Can you believe the Eagles won the Super Bowl three years ago? Doesn’t it feel like a lifetime away? Since February 4th, 2018 (2017-2018 season), the Philadelphia Eagles have not flown to the lofty heights Nick Foles brought them to with his improbable win over the New England Patriots and concurrent Super Bowl LII MVP trophy. As the embattled Eagles fan base knows, it’s been nothing but tough sledding since they reached the pinnacle of the NFL.
How did things get so bad, so fast for the Eagles? What once looked to be a perennial NFC contender is now quickly facing down the barrel at a potential rebuild. The loss of former OC Frank Reich seems to be the sticking point for the avid Eagles’ fan base and for good reason. In his two year tenure as OC of the Eagles, Reich coordinated the offense to finishes of 16th (2016) and 3rd (2017), per http://www.pro-football-reference.com/. After winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles, Reich left the team to fill the HC vacancy for the Indianapolis Colts. Since Reich’s departure, the Eagles offense has ranked 18th (2018), 12th (2019), and currently 26th (2020). The inefficiency of the offense this season has led to questions surrounding HC Doug Pederson and one of the highest paid QBs in the league, Carson Wentz.
The Eagles have done next-to-nothing to replenish an aging and overpriced supporting cast surrounding Carson Wentz. The most notable injections of youth over the past two seasons have been former Penn State RB Miles Sanders (whom they seldom use to his full potential) and Jalen Reagor, who has battled injuries his rookie year. Combining ineffective young weapons with an aging offensive line that has experienced injuries across the board, a decrepit WR core consisting of DJax and Alshon Jeffrey, an injured and aging Zach Ertz, injured Dallas Goedert, and an inept defense, it becomes quite easy to see why the Eagles are in the desperate position they are in 2020.
At the time of writing this article, the Eagles are sitting at 3-8-1 (0.292%) in the NFC (L)East, good for 3rd in the divisional standings. The Eagles are fresh off an especially painful loss to the Green Bay Packers, a loss in which they benched supposed franchise QB Carson Wentz for 2nd round rookie QB, Jalen Hurts. This franchise is at a true tipping point in every sense of the phrase. To keep Wentz? Let Jalen Hurts ride it out? Fire Coach Pederson? All of those questions and many more will be answered in my breakdown of what the Eagles should do in order to put a system in place that can (hopefully) lead them back to their former Super Bowl glory. Before the Eagles can “Fly, Eagles Fly,” they’re going to need to make a brief crash landing.
Step 1: See What You Have in Hurts
Eagles fans seem to be in two camps on this issue. One side is pro-Carson Wentz, which is understandable, considering Wentz was selected to be the next franchise QB, as proved by him being drafted high in the 1st round, the Eagles foregoing resigning Nick Foles, and Wentz’ recent 4-year, $128 million contract extension, per sportrac.com. Let’s dive into some of the numbers on Carson Wentz this year, who is still only 27 years old.
*Screenshot provided from sportrac.com*
You don’t need an advanced statistics degree to see that Wentz has regressed HEAVILY in 2020. This type of regression from a young QB, who once was a heavily favored MVP candidate pre-ACL tear in 2018, is unprecedented. With a 57.4% completion percentage, 218.33 passing yards per game, a 16:15 TD:INT ratio, and a 72.83 passer rating, Wentz should have been benched weeks ago. For argument’s sake, we’ll beg the question: how much of this is due to his supporting cast? Frankly put: not as much as some would give credit for. If you’re into recency bias, you can see his last start against the Packers as a prime example. Prior to getting benched for Jalen Hurts, Wentz’ stat line was as follows:
6 completions, 15 attempts, 40% completion percentage, 79 yards 4 sacks. (Per ESPN)
In case you didn’t watch the game, I’ll play spoiler—Wentz had all his weapons available. Jalen Reagor? Healthy. Miles Sanders? Healthy (yet somehow yielding work to Jordan Howard, more on that later), Goedert, Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, they were all in the lineup. Simply put, Wentz is not getting it done. The only reason Wentz was not benched sooner than Week 13 of the NFL season is the amount of money he makes and has nothing to do with his performance. It's a sunk cost fallacy. The Eagles have broken Carson Wentz beyond repair. His confidence in the pocket is David Carr-esque and there’s no coming back from that.
Below is Jalen Hurts’ stat line in that very same game, after replacing Wentz midway through the 3rd quarter:
5 completions, 12 attempts, 41.67% completion percentage, 109 yards 1 passing TD (per pennlive.com)
Is it a stellar stat line? Of course not. But, if you actually watched the game, you could see that Hurts provided a sorely needed spark to the Eagles’ offense that has not been present all season. Hurts put up a better stat line than Carson Wentz (albeit marginally), while having years of less experience in the offensive system, less snaps with the first-team offense, and less overall experience as an NFL QB. Am I saying Hurts is the QB of the future in Philly? No. But, we’ve seen crazier things happen in the NFL, so I could certainly be wrong.
