mistake. But I'm not going to get on the guy about it.
"I can't tell you what percentage of the guys in this league take supplements. He just took one that he shouldn't have taken. He didn't know. There was no way to know. (The illegal substance) wasn't printed on the label."
When he returns, Johnson will have no margin for error. If he tests positive again for PEDs, he will be banished from the league for two years.
"I'm not really worried about it," Kelce said. "I think he's probably going to stay as far away from anything that's even remotely called a supplement. Which is what I do.
"He's so competitive and wants to be at the top of his game. But he doesn't need (to take supplements). He's already a freak athlete. Big, strong, explosive. He could probably eat McDonald's and go out there and dominate on Sunday. He's going to be just fine."
* Sunday's loss to the Bengals dropped the Eagles' road record to 1-6. They have been outscored in the first quarter on the road, 58-9, and 115-63 in the first half. They have had halftime leads just twice on the road - 9-7 against the Bears (their lone road win) and 13-10 against the Cowboys (an overtime loss). The Eagles have given up 7.3 yards per play on their opponents' first two possessions on the road and just 4.7 at home. Offensively, they're averaging just 3.8 yards per play on their first two possessions on the road and 6.3 at home.
* The Eagles are 13th in the league in opponent rush average (4.1 yards per carry). But over the last five games, they've held teams to 3.19 yards per carry, which is second only to Baltimore (3.14) during that span. They've allowed just 22 rushing first downs in the last five games, the sixth fewest in the league.
* Last week, the Bengals averaged just 3.9 yards against the Eagles on first down, but 13.8 on third down.
* The Eagles had a 45.4 percent run-play rate in their first six games. In their last six: 34.7. A game-by-game breakdown of their run-pass ratio:
Run Pass Run Halftime
OpponentPlays Plays Pct. Score
Bengals. . . 19 61 23.7 0-19
Packers. . . 18 40 31.0 10-14
Seahawks. . . 26 47 35.6 7-16
Falcons. . . 38 38 50.0 7-6
Giants. . . 25 51 33.8 10-21
Cowboys. . . 24 47 33.8 13-10
Vikings. . . 26 28 48.1 11-3
Redskins. . . 21 27 43.7 14-21
Lions. . . 21 36 36.8 10-21
Steelers. . . 30 31 49.2 13-3
Bears. . . 32 36 47.0 9-7
Browns. . . 34 39 46.6 13-7
* With slot receiver Jordan Matthews out last week with an ankle injury, the Eagles ran a season-low 16 plays with "11" personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR). Even though they trailed the Bengals by double-digits for 46 1/2 minutes, they used two- tight-end sets on 60 of their 80 offensive plays. Tight end Trey Burton, who essentially lined up in the slot most of the time, played a season-high 66 percent of the snaps.
* Not all the news was bad for the Eagles Sunday. You'll be pleased to know that for the first time in seven games, they managed to convert a third down of 10 yards or more. Happened in the second quarter when Carson Wentz found Trey Burton for a 12-yard completion on a third-and-10. For the season, the Eagles have converted just four of 51 third downs of 10 yards or more. Their 7.8 third-and-long success rate is the worst in the league. Wentz on third-and-10 or more: 16-for-37, 5.9 yards per attempt, no touchdowns, one interception, five sacks, a 51.5 passer rating.
* The Eagles have run 547 of their 793 offensive plays (68.9 percent) out of shotgun. That high number almost certainly has been influenced by the fact that the Eagles have been behind so much and in so many obvious passing situations. They are averaging 4.6 yards per carry and have a 75.1 passer rating out of shotgun. They are averaging 3.9 yards per carry and have a 109.4 passer rating from under center. They have thrown just 63 passes this season from under center.
FROM THE LIP
* "It gives you guys a bad name. He's one of your colleagues and irresponsible reporting doesn't shine well for all of you, and that's too bad because. . . I enjoy talking to you guys." - Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, on a report by the Chicago Tribune's Mike Mulligan that he was going to be fired
* "I've taken everything that y'all have stood up here and asked me right on the chest. It doesn't affect me emotionally or physically. I take it every week, so whatever y'all want to blame (me for), I'll take that." - Bills QB Tyrod Taylor, on criticism of his play
* "I'm a Clevelander. I've spent the majority of my adult life here. Every day, when I come to work, it's, 'Let's turn this team into a consistent winner.' Because it would be such a special story. It would be like when the Cubs won the World Series." - Browns LT Joe Thomas, on why he doesn't want to be traded
BY THE NUMBERS
* LeSean McCoy is averaging a career-high 5.5 yards per carry. His previous high was 5.2 in 2010, his second year with the Eagles.
* The Bucs have won four consecutive games for the first time since 2012. This is the first time they've been 7-5 or better after 12 games since 2010, and the first time they've had a share of the division lead through 13 weeks since 2008.
* Dolphins corner Byron Maxwell has four forced fumbles this season, which ties him for the league lead in that category among defensive backs with Falcons safety Keanu Neal. The former Eagle had a total of five forced fumbles in his first four years in the league, including two last year with the Eagles.
* The Cowboys' 11-game winning streak equals the longest in franchise history. They also won 11 in a row at the end of the 1968 season and the beginning of 1969.
* Brian Dawkins will find out in a few weeks whether he is one of the 15 modern-era finalists for the Hall of Fame. The former Eagles safety is one of the 26 semifinalists. The voting deadline for the 48 selectors is next Friday. Each of them must select 15 names from among the semifinalists. Selectors then will meet in Houston the day before the Super Bowl, discuss the 15 finalists, hold secret-ballot reduction votes from 15 to 10 to five, then have individual yes-or-no votes on the final five. Once a candidate makes it to the final five, he needs 80 percent approval (39 of 48 votes) to be selected. This time, for the first time, two ex-players — James Lofton and Dan Fouts — are among the 48 voters. My 15 selections, along with the 11 I left off:
DB Brian Dawkins
WR Terrell Owens
WR Isaac Bruce
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
RB Edgerrin James
QB Kurt Warner
OL Alan Faneca
OL Joe Jacoby
OL Chris Hinton
OL Tony Boselli
DL Jason Taylor
DB John Lynch
DB Ty Law
LB Karl Mecklenburg
Coach Jimmy Johnson
DIDN'T MAKE MY CUT
RB Roger Craig
RB Terrell Davis
WR Torry Holt
WR Hines Ward
OL Mike Kenn
OL Kevin Mawae
LB Clay Matthews
DB Steve Atwater
DB Darren Woodson
PK Morten Andersen
Coach Don Coryell
* Our condolences go out to ex-Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his family. His father, Paul, passed away last Friday. Kelly's dad was buried in a 49ers sweat suit. "He did not want to wear a suit in his coffin," Chip told reporters this week. "He wore a suit his entire career as a trial lawyer. He wanted to wear a 49ers sweat suit and he did that." Paul Kelly, who was 87, died of an apparent heart attack.
* The Eagles will have a difficult decision to make on Connor Barwin in the offseason. The 30-year-old defensive end is not having one of his better seasons. His cap number increases from $7.35 million this year to $8.35 million next year. He's the ultimate team player, a positive force in the locker room and an important part of the Philadelphia community. I don't think the Eagles want to release him, but they might ask him to take a pay cut, particularly if they keep tackle Jason Peters and his $11.2 million cap number for another year.