For just the eighth time in the last 21 seasons, the Eagles have missed the playoffs.
Ever since Andy Reid was hired as the team’s head coach in 1999, the organization has operated on the principle of sustainability. Get good and stay good. You always have a chance if you’re in the playoff hunt every year. Keep the Super Bowl window of opportunity open as long as possible.
That approach has resulted in two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl title. It has resulted in six NFC championship game appearances and nine division titles and 11 double-digit-win seasons since 2000.
But after finishing 4-11-1 this season, the Eagles find themselves in an unfamiliar place.
They have to rebuild.
Their rebuilding job isn’t quite as massive as, say, the one down in Jacksonville with the 1-15 Jaguars or the one up in North Jersey with the 2-14 Jets. But it’s still going to be bigger than any they’ve had to do in a while.
They are an old team, with 10 starters who are 30 or older. They have an unsettled quarterback situation. They once again were bedeviled by injuries, which are partly related to all of the older players they have. And they have major salary-cap challenges facing them in the offseason.
The Eagles are somewhere between $60 million and $75 million over the projected 2021 cap. They have a dozen players with cap numbers in excess of $10 million for next season, including $34 million for their benched quarterback, Carson Wentz, who led the league in interceptions and had a career-worst 72.8 passer rating.
General manager Howie Roseman almost certainly is going to have to release or trade some of his high-priced veterans to help the team get under the cap. Wentz may or may not be one of them. The Eagles’ cap problems also are going to prevent them from doing much on the free agency market.
“I’m going to do everything that’s in the best interest of this team to get it back to being a perennial playoff team,” Roseman said Monday during a joint video conference with head coach Doug Pederson.
“I’m not worried about my job. That’s not anything that really concerns me. That’s out of my hands. I’m worried about doing what’s the best and right thing for this team to get back” to where it was three years ago when it won the Super Bowl.”
The draft, and the inexpensive young labor it can provide, is the one and only path back to Super Bowl contention for the Eagles. But Roseman and his staff are going to need to do a better job of drafting than they’ve done the last few years.
That includes their first-round decision last April to take Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round. Reagor, who missed five games with a torn ligament in his thumb, had just 31 catches for 396 yards and a touchdown. Jefferson, taken one pick later by the Vikings , had 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven TDs and probably is going to be the league’s offensive rookie of the year.
“Obviously, [Jefferson] had a phenomenal year,” Roseman said. “It’s not like our head is in the sand and we don’t see that. We went into the draft trying to find the right guys for our team in terms of what we thought we needed to have to be a better offense.”
Roseman said he remains confident that Reagor, as well as 2019 second-round wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has 14 catches in two seasons, both will be productive players.
“We’re counting on both of those guys taking a big step in the offseason,” he said.
The Eagles have the sixth overall pick in the April draft thanks to their 4-11-1 record. Aside from 2016, when they traded up twice to get Wentz with the second pick, the No. 6 pick will be their highest “earned” selection since 2013, when they took three-time Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth pick.
“That’s something we have to hit on, the sixth pick in the draft, in a huge, huge way,” Roseman said. “And I think we have the right people to do that. I know that we’re going to be incredibly focused on not only that pick, but the other picks we’ll have in this draft. And hopefully we’ll have a bunch of them and we’ll go from there.”
Roseman admitted that the Eagles’ Super Bowl title in 2017 caused the organization to lose a little bit of its objectivity as far turning over the roster. They kept many of the key pieces of that title team together, even if it meant doing some of the contract restructuring that is coming back to bite them now.
“We did whatever we had to do to try to win a championship in ’17, especially when we saw the opportunity,” Roseman said. “Then [in] ’18, it felt like maybe it was an opportunity to run it back with the players that we had, and maybe even in ’19. Just continue to keep it going.
“But clearly, we are not the same roster right now.”
Roseman said the Eagles had planned to start turning over the roster after last season. But they “pivoted a little bit” when the COVID-19 pandemic came along.
“I don’t want to blame this on the pandemic,” he said. “But we thought we saw an opportunity with having the only [NFC East coaching] staff that was coming back, to maybe make one more run with veteran players than we were planning on making if there had been an offseason program and OTAs for those [young] guys. It was more short-term thinking.