While 14 teams moved into postseason play this week, the Eagles dove into full offseason mode after missing the playoffs for the 1st time since 2016. Announcements have already come out that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, linebackers coach Ken Flajole, offensive assistant Rich Scangarello, and senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg will all be gone from the team’s 2021 coaching staff.
The Eagles are far from done making changes, with the biggest decision still left to be made. But, before we dive into the discussion about the biggest decision facing the Eagles, let’s talk a little bit of history.
The Historical Opening
In the early 1400s in England, there was a showdown of epic proportions on the horizon between an entrenched and corrupt ruler who derived his power from a reign of terror and an upstart, young man who finally had enough. The young challenger had seen his family murdered at the hand of the corrupt, powerful ruler, and his friends terrorized and thus set his course on a path towards a final confrontation. All of the lands knew that the confrontation was coming and watched with bated breath and hope for the future.
The coming showdown was seen as so inevitable and so monumental that a local soothsayer penned these famous words about the coming conflict. “Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…”
I’m speaking, of course, about the confrontation between Harry Potter and he-who-must-not-be-named, which I must confess is not an actual historical reference and did not happen in the 1400s.
Back to the Eagles
So why do I bring that up? According to multiple news outlets, it appears increasingly apparent that both Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz will not survive this offseason in Philadelphia.
Last Sunday, Chris Mortensen reported that the Wentz-Pederson relationship was fractured and that Wentz would ask for a trade.
Now, this week, Mortensen reported that Doug Pederson was the more likely of the two to be gone next season.
Doug Pederson’s status as @Eagles coach is not firm, sources tell @Tim_McManus and me.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 10, 2021
Pederson could be out if owner Jeffrey Lurie is not confident about Pederson’s vision going forward after the two meet again soon.
Lurie’s concerns extend well beyond Carson Wentz, per sources.
According to an earlier report, Wentz was unhappy with how the quarterback position was handled and ready to move on if he wasn’t going to remain the starter in 2021 and beyond. If the Wentz-Pederson relationship is fractured beyond repair, the Eagles would be unwise to try and force them on each other. This brings us to the all-important question of the offseason: Who should the Eagles hitch their wagons to moving forward?
The Case for Doug Pederson
Record With Backup Quarterbacks
It is no secret that Doug Pederson has excelled with backup quarterbacks in his starting lineup. In 2017, Nick Foles entered the Rams game after a Carson Wentz injury and held the lead. Then the Foles-led Eagles won in weeks 15 and 16 to secure the 1 seed en route to the Super Bowl.
In 2018, Foles went 1-1 to start the year before the return of Wentz. Wentz would suffer a back fracture during the late season and be replaced by Nick Foles once again, who led the team to 3 straight victories and a playoff birth (and win).
And, of course, there is the 2020 season, where Jalen Hurts became the starter in week 14 after 4 straight losses and led the team to a victory over the Saints and a close loss to the Cardinals before the Wheels fell off against the Cowboys in week 16.
Overall, Doug Pederson has a record of 35-33-1 with Carson Wentz at quarterback and a record of 11-4 with backups (not counting week 17 of 2017 when the team benched starters or week 17 of 2020 when the Eagles blatantly tanked).
For whatever reason, Pederson seems to coach better with a different quarterback. Whether it is the result of his scheme not working well with Wentz’s skillset or a result of Wentz not being very coachable is irrelevant. Even though Wentz is clearly a better quarterback than Nick Foles, Foles has done better with Pederson than Wentz has.
Given that fact, it could make sense for the Eagles to move on from Wentz, even if it means starting a less talented quarterback.
He Commands the Locker Room
Emotional intelligence is a buzz word that we all made fun of when it was used to describe the Doug Pederson hire. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is something there. In 2017 the team rallied around a backup quarterback and won the Super Bowl. In 2018 the team was down and out at 4-6 before winning 5 of their final 6 games to make the post-season. In 2019 the team was 5-7 before winning their final 4 games to make the playoffs. In 2020 the team was 3-8-1, fighting through more injuries than I have ever seen in a professional sports season, and still managed to beat the Saints and continue to fight in the following games.
Pederson has definitively proven that he has the respect of his players and that they will never give up on him. Maybe the front office should follow suit.