However, the case is compelling to let Hurts play out the season as starting QB of the Eagles, so the front office and coaching staff can see what they have in their 2nd round pick. This team isn’t competing for any meaningful wins this year. Even if they were to squeak into the playoffs, they would likely get trounced in any playoff matchup they’d face. It’s time to start auditioning players for next season. We’ve already had a large sample size of what this team looks like with Wentz at the helm and it isn’t pretty. There is no harm in seeing if Hurts is more than what many analysts believed him to be coming into the NFL—a backup QB. If he’s not what they hope, then it’s time to look towards the draft, again.
Step 2: Fire Doug Pederson
If you’re an Eagles fan, you’re likely with me on this one. The decisions Doug Pederson has made across the entirety of the 2020 season are beyond head-scratching, to say the least. He is committing borderline coaching malpractice at this point. You invest high draft capital in RB Miles Sanders, who currently averages the fourth-most yards per carry in the league (5.3, ESPN), and instead of using that player as the workhorse RB that he is, you sign the plodding Jordan Howard off the couch, and let him split the backfield 3-ways with Sanders and Boston Scott. What’s even worse, this decision was done against a notoriously bad Packers run defense. Couple that with his indecision for 13 weeks of the NFL season on Carson Wentz and his extremely QB-unfriendly offense this season, and it’s obvious that Pederson has worn out his welcome in Philly.
Frankly, I think Pederson is the only piece of this puzzle that needs to be taken out. Jim Schwartz is more than capable of calling a competent defense, when given the pieces to work with, and longtime GM Howie Roseman is one of the most respected front office officials in the league. He has hit on the draft picks he makes, often, so I do not envision him leaving Philly anytime soon. Roseman’s presence will be key in securing the next HC of the Eagles.
Step 3: Hire the next HC
The Eagles pool of HC candidates is much more concentrated than most teams I breakdown. As I previously mentioned, Schwartz is a good DC. While the next HC could be defensive-minded, I don’t anticipate it because of Schwartz’ presence. Schwartz could be fired in a complete clean sweep of the coaching staff, which remains in the range of outcomes for the team. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on my top 3 offensive-minded HC candidates for the Eagles.
1.) Eric Bieinemy, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs:
Perennially on the top of HC-candidate lists the past two seasons, it’s only a matter of time before Bieinemy gets a shot to run his own team. After organizing the best offense in football the past two season, it’s obvious that Bieinemy has the chops necessary to call the type of high-flying offense the Eagles want to return to. What remains to be seen is what a Bieinemy offense looks like without the best QB in football, Patrick Mahomes. While this hire would be a risk, it’s one worth taking for a franchise that sorely needs an offensive shot in the arm. I’m confident Bieinemy could turn this ship around shortly. The odd irony of this hire would be the fact that he descends from the Andy Reid coaching tree, famed former HC of the Eagles. Fun Fact: Bieinemy played RB for the Eagles in 1999.
2.) Gary Kubiak, Offensive Coordinator, Minnesota Vikings:
Remember Kubes? Former HC of the Houston Texans (Matt Schaub era). Kubiak has one of the lengthiest resumes of any active NFL coach, having started as running backs coach for Texas A&M in 1992, and working his way through stops in San Francisco as quarterbacks coach in 1994, the Broncos under Mike Shanahan as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for 10 years, the Texans as HC for 7 years, offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, a brief stint as Head Coach of the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos (winning a Super Bowl in the process), and is currently the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, who have one of the most potent offenses of 2020. It’s an impressive resume. One thing each stop has in common? Offensive success. Kubiak has always been known for his proficient running game and getting the most out of his O-Lineman with a zone-blocking run scheme. While Bieinemy is my most likely candidate for the Eagles job, I would quite honestly prefer Kubiak in Philly. The team could use a coach with his amount of experience. For more selfish reasons, I’d love to see what Miles Sanders could do in the Kubiak offense.
3.) Joe Brady, Offensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
Brady would be a complete 180 from potentially hiring Kubiak. Young and a limited NFL resume, Brady has shown his chops as an offensive playcaller coordinating the Carolina Panthers offense this year, led by Teddy Bridgewater and often lacking Christian McCaffrey. For a team intentionally rebuilding, their offense has been downright dangerous at times. The Panthers performance, as well as Brady organizing the greatest offense in NCAA history at LSU in 2019 lends credence to his merits as an offensive coach. Brady could be the next Kliff Kingsbury or Sean McVay, and offensive play calling wiz that jumps straight to HC of a team. Brady could be a wild card in the ensuring head coaching search, so don’t count him out as a legitimate candidate.
