It’s been two full seasons since the Eagles won the Super Bowl. The team has won one playoff game. It lost a home playoff game last season. It earned that playoff game by winning four straight NFC East games -- against three teams that immediately fired their coaches.
Jason Garrett was one of the coaches who got fired, largely because the Clapper’s Cowboys lost four of their last six games and gifted the division to Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman.
As the reigning division champion and the only team returning its coaching staff after the coronavirus pandemic cost the NFL its offseason, the Eagles enjoy a significant advantage over the rest of the division.
Two playoff berths, one postseason win since the Super Bowl. Do the Birds need to reach the playoffs this season for the brain trust to be safe? If the Eagles miss the playoffs this season, would the Super Bowl title and the modest results from the last two seasons be good enough to guarantee the jobs of Pederson, the head coach, and Roseman, the general manager?
Should it be good enough?
The mistakes Pederson and Roseman have made since that Minnesota evening of Feb. 4, 2017, have been numerous and onerous. Those errors wouldn’t have warranted their removal if the Eagles had missed the playoffs last season, but those mistakes certainly warrant a change of one, or both, if the Eagles don’t reach the 2020 postseason. They might even have to win a playoff game to keep their jobs.
Why is this a point of conversation? Because the Eagles have gone 9-7 in consecutive seasons thanks to 4-6 and 5-7 starts. They’re a double-doink field-goal miss in Chicago from having zero playoff wins the last two seasons. The window to win in the NFL is never long, and the window is fast closing in Philadelphia.
Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, 27, is in his fifth season, and he is in his prime, but he is fragile, and fragile players seldom grow more durable with age. All-Pro center Jason Kelce, 32, considers retirement after every season. Pro Bowl right guard Lane Johnson, Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, and All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will be 30 by the end of the season.
Remember how ageless the Phillies seemed when they won pennants in 2008 and 2009? Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie often carries Phillies owner John Middleton to road games, so Middleton serves as a reminder of how quickly a franchise can collapse. Lurie is 68. His patience wears thinner by the day, and the afterglow of Super Bowl LII is fading.
When the Colts hired offensive coordinator Frank Reich as head coach after Super Bowl LII, Pederson replaced him with receivers coach Mike Groh, who, to no one’s surprise, proved unqualified for the job. Groh struggled through two lousy seasons, but Pederson refused to fire Groh until Lurie insisted, according to league sources.
Pederson has since replaced Groh with … himself? Well, sort of. Pederson will continue to call plays, as he has done since his arrival in 2016, but he will oversee a consortium of offensive coaches. Press Taylor, the quarterbacks coach, is the “passing game coordinator” while Jeff Stoutland, the offensive line coach, is the “run game coordinator.”
Pederson also hired former Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello as a “senior offensive assistant,” and hired former 49ers, Eagles, Jets, and Ravens coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as a “senior offensive consultant.”
The flow chart appears to run through Scangarello, but it’s hard to envision Mornhinweg — a 25-year NFL coach with 18 seasons as an NFL coordinator or head coach — deferring to Scangarello or Taylor, who have seven seasons as full-time NFL assistants combined.
Pederson is a superb coach, but this cacophony of voices is more likely to be discordant than harmonic. If it doesn’t work (and it won’t), Pederson will have a hard time explaining to Lurie why he tried it.
First, the good news for Roseman. Lurie places a lot of weight on getting value, and perhaps no deal looks like a great value today than the four-year, $128 million extension Wentz signed before the 2019 season. The deal will keep him under contract through 2024, when he will count $32 million against the salary cap — or about 25% less than $450 million man Patrick Mahomes, who will count almost $40 million against that year’s cap.
Other parts of the ledger are less flattering. Let’s look in the wide receiver column.
Over the last two seasons Roseman committed almost $80 million to veteran receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. They combined for 52 catches, six touchdowns, and nine complete games in 2019.
Jeffery suffered a serious foot injury that Pederson said could cost Jeffery the first two games of the season — which, of course, means he’d need a game or two more to attain game shape. Jeffery also has been accused of anonymously criticizing Wentz each of the last two seasons, creating a furor in the locker room.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s recovery from sports hernia surgery might hinder him less than his controversial posts and “likes” of anti-Semitic assertions by anti-Semitic leaders. Lurie and Roseman, who are Jewish, declined to suspend or cut Jackson as long as Jackson undergoes their prescribed educational and sensitivity program, for whatever that’s worth. It doesn’t seem to be taking.
The results of the last few drafts have been mixed, at best. The Birds got second-round stars with tight end Dallas Goedert in 2018 and running back Miles Sanders in 2019. Trading the farm for Wentz in 2016 worked out well enough.
However, cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, who were selected in the second and third rounds, respectively, of the 2017 draft, were just cut. Oversensitive, underpowered first-round left tackle Andre Dillard is out for the season with an injury.
Invisible second-round receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside needs a productive second season after an unimpressive rookie year. Fairly or not, Arcega-Whiteside will be scrutinized more than any other player. Wide receiver has become a marquee position in the NFL, and the misses look worse when you look at the hits that followed.
The Seahawks plucked DK Metcalf 64th overall in the 2019 draft, seven slots behind Arcega-Whiteside. Metcalf finished with 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ playoff win at Philadelphia. Arcega-Whiteside caught just 10 passes for 169 yards and one score. He had no catches in the playoff game.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Metcalf wasn’t the only receiver picked after Arcega-Whiteside went 57th. The Steelers’ Diontae Johnson went 66th and managed 59 catches, 680 yards, and five touchdowns. Washington’s Terry McLaurin went 76th and had 58 catches, 919 yards, and seven scores. The Raiders’ Hunter Renfro was picked 148th and caught 49 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns. The Giants’ Darius Slayton, the 171st pick, had 48 catches for 740 yards and eight TDs.
Arcega-Whiteside’s impotence created even more urgency at the position, so the spotlight will be even brighter on rookie receiver Jalen Reagor, whom the Eagles selected 21st overall in April. What if Justin Jefferson, taken 22nd, breaks out in Minnesota? What if 25th pick Brandon Aiyuk cooks them in Game Four at San Francisco?
And what if CeeDee Lamb torches them in their two games against Dallas? Roseman said moving up to draft Lamb 17th overall was too expensive. But in 2018, trading for Amari Cooper was too expensive, too; the Eagles reportedly offered a second-round pick, but Dallas gave Oakland a first-rounder. Cooper has since gone to two Pro Bowls. He has caught 25 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns in his four games against the Eagles. He just turned 26, and he signed a five-year, $100 million contract — again, too expensive for the Eagles, and for Doug, and for Howie.
If Dallas wins the division and the Eagles stay home, you’ll have to ponder if the price was really too high.