Made the Playoffs in 3 of the Last 4 years
I know, that’s a tired talking point. But when you look at the injuries that the team sustained and overcame during that run you can’t help but appreciate what Pederson was able to accomplish. According to Football Outsiders adjusted games lost metric, the Eagles were the 13th most injured team in the league in 2017 and they won the Super Bowl. In 2018 they were the most injured team in the league and not only made the playoffs but won a playoff game. In 2019 the team was the 21st most injured team in the NFL and made the playoffs once again. While the 2020 metrics aren’t out yet, I would be astounded if the Eagles aren’t, once again, the most injured team in the league.
The point of this discourse isn’t to make you feel sorry for the Eagles. Every team deals with injuries in the NFL. A key quality from a head coach is the ability to thrive in adverse situations, which Pederson has demonstrated over the last several years.
Commitment to Analytics/Aggressiveness
Pederson took the league by storm in 2017 with his aggressive approach to 4th downs and 2 point conversions. This approach led to the most memorable moment in franchise history, the Philly Special.
Pederson has continued to remain aggressive while so many other coaches have lagged behind, playing football the way it was played in the 1990s.
The Case for Carson Wentz
The 2017 Season
Yes, Carson Wentz turned in an MVP level season in 2017, throwing 33 TD passes vs 7 interceptions, but that’s not what I want to focus on. What I want to talk about is what changed after 2017. QB coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Frank Reich both left following the work they did with Carson Wentz during the Super Bowl season. Since then, there has been a constant shuffling of coaches and Wentz has lost that edge that he used to have.
Are the two events related? It is hard to know for sure, but do you really want to risk the Carson Wentz of old lighting the league on fire under different coaching? Once a quarterback shows you what Carson Wentz showed in 2017, the future should be dedicated to building around that guy.
The 2019 Season
In 2019 Carson Wentz completed 64% of his passes for 27 TDs and 7 INTs while topping 4,000 yards passing for the first time in his career. Pop quiz: who was the leading receiver for the Eagles that season? Alshon Jeffery with 490 yards. That’s right, Carson Wentz threw for 4,000 yards without having a single receiver top 500 yards, a first in NFL history. During the final 4 game stretch (all Eagles wins crucial to making the playoffs), Wentz threw for 1,199 yards and 7 TDs with 0 INT with practice squad signee Greg Ward as his top receiving target. If Wentz was recently able to do so much with so little around him, the Eagles would be foolish to move on from him after 1 bad season.
His Problems are Fixable
From 2017-2019 Carson Wentz never threw more than 7 interceptions in a season. The most sacks he took in a year was 37. In 2020 Wentz imploded in spectacular fashion, throwing 15 interceptions and taking 50 sacks before his season was mercifully cut short. Is it more likely that Wentz suddenly forgot how to play football or that the 13 different combinations of offensive linemen contributed more to the issues?
In the last 2 seasons, Carson Wentz’s leading receivers have been Alshon Jeffrey (490 yards in 2019) and Travis Fulgham (539 yards in 2020). While having almost no talent to work with is bad enough, Wentz was battered every game behind a porous, cobbled together offensive line. Wentz had many problems this season, but the majority of them could be fixed with a return to health by the offensive line and the emergence of someone, anyone as a receiving option.
The Eagles Don’t Trust Doug Anyways
Following the 2019 season, Doug Pederson spoke out in favor of offensive coordinator Mike Groh and WR coach Gunter Brewer, saying that they would be back for 2020. One day later Howie Roseman fired them both. This season reports came out that Doug doesn’t even get to pick who is active and who plays on gameday, saying that Howie gives him that information late in the week. The Eagles clearly don’t trust Pederson enough to run his own staff. With a major overhaul to the coaching staff coming this offseason, the Eagles would be better served to put someone at the helm that they trust to run their own staff.
It is More Economical to Move Pederson
The Eagles will owe Pederson money if they chose to fire him this offseason (although not if they trade him as some reports have alleged), but that money doesn’t count against the Eagles salary cap. On the other hand, moving Carson Wentz would have massive cap implications for the Eagles. If you are torn between 2 paths forward, sometimes it makes the most sense to take the cheapest path.
Now the moment you have all been waiting for: If I was in charge, what would I do? I would sit down with both sides and see if an agreement can be reached. Assuming the answer is no, I would cut ties with Doug Pederson and begin the search for a new head coach as quickly as possible. A franchise QB is harder to come by than a head coach, and the longer this process drags on the more likely it is that some of the most appealing candidates will be poached by some other team.