Step 4: Trade Carson Wentz
Your first thought upon reading that statement is likely: “that’s impossible, his dead cap is too high!” I’m here to tell you that trading Carson Wentz is very, very possible. Let’s dive into the numbers to see how and why:
Contract details provided by sportrac.com
Everyone knows the basics of Carson Wentz’ contract. 4 years, $128 million, $66.47 million guaranteed at signing, and $107 million in total guarantees. A contract with that many guarantees and high average salary marks is impossible to get out of, right? Wrong.
Let’s look at the best way out of this horrendous contract, in the 2021 off-season via trade.
As you can see above, the traditional routes of shedding Wentz’ contract lead to nothing but cap space woes for the Eagles. However, may I point your attention to the far right of the screenshot, in the “Post 6/1 Trade” route. 6/1/2021 is the official start of the new league year, which is when many contract incentives kick in and the salary cap resets for the league. As you can see, by trading Wentz instead of releasing him Post 6/1, the Eagles will save $40 million in dead cap space. Not only that, but via trading Wentz post 6/1, the Eagles will save $25 million in cap space in 2021. Remember that those saving are weighed against the dead cap, so the total savings would be $15 million in 2021. However, they will incur a $24.54 million dead cap charge in 2022 by trading Wentz. Upon looking through the entirety of the Wentz contract, this is still the cheapest route for the Eagles to go within the next 2-3 years, assuming they move Wentz at all.
So, for those saying Wentz will not or cannot be traded this offseason, I suggest you take another look at the numbers. This is also assuming a trade with the Eagles and Carson Wentz do not include cash considerations from the team acquiring Wentz. If cash considerations are acquired for Wentz, the dead cap burden could be alleviated and make the plausibility of a trade that much more likely. Who could we expect to be in the market for Carson Wentz? There are plenty of QB-needy teams, but I’ll narrow it down to my 3 most likely.
To be included on this list, a team must have ample cap space and a desperate need for a young QB in 2021. I won’t highlight potential trade compensation, as it will greatly vary depending on how each team views Wentz’ talent. A 2021 1st round pick would be ideal, but it is far from guaranteed.
1.) Indianapolis Colts, Projected 2021 Cap Space: $76.77 Million
With Philip Rivers’ contract expiring in 2021, the Colts find themselves right back in the market for a franchise QB. It remains to be seen if Rivers will be brought back in 2021, or if he’ll even have interest. This fit seems almost too perfect for a Carson Wentz trade. His former OC in Frank Reich (whom he had great success with) is there, the Colts have the cap space to make a Wentz trade work, and only have one key free agent to resign in 2021 (Darius Leonard). The Colts have one of the best, young defensive cores in football, a Top-10 offensive line, and two young, capable running backs in Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor. This team is the perfect recipe for Carson Wentz’ hopeful success in the NFL. Reich could reign in Carson’s newfound skittishness and surround him with a stable system where he is not asked to do too much as a passer.
2.) Denver Broncos, Projected 2021 Cap Space: $21.18 Million
No GM is tantalized more by “high talent” QBs in the NFL than John Elway of the Denver Broncos. Elways has famously swung and missed on numerous QB prospects via the draft (see Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, and perhaps…Drew Lock?). The list of QBs in Denver attempting to replace Peyton Manning in his short tenure grows every draft season. Wentz fits the mold of what John Elway looks for in his QBs. He has the size; arm strength and mobility Elway often targets in the draft. Elway is not afraid to take a shot on a redemption project, which is what Wentz looks like at this stage of his career. Denver also has one of the best WR cores in the league in Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick. Not to mention versatile TEs in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Wentz would have weapons to spare in Denver and organizational buy-in from Elways and the Broncos. If lock continues to show hit-and-miss performances in 2020, this option because that much more likely.
3.) New England Patriots, Projected 2021 Cap Space: $67.69 Million
I know what you’re thinking, OF COURSE the Patriots are included on this list. Wentz to Belichick and the evil empire of the NFL? It’s more likely than you may think. It’s glaringly obvious that the Patriots need a QB who can throw the football, or at least gives them a better chance than Cam Newton does. While the Patriots are still finding a way to win, it’s easy to see that Newton is not the long-term answer in New England. Wentz would surely give them a better shot at winning and Belichick is the king of buying redemption projects and restoring them to their former glory. McDaniels could make an offensive system that limits the errors Wentz can make. While limited on offensive weapons, the Patriots have the ample amount of cap space necessary to facilitate this move and the coaching staff is not afraid to gamble on a high upside player of Wentz’ caliber.
Step 5: Fix the Cap Space Problem
2021 Cap Space before any moves are made: -$63.67 Million
You read that right. NEGATIVE $63 million for cap space. Obviously, the Eagles have some work to do.
