Where does your franchise stand heading into 2021? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Eagles organization, Eagles fans around the world and those who have wondered why Philadelphia has the best soft pretzels:
The Eagles were crowned world champions four seasons ago. The citizens of the city and around the world were celebrating in a variety of different ways. And it's just so difficult to think about the euphoria of that moment (I was there in Minnesota for Super Bowl LII, and it was a wild scene, man), then see that the Eagles are starting over again. Like they're the Falcons or something. You would have thought Doug Pederson would never have to buy a Yards at McCusker's Tavern in Philadelphia ever again. Well, I'm sure Eagles superfan The Blue Meanie would be happy to buy him a beer. But it's weird to think that a Super Bowl win didn't secure 20 years of employment for Pederson, like some other coaches have received around the league. Alas, here we are. Let's get started.
Actually, first, a side note: According to the internet, "soft pretzels are a legacy of the region's Pennsylvania Dutch (Palatine Germans) who emigrated in the 1700s in search of religious freedom and fertile soil."
OK. Now let's get started.
How the Eagles got here
Let's take a quick look back at the highs and lows of the 2020 season.
- The emergence of Jalen Hurts. In his first NFL start, the rookie QB helped lead the Eagles to a 24-21 win over the Saints at home. And at that point, the Eagles were still in the hunt for the NFC East. Because that division was terrible.
- Jalen's monster performance in a loss at Arizona. The Cardinals were up 19-7, but Jalen rallied the Eagles and eventually tied the score 26-26 on a 7-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately, the Eagles' defense couldn't hold. I guess that wasn't necessarily a high point. But I started Hurts (338 passing yards, 3:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 63 rushing yards, plus the rushing TD) in fantasy that week, so I liked it.
- Jalen being benched in Week 17. It was a terrible season for the Eagles, but the worst thing that happened was Pederson benching Hurts in Week 17 against the Washington Football Team, in a game that had playoff implications. Not to mention Hurts had already run for a pair of scores. It was the kind of move you would expect from an employee who was expecting to be fired. Let's think about this for a moment, Pederson delivered a Super Bowl to Philly less than five years ago, and now he's likely to only be remembered for benching Hurts. I mean, Chip Kelly would never.
- Jason Kelce, Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz sharing one last moment on the field. It was after that embarrassing, unnecessary loss to the Football Team. I might add that it was in Philly, which makes this whole thing worse. But it reminded me of the curtain call in Madison Square Garden right before Kevin Nash and Scott Hall went to WCW. I guess this makes Kelce the HBK of the group.
Head coach: Nick Sirianni. A lot of you (definitely not you, but other people) had likely never heard of Sirianni prior to him being hired as the Eagles' head coach in January. And then the next thing you heard about him was that he liked to play Rochambeau (or rock, paper, scissors, to the Budweiser set) with draft prospects to gauge their competitiveness. That kind of thing makes a coach look like a charming genius if their football team wins. Otherwise, they end up looking like a charlatan. Like a football version of Robert California, who used similar methods to determine the next manager of Dunder Mifflin.
The truth is, though, we don't know much about Sirianni. He's young. He comes from a family of educators. And he's done good work with quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers, which surely helped sway the Eagles. Of course, many thought the quarterback he would be working with when he arrived would be Carson Wentz. That dude was sent to Indianapolis. So let's talk about the new -- well, newish -- quarterback in Philly.
Quarterback: Jalen Hurts. I thought it was weird during the offseason when some people on NFL Twitter wondered if the Eagles should look at a quarterback. I found this highly disrespectful to Jalen. I'll be completely transparent, here; I'm a big Jalen Hurts guy. I thought he was amazing during the final games last year, especially when you consider what the Eagles were working with on the offensive line and at the wide receiver position. I'll still contend he didn't fumble that ball against the Dallas Cowboys. And not just because it cost me a couple of fantasy football championships. But this isn't just about fantasy football adulation. I advocated for teams -- especially teams like the Bears -- to draft him last April. Jalen had 300-plus passing yards in back-to-back games in Weeks 15-16. His rushing was on point. And I already mentioned his rally against the Arizona Cardinals. There is a reason why the Eagles felt comfortable enough to trade Wentz to Indianapolis and roll with Jalen.
Now, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't acknowledge rumors of the Eagles' interest in Deshaun Watson. That said, it sounds like something that makes for great morning television in June but is hard to imagine actually playing out in the coming months. And maybe you can go ahead and "Old Takes Exposed" me later on for this, but I expect Jalen to be the Eagles' starting quarterback in Week 1. I don't know why we even need to address it. Oh, that's right -- it's because the internet is stupid.
Projected 2021 MVP: Hurts. Again, I hate to just put this on the quarterback, but Sirianni is the only one basically guaranteed a gig in 2022. Jalen has to prove he can be an effective quarterback in this league. And if he can play well this season, the Eagles are going to play well.
2021 breakout star: Dallas Goedert, tight end. Zach Ertz is still technically on the roster, but it's time for Ertz to pass the torch. Kind of like the way John Cena is still on the WWE roster, but you don't want him in any matches. (Actually, I don't even know if that's true. I haven't watched much of the WWE in a while.) Goedert is ready for main-event status. He was injured for part of last season but was very effective when he was available. He averaged a career-high 8.1 yards per target last season, which means he can get down the field. That's something us fantasy dorks like to look at when evaluating tight ends. Yes, this is a little bit of a fantasy tip, too -- if you miss out on Travis Kelce, George Kittle or Darren Waller this year, think about Goedert.
New face to know: Eric Wilson, linebacker. The Eagles were desperate for help at linebacker and were able to land Wilson, who left the Vikings after leading the team in tackles in 2020. He also notched three sacks, three picks and eight tackles for loss. Wilson excels in pass coverage and was credited with eight pass breakups. That's a huge need for the Eagles, and he should be able to fill that role pretty well. The Eagles have also added Ryan Kerrigan. Just felt like something I should have mentioned here.
