We talk about the Eagles all the time and think we know what the season outlook is, but the truth is we don’t have a clue. In 2017, who thought the Eagles were Super Bowl contenders? Almost nobody. Last season, who thought the Eagles would stumble into the playoffs at 9-7? Absolutely nobody. In fact, they were hailed as the most talented, deepest roster in the NFL and were considered favorites to win the title. But then reality happened, and they ended with a 9-7 record and a Wild Card weekend loss. Most seasons could go either way, and that parity is what makes football so fun. So today I’m going to give you a list of six reasons everything could go wrong in 2020. Then next time I’ll be back with six reasons everything could go right because everybody wants to end on the good news, right?
Reasons for Pessimism in 2020
Malcolm Jenkins is gone, effectively cut by the Eagles this offseason after his second straight season of playing 100% of the snaps. Since 2014 when he came to Philly, he has played 98.7% of all regular season and playoff defensive snaps while also being a major contributor on special teams. Not only did Jenkins play every down, but he played multiple positions. Strong safety, slot corner, linebacker, Jenkins did a little bit of everything and offered a lot of versatility to the Eagles’ defense.
The Eagles have slotted in Jalen Mills to take over at safety for Jenkins. Mills does have experience at safety from his time at LSU, but he has never even cross-trained at the position at the NFL level. Beyond that, as of last season, the Eagles were vocally opposed to moving Mills to safety. But, you know, maybe it will work out?
Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill are both gone. Returning are Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards, and Rudy Ford with the new addition of rookie Davion Taylor. Gerry is far enough into his career for us to know that he simply isn’t that good at the linebacker position. Edwards was a UDFA last season who looked good in very limited reps. Taylor is a very athletic but raw linebacker who honestly shouldn’t be expected to do much beyond special teams this season. The Eagles have major issues at the linebacker position. They have never particularly valued the position, and Jim Schwartz’s dedication to having the best DT group in the league and always being +1 in the box have allowed them to get away with it in the past, but this is by far the worst linebacker group the Eagles have had in the Jim Schwartz era.
Is Andre Dillard Good?
Nobody really knows the answer to that question. In the 2019 draft, the Eagles had him as a top 10 player on their board. He played okay at times in relief of Jason Peters but was a complete disaster in one half at right tackle. There are questions swirling about his mental toughness and ability to put on weight and deal with bull rushes. Jason Peters is on the roster and transitioning to right guard, so he could step in if Dillard is a complete disaster. But then who plays right guard?
Lack of Killer Instincts
As they have thoroughly demonstrated the last two seasons, the Eagles are fantastic with their backs (and often their backups) up against the wall. The problem is that they always seem to put themselves in a position where their backs are against the wall. In 2018, coming off of a Super Bowl season, the Eagles started the season 4-6 before rallying to win 5 of their final 6 games to sneak into the playoffs. In 2019 with the “deepest, most talented roster in the league,” the Eagles started the season 5-7 before winning their final 4 games to once again get into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. Are there other circumstances that contributed? Sure. But the Eagles haven’t looked like a dominant football team since their magical run in 2017.
Rookie WRs Don’t Contribute
This is the biggest concern at this point in time. Alshon Jeffrey is starting the year on the PUP list, and he looked washed last season before he got hurt anyway. Marquise Goodwin has opted out of the season over COVID-19 concerns. DeSean Jackson looked electric in Week 1 (against a team that ended up with the #2 overall pick), but he is now 34 years old and coming off of a core muscle injury. He also has only played a full 16-game season two times in his 11-year career. JJAW looked awful in year one. Greg Ward? He is fine, but on an ideal roster, he is a WR5.
So the 2020 season may well come down to how well the Eagles drafted at the WR position. Is that comforting? Since 2009, the Eagles have drafted 10 WRs: Brandon Gibson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Marvin McNutt, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Inspired yet?
Beyond their woes drafting WRs, they haven’t managed to get much out of WRs in their first year. Howie Roseman is on the record saying that it is hard for WRs to contribute in their rookie season, and that is in a normal offseason. This offseason is… well… not normal. So unless the Eagles defy expectations by hitting on a WR draft pick and then get him up to speed in an off-season with no rookie mini-camps, OTAs, or preseason, the Eagles’ offense could be in trouble again.
Backup QB situation
I do not think Carson Wentz is injury prone. I think Carson Wentz has had extremely poor luck. That could be a whole post in and of itself, but I’ll suffice to say most ACL tears are non-contact and Carson’s was the result of a vicious hit. The ensuing back injury happened because he came back too quickly. And last season’s concussion? I would hazard a guess that there isn’t a human alive who would have come out of that totally uncalled for, dirty hit unscathed.
All of that said, the Eagles have played in six playoff games in the last three years, and Carson Wentz has played in 5 minutes and 24 seconds of them. The backup QB position doesn’t matter until it matters, and for the Eagles, there is no arguing that it has mattered a lot. This season, the Eagles’ backup is likely to be Nate Sudfeld, a QB the Eagles were so confident in that they signed Josh McCown out of retirement and let Sudfeld sit as a gameday inactive all season. The other option is rookie Jalen Hurts, who is making a major schematic change in an unprecedented offseason (see thoughts on WRs). The bottom line is that if Wentz goes down, the Eagles don’t have a chance.