Last Eagles season, I wrote a column tracking the storylines at each position throughout the season. I had some fun thinking about the team in this sort of big-picture narrative way, so I thought I’d bring it back.
We last left the Eagles after a 9-7 season, good for the 6th seed in the playoffs and a double-doink win over the Chicago Bears on Wild Card Weekend. Nick Foles’ historic two-year run of magic came to a close after the final pass of the season sailed through Alshon Jeffery’s hands and into the arms of the New Orleans Saints on the final drive of the Divisional Round game. A lot has changed with this team since that moment – new faces, old faces, and another promising roster and promising season.
Let’s take a look at the storylines heading into the season.
QB: The organization bet the farm on Carson Wentz – but can he stay on the field?
Quarterback no longer remains a controversy for the Philadelphia Eagles. A now 30 year-old Nick Foles won the Eagles their first ever Super Bowl in 2017-18 and dragged an underachieving team to a 2nd round playoff appearance in 2018-19. Foles has since been replaced by an extremely promising, yet often injured, 26 year-old Carson Wentz. To briefly recap Wentz’s injury history: in 2015 (North Dakota State) he missed eight weeks due to surgery on his throwing wrist; in 2016 he fractured his ribs and missed all of preseason; in 2017 he tore his ACL and missed the entire Super Bowl run; and in 2018 he was out the last few weeks of the season, including the playoffs, with fractured vertebrae.
In March, the Eagles bet on the younger player, letting the older Foles walk to Jacksonville in free-agency, where he signed a four-year contract worth as much as $102 million, including $50.1 million in guarantees.
In June, the Eagles decided to double-down on this bet by extending Wentz’ rookie contract (which still had two years left) with an additional four-year deal worth as much as $128 million, including $107 million in guarantees. Wentz is now effectively on a six-year/$158 million deal that should make him the Eagles quarterback until he’s 32 years-old.
The central storyline for quarterback (and really, the whole team) this season will be Carson Wentz’s health and performance. The rest of the roster looks as promising as ever – but can Wentz stay on the field and look like the MVP-caliber QB he did for three months back in 2018? We’ll know soon enough.
RB: Jordan Howard leads a team of exciting talent
Most of the skill positions are bright spots for the Eagles and running back is no different. After a pretty poor outing last season due largely to injury, the Eagles are looking to bounce-back this season with the addition of young stud Jordan Howard, acquired via trade from Chicago back in March. Howard should provide the punch that the oft-injured Jay Ajayi could not last year.
Beyond Howard as the lead back, the rest of the Eagles’ RB depth looks quite promising. There’s the exciting rookie Miles Sanders out of Penn State, the healing Super Bowl hero Corey Clement, and the fan-favorite Darren Sproles. Two of the following three will probably end up on the final roster as well: Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, or Boston Scott.
It’s always smart to stock the stables with as much talent as possible and with Howard backed up by a few viable options, the Eagles have a strong backfield heading into the season.
WR/TE: Welcome back, DeSean!
The return of DeSean Jackson very well may replace the Nick Foles-sized hole in my heart. Forget a moment about PFF rating the Eagles’ receiving corp as the best in the league, and revel with me in having OUR GUY back where he belongs. The attitude and swagger DeSean brings will be felt immediately, whenever Wentz hits him on a long bomb. In the immortal words of Dr. Cliff Patel: DeSean Jackson is the man.
The rest of the receiving corps? Yeah, they’re pretty good too. Alshon Jeffery remains a bonafide stud, Nelson Agholor continues to improve and looks to break out this year, and rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside will provide some upside depth alongside Mack Hollins. Meanwhile, Ertz and Goedert remain the best 1-2 tight-end combo in the league.
Wentz will have endless good options to throw to this year. If he can consistently connect, expect to see a lot of 30+ point outings from this group.
OL: Staying strong or Peters-ing out?