The 2021 roadmap
The competitive urgency index is: MEDIUM. I mean, it's Philadelphia, so you're going to want to win. Even in a somewhat meaningless game against the Football Team last year, Eagles fans were still invested in winning. Don't come to Philadelphia and expect to be given a lot of room, here.
Three key dates:
Week 3 at Dallas Cowboys. The Birds and the 'Boys are not scheduled to play on Sunday Night Football this year for the first time since 2009. And the teams' second meeting is Week 18. While they could be flexed into a prime-time slot on Saturday or Sunday of that week, nothing is guaranteed. So anyone wanting to see this matchup under the lights should be sure to catch this early season installation of Monday Night Football.
Week 8 at Detroit Lions. Two first-year head coaches (Sirianni and Detroit's Dan Campbell) facing off right here. It's a chance for each team to show they made the right choice in choosing a coach. (Or maybe not?) This will be an interesting matchup.
Week 12 at New York Giants. It's always weird to me when divisional rivals don't meet for the first time until this late in the season. Like, shouldn't this be the easiest part of the schedule to set? The two teams also lock up in Week 16.
Will the Eagles be able to ...
Get a performance out of DeVonta Smith that allows them to forgive themselves for missing on Justin Jefferson in 2020? I mean, it was right there in my mock draft … with a twist last year, when I told the Eagles to take Jefferson, who ended up breaking the rookie record for receiving yards in a season. (I also told the Chargers not to take eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert, so nobody is perfect.) The Eagles have struggled at the receiver position since the days of Jeremy Maclin, the last wideout to top 1,000 receiving yards for the club back in 2014, and there's a scenario in which Eagles fans end up talking about the Jefferson miss for years to come. (Well, that and not taking DK Metcalf, either. But I don't want to rub it in.)
But then they selected Smith 10th overall this year, and the Heisman Trophy winner looks like the real deal to me. He reminds me an awful lot of Calvin Ridley, and we've seen what the Falcons receiver has been able to do over the last couple of years. Expect Smith to have an immediate impact on the club. And we shouldn't just give up on Jalen Reagor yet, either. He struggled with injuries last season, but having Smith in the lineup could free Reagor to make a second-year leap. That is the hope for Eagles fans.
Have a healthy offensive line? One of the things that made the Eagles so great during their Super Bowl run was the offensive line. It's why Wentz performed at an MVP level. It's why Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. But last season, the offensive line was a liability. Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard were lost before the season started. Jason Kelce was the only 16-game starter on a unit that utilized 14 different combinations during the year. No wonder the team couldn't find any chemistry. (This is also why my second-round selection of Miles Sanders in my fantasy draft looked terrible, but I'll get to him in a moment.) The team did use a second-round pick on Landon Dickerson, who is an absolute stud, if kind of injury-prone. (Hey, he'll fit right in!) But the thing that could help the Eagles' line the most would just be staying healthy -- that would be huge for Philly.
Find a solid CB2? The Eagles still have Darius Slay on one side, and though he's coming off a season in which he was ranked No. 56 at the position by Pro Football Focus, I still believe Slay can play at a high level. But Avonte Maddox -- who checked in at No. 121, according to PFF -- is currently slated as the CB2. The team didn't even use a high draft pick at the position, selecting Zech McPhearson in the fourth round. Meaning Maddox could start the season at the No. 2 spot. Some fans seem to be wishcasting former Vikings reserve Nathan Meadors -- a guy I remember as a stud athlete at San Gorgonio High School in San Bernardino, California -- into a key role, but the fact that folks are hoping for a practice-squad guy to make an improbable leap shows the gravity of the situation.
One storyline …
… people are overlooking: How much the Eagles hate Miles Sanders. All right, that's a bit harsh. The Eagles don't hate Miles Sanders. I'm a Miles Sanders guy. I wanted to see him get an opportunity last year. Felt like he could be a huge star. Like back in the day, when you watched Jonah Hill getting all of these small roles, and you thought to yourself, If he could just be the star of a movie, he would crush it, and then you were proven correct by Superbad. Unfortunately for Sanders, who managed so-so production while being limited to 12 games last season, there will be no such breakthrough this year. Or at least, it doesn't seem like it. The Eagles not only signed Kerryon Johnsonthis offseason, but they also drafted Kenneth Gainwell, who could end up being a steal in the fifth round. He opted out of last season at Memphis because of COVID-19, but he probably would have gone a lot sooner had he played. Gainwell excels as a receiver out of the backfield and could end up having a Nyheim Hines-type role in this offense for the Eagles.
… people are overthinking: The signing of Joe Flacco. I mean, I never understand why teams sign backups who are so vastly different from the starting quarterback. Why not be more like the Bills, who have Josh Allen and signed the Kirkland version of Allen in Mitchell Trubisky? Some will swear it's better than the name brand; it's not, but it's close enough. Flacco, meanwhile, isn't anything close to Hurts. The good news is, this must mean the Eagles see Jalen as their starter, and they aren't going to be messing around with him.
For the 2021 season to be a success, the Eagles MUST:
- Come away with a definitive answer on Jalen Hurts. (And stay healthy.) Learning whether Hurts can be the QB of the future would probably mean more than anything in the win/loss column. If you feel like you have your quarterback situation handled, it's going to open things up to get back to a high level.
I'm very excited for the Eagles. I've always felt a certain kinship with Eagles fans. (Though icing out Cody Parkey a few years ago was kind of weak.) I'm really excited to see what the future holds here.
And in Rochambeau, always pick paper. Too many people always go for rock to exhibit strength. Go the other way and go paper.