Let’ first see the cap space the Eagles would be working with after the following moves. This is just to get them back in the position to actually have cap space.
- Trade Carson Wentz +$15 Million in Cap Space
- Cut Zach Ertz + $4.72 Million in Cap Space
- Cut Alshon Jeffrey +$7.82 Million in Cap Space
- Cut DeSean Jackson + $5.13 Million in Cap Space
- Cut Marquise Goodwin +$4.45 Million in Cap Space
Moving those contracts frees up approximately $37.12 million in cap space, bringing the 2021 cap down to -$25.88 million. I have looked through the entire roster of contracts. The rest of the contracts are nearly untradeable or uncuttable, due to the massive dead cap penalties the team would face if they were to cut or trade players such as: Darius Slay, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Jason Hargrave, Jason Kelce, among others. What does that mean for cap space? That means GM Howie Roseman is going to have to convince a lot of players to restructure their contracts and convert that money into signing bonuses for players. Assuming Roseman is able to do that, we’ll reset the Eagles cap space at +$5 million going into 2021.
Due to this low cap number, I don’t expect the Eagles to be very active in 2021 free agency, beyond signing players to the veteran’s minimum to fill out the roster. Those players are often negligible depth signings and not worth noting in this article. The Eagles are going to need to nail the draft and also need this cap space to sign their draft picks.
Step 6: The Draft
The Eagles own 7 2021 NFL Draft picks, including: 1 1st, 1 2nd, 1 3rd, 2 5ths, 1 6th, 1 7th. The Eagles also potentially have 3 compensatory draft picks, in the way of 1 6th and 2 7ths, bringing their total to 10 draft picks. For brevity’s sake, we’ll explore the potential of the first 3 rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft for the Eagles. The priorities for the Eagles are as follows going into 2021, without Wentz. 1. QB, 2. CB, 3. WR. I’ll identify a prospect in each round that I believe fits the Eagles’ needs.
Round 1: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
The Eagles trade one former NDS Bison for another. Lance possesses a similar skillset to Wentz and is even more mobile than his predecessor. Lance would give whoever the next HC of Philly is a weapon in both the passing and run game, opening up the playbook for more RPO concepts. While this would likely be an unpopular pick with the Eagles fan base, Lance has the raw makings of an NFL franchise QB. He is one of the fastest risers as draft season approaches and looks to be a lock within the Top-10 of the 1st round.
Round 2: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
The addition of Samuel Jr. makes it so Slay is not the only CB capable of holding up in coverage (even if that has been spotty). Given the right system and coaching staff, Samuel Jr. could quickly develop into a legitimate CB1 for an Eagles franchise that desperately needs it.
Round 3: Seth Williams, WR, Auburn:
With the losses of veteran stalwarts Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles find themselves needing depth at WR. Williams has a size/speed combo that could allow him to play the perimeter WR role in the offense. A role that has not been properly filled since Alshon Jeffrey’s injuries began to run amuck. Pairing Williams with Goedert and Reagor could give Lance serviceable and electric weapons to operate the offense with.
Step 7: Shed Bad Contracts/Aging Players over the Next Few Years
Rebuilds are an ongoing process. To get the cap situation under control long-term and replenish necessary depth on the team, the Eagles are going to have to make tough decisions over the next few years with fan favorites such as Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Graham, among others who helped bring a title to Philly. This is the harsh reality of the NFL.
The Eagles are a more than competent NFL Franchise with a great GM in Howie Roseman leading the personnel moves. I fully believe he will be able to navigate these dire straits and fix the cap situation. We all know the salary cap is a fluid number, which is why it’s even more pressing that the Eagles start shedding bad contracts and stop resigning aging players to massive deals. The 2021 salary cap could potentially shrink further from its projected number, since NFL revenues have been adversely effected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. If the cap is smaller than projected, the Eagles find themselves even further in salary cap hell—purgatory at best.
I’m sorry Eagles fans. You experienced the pinnacle of the NFL just two short years ago, and now you’re facing a negative salary cap, combined with question marks at QB. I’m sure you didn’t envision this scenario after lifting the Lombardi trophy in 2018. But, you’re in good hands. This franchise has been here before and can navigate through rough waters again. One thing is for sure: if you want to see the Eagles “Fly, Eagles Fly,” they’re going to need to “Land, Eagles Land,” before things get better long term.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! I know this is a long article and is not the norm for an NFL analysis. Short, sweet and to the point is typically the industry standard—but the point of these rebuild articles is to provide you, the fans, with the most in-depth look at each franchise that I can possible give. Feel free to check out my last rebuild article on the Detroit Lions, which is an even more devastating rebuild than what I have laid out in this piece. Whatever ends up happening, enjoy the rest of the NFL season. I’m grateful for every game I get to watch, given the chaos ensuing in our world today.