The Eagles offensive line has been a consistent strength in recent years, and it’s no surprise to see them atop PFF’s rankings yet again. Kelce, Brooks, Johnson, and Peters have been household names – a difficult feat for o-linemen – for years. Issac Seumalo rounds out the starting five, which are supported by rookie Andre Dillard, and veterans Stefan Wisniewski and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Still, though, when I think of this group during an actual game, I think of Jason Peters running on-and-off the field in an attempt to extend his brilliant career. After missing the Super Bowl run in 2017 due to a torn ACL and MCL, Peters spent most of 2018 with nagging injuries missing snaps and sometimes games. At 37 years old, can Jason Peters stay on the field long enough to hoist the Lombardi trophy in February? For his sake, let’s hope and pray that he can.
DL: Chris Long retires, but the line remains fire
Although fan-favorite Chris Long retired this past year, a group anchored by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will have a hard time failing. Add in the talented interior pass-rusher Malik Jackson and high-upside third year player Derek Barnett on the edge, and the Eagles have a nice starting 4.
Familiar faces Vinny Curry and Timmy Jernigan lead the never-ending rotation of depth the Eagles seem to have on the defensive line. The Jim Schwartz Eagles are built to get pressure on the QB – expect them to continue to do so this year.
LB: Will Zach Brown’s Band play a great set or bomb?
Linebacker has never been quite right for the Eagles. Aside from the consistent play of Nigel Bradham, the other two slots have been populated with players who just couldn’t stick. With the oft-injured Jordan Hicks now an Arizona Cardinal, the Eagles turn to former pro-bowler Zach Brown to provide some consistent play in the middle.
Both Brown and Bradham already have their hands full with Kamu Grugier-Hill out with a grade 3 MCL sprain and will look to Nathan Gerry and LJ Fort to pick up the slack.
The Eagles have been getting away for years with a thin linebacking corps, largely thanks to players like Fletcher Cox upfront. However, if they can’t get dependable play from Zach Brown, Bradham will once again be left with a cast of unknowns.
DB: Who will stand out as a reliable coverage option?
The Eagles’ secondary has often been the bane of my existence. Spoiled as a fan that grew up watching the likes of Bobby Taylor, Troy Vincent, and Brian Dawkins, perhaps I’ve unfairly graded every group the Eagles have had since. Some of our staff is quite high on the secondary this year.
I’m still skeptical on this mostly young and/or injury prone unit led by veteran Malcolm Jenkins and a hopefully recovered Rodney McLeod, but I’m willing to reserve judgment (at least until I write this column again in Week 4).
What will need to happen – and happen quickly – is for one if not two of the following names to establish themselves as reliable coverage: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Johnathan Cyprien, Andrew Sendejo, and Orlando Scandrick.
Someone has to stick…right?
Special Teams: Ok…who’s returning punts?
I actually don’t know. And I’m not sure the Eagles do yet either. It’s a tough call between two proven veteran options in DeSean Jackson and Darren Sproles. A fan could kill an afternoon digging up their highlights – even just the ones in Eagles green – on YouTube.
You could also talk me into someone young, hungry, and dangerous (perhaps a backup RB like Boston Scott or Miles Sanders?).
My vote would be for DeSean Jackson, but it appears as though there are mixed thoughts among Eagles fans on this as well:
Whoever it is, take one to the house in Week 1, and you’ve won yourself the job.
“Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a part of life. It’s a part of building character and growing.”
Last season, I ended this section with a different quote from Jason Kelce’s iconic Super Bowl speech. Two seasons removed, it’s hard to not think of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run, as much of the roster remains the same. It is no secret that I loved Nick Foles as this team’s quarterback and leader and was sad to see him go. It feels appropriate to kick this season off with a Foles quote, his quote about failure.
This Eagles team is one of the favorites in the NFC heading into the season. Expectations are high. If they’re to succeed, Carson Wentz & the gang can’t be afraid to fail under high pressure and high expectations. Each snap, every play, each week, all year – they’ll need to play fearlessly to get back to the Super Bowl. The season kicks off against Washington on September 8th. Go Birds.