2016 Preview: Philadelphia Eagles
Last Year: 7-9
2nd in NFC East.
It will likely not come as a surprise to you that only hours ago this piece was over 4000 words long….my delete key needs replacing.
The Eagles 2015 should have been about the progression of a philosophy, and a system.
It should have been the year for Chips schemes to crystalize and take full shape, with the expectation that the Eagles would take the league by storm and build on two solid winning seasons. After all, this was a system that made Nick Foles look like Johnny Unitas and spawned 2 Sanchez sprinkled winning seasons.
But then free Agency began, and suddenly the narrative appeared to change. For me, suddenly, it became all about Chip, and his obsession with finding “the right guys” and making a name as a Personnel Guy.
Whilst it’s perfectly normal for a coach to gradually shape a roster of appropriate, system ready players over a gradual period of time, what Chip did was essentially to make 3 or 4 off-seasons worth of Roster moves in about 10 days. Some felt he was simply taking control and making calculated gambles for success, others, myself included feared that he had instead, completely destabilized the roster and in making so many high profile transactions involving top end starters ( and Nick Foles ) potentially mortgaged his future on the value of these trades. Kelly brought in a multitude of players he felt represented great personnel and system fits and while he may have ordinarily been right in the context of individual trades, He also traded away starters at QB, RB, and their only remaining legitimate threat at WR, for guys like Sam Bradford, and DeMarco Murray, players who, it could be argued, still had too many question marks over their consistency and durability and didn’t really represent a significant improvement on the players they lost, especially the Tim Tebow signing which was frankly bemusing.
Unfortunately Sam Bradford didn’t end up being the top end starter they had hoped he would, and DeMarco Murray was a shadow of the player he was in Dallas ( Hardly surprising when you consider the wear and tear of close to 500 touches in 2014). Losing Jeremy Maclin left the Eagles receiving corps severely depleted (again) and offensively it seemed that many of the new pieces simply didn’t gel quickly. Of course there were flashes of what the offense could have been and players like Zach Ertz, Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles did their best to keep the offense afloat, but soon it became painfully obvious that all Kelly had succeeded in doing is completely undermining two years of hard work and development, not to mention his credibility as a coach and offensive innovator.
Unsurprisingly Chip was unceremoniously deposited in the gutter before the season even ended ( A move that, I imagine had everything to do with getting a head start on shortlisting a replacement before black Monday).
And with that, the Chip Kelly era was over.
“I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair”
As soon as was humanly possible Howie Roseman decided he would begin a purge. A purge of every last shred of Chip-centricity from the building. The first stage of this purge was to get a bunch of “Chips guys” and trade them, his house, his car and the Rocky Statue for the number 8 pick in the draft. Were they after a QB? We assumed so.
Almost immediately, Pederson and Roseman paid out to get Chase Daniel over from Kansas City. Daniel would be Doug’s ‘insurance” against Bradford flaming out or even leaving…or maybe insurance against a rookie QB?
But then they spent a big pile of cash on keeping QB Sam Bradford in the building. Not big in terms of actual cash, but big in terms of overspending for a QB who has been underwhelming us all for too long. Surely they weren’t after a QB at all. Everyone assumed not.
What happened next was one of the last things that I would have bet on. Howie Roseman then went and traded up with Cleveland to the number two spot and suddenly the QB room got a bit awkward, but that was just the start. Long awkward story short, Philly draft a QB at number two, Sam Bradford’s agent demands a trade with Denver potentially showing interest in him, storms off, everybody goes on about how he should grow up and accept the competition because it’s best for the team. Bradford then returns backpedalling like a clown on a unicycle. Awkward.
Controversy? What Controversy???
The one sure fire thing that you can bet your last clean pair of pants on is that the endgame that Howie and Doug have in mind for their QB room is one where Carson Wentz gets the keys to the offense in the next year or two with Chase Daniel in the QB2 spot. Bradford looks like someone who could end up being an expensive luxury in a year or two. Any idiot can see that, and, as it stands Wentz is easily my favourite QB in the draft. Howie Roseman knows that if Carson can learn to handle the speed and level of competition in the NFL then he could have an incredible career ahead, especially with Doug Pederson and Frank Reich mentoring him.
Wentz, of all the QB’s in the draft, is the one who is the closest thing to the finished article. Goff may have traits that allow him to start right away but I have more faith, long term, in Carson. His football IQ, his experience in a pro-style system, and his habit for winning combined with an NFL calibre arm have me sold. But don’t assume that Sam Bradford isn’t the De-facto starter this year, he is and rightly so. Its best for the Team, its best for Wentz and it makes sense in the short term. My only concern is whether Sam Bradford will ever be the QB that was advertised all those years ago. In my heart of hearts I think not. I also think that Chase Daniel wins the job from Bradford by week 8 again, that is the right thing to do, because the best thing for Carson Wentz right now is if he remains the QB3 for 2016. But don’t worry, trust me, the wait will be worth it. When Carson takes the field to start he will almost certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Will I need to practice my long face for 2016???
In short, no, yes and then no… Pederson is no fool. He has excelled at Kansas City, installing a QB-centric offense that has allowed Alex Smith to flourish and thrive since leaving San Francisco. He has also proved that he can coach and game plan wins, even when his offenses may have personnel deficiencies at key positions. In short He is one of the league’s best offensive turd-polishers. That is why any of the three QB’s could potentially start with minimal bloodshed. He will simply build a system around that QB’s skills and limitations and go from there.
Defensively they are a pretty talented unit with real playmaking ability and a decent blend of youth and experience, which was the real shame of it all last year. Their defence had, and still has the talent to be one of the stronger NFL defences unfortunately due to a complete inability to sustain drives for more than a few minutes and manage the clock , they spent most of every game last year stuck on the field, chasing the game. If your defence is spending 40 minutes a game on the field when you are playing from behind then regardless of your team talent and athleticism something will eventually have to give. The absolute nadir in that regard was last year’s game against Detroit. The Lions offense was able to completely steamroller their exhausted front seven and rack up yards and points at will.
However last year is not a true reflection of that unit’s quality and immense potential.
The problem the Eagles have now is that Dallas, New York and Washington all look as good as, or vastly better than last year, and the Eagles deficiencies at receiver and uncertainty at the Quarterback position are the things that in THIS division, THIS year could well spell doom. Doug Pederson will have to be given the benefit of the doubt this year I think. Philly WILL win some, but certainly in the NFC East anything over 500 is a success and if things pan out ok in terms of system and scheme, particularly offensively, then 2017 could be amazing.
I know you have suffered enough but….Hang in there Eagles fans!!
8-8 in a tough division. But it’s a good looking 8-8. Any better and Pederson has pulled off something rather awesome.