2016 NFL Preview: The Eagles, and their underrated dysfunction

Shutdown Corner

Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per day in reverse order of our initial 2016 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 6, the day before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the preseason.

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The Philadelphia Eagles fired Andy Reid after the 2012 season. Three years later, they hired Reid’s top assistant to be their new head coach.

The Eagles stripped Howie Roseman of personnel duties to give them to Chip Kelly last year. Then they restored Roseman’s GM power after firing Kelly, demoting and promoting Roseman back to his old job in less than a year. Roseman proceeded to dump many of the players Kelly acquired, practically giving a few away.

Does all of this sound normal to everyone?

When we talk about dysfunctional franchises the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and maybe one or two others always come up. Maybe we need to consider the Eagles, one of the few NFL franchises that has never won a Super Bowl, for inclusion. The Eagles aren’t a perennial loser, but they don’t look like one of the NFL’s most stable franchises lately either.

Last year, they decided to give personnel control to Kelly. They gave that experiment 15 games to work before firing Kelly and having a fire sale of many players he signed. The one guy they should have let go was Sam Bradford, but they gave the underachieving quarterback a two-year, $36 million deal that reset the market across the league. Then they gave Chase Daniel $7 million a year to be Bradford’s backup. Then they mortgaged the future of the franchise by trading a ton of picks to draft quarterback Carson Wentz. The flurry of quarterback moves might work, but it didn’t seem like there was a well thought-out plan.

[Yahoo Fantasy Football is open for the 2016 season. Sign up now]

The Eagles had a good deal of success under Reid, which is probably why they went back to that well and hired Reid’s offensive coordinator, Doug Pederson, to be their new coach. He’s a first-time head coach, the Eagles have had a lot of turnover as they find players to fit their new schemes and nobody in NFL history has had a quarterback depth chart quite like the 2016 Eagles. There are a lot of factors that make the Eagles tough to predict.

Bradford will start the season at quarterback it appears, but who knows after that. The offense will look entirely different. So will the defense, which shifts from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. To find the right fits for those schemes — and to seemingly scorch any trace of Kelly around the building — many players were moved out and others brought in to replace them in a flurry of activity. This first season will be quite a test for Pederson.

Maybe this is the first season of a nice, calm, long and successful era with Pederson. After all the crazy upheaval the past few years, that would be nice.

Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass as Sam Bradford (7) and Chase Daniel (10) look on (AP)
Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass as Sam Bradford (7) and Chase Daniel (10) look on (AP)

This is a pretty tough team to grade because of all the moving parts. I didn’t like re-signing Sam Bradford and think it’s a huge gamble to give up so much for Carson Wentz, but if it all ends up with the Eagles having a franchise quarterback, so be it. They didn’t get a ton of value for Byron Maxwell or Kiko Alonso in a trade with the Miami Dolphins, but it was worth it to dump Maxwell’s contract. The same goes for the DeMarco Murray trade. I’m not sure the roster is a lot better, especially considering they might not get a meaningful contribution from any rookie (they had just two picks in the first four rounds, Wentz and third-round guard Isaac Seumalo). However, I do like the free-agent signings of guard Brandon Brooks and safety Rodney McLeod. And I do like that they dumped the Maxwell and Murray contracts, which I would have thought was impossible after last season. Grade: C

Although I think the Eagles showed some impulsive tendencies when they did a 180 in less than a calendar year on Chip Kelly, it also seemed like Kelly lost the locker room. Once that happens it’s hard to turn back. Fresh starts can produce surprising results. Look at the 2015 Atlanta Falcons or Josh McDaniels’ first season as Denver Broncos coach or any number of examples; sometimes a team plays above its talent level for a while under a new coach. Maybe Doug Pederson reinvigorates a team that might have quit on Kelly. It’s not like the Eagles have been horrendous. They won 27 games the last three years.

The offense will entirely change, and I’m not sure Philadelphia has the talent to make it work. Sam Bradford is inconsistent and now will be looking over his shoulder, something he clearly isn’t comfortable with. Ryan Mathews is very talented, but his durability concerns are well known and the Eagles are thin at running back behind him. Jordan Matthews is probably best suited as a second option at receiver, but he’s the de facto No. 1 because 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor was really bad as a rookie. Those two will likely be joined by New York Giants receiver Rueben Randle, who got no attention in free agency despite a really bad receiver class and signed a one-year deal worth a little more than $1 million. It’s hard to see how an offense that wasn’t good in 2015 is much better this season.

What a weird situation it is. Carson Wentz is the future, and no matter how much we hear about the Eagles wanting to redshirt him, that doesn’t happen with top-five picks anymore. Remember the Jacksonville Jaguars selling that story all offseason after they drafted Blake Bortles? Bortles was the Jaguars’ starter by Week 4. And let’s not forget that Doug Pederson pumped up Chase Daniel as an NFL-level starter this offseason and then paid him a ton to be his backup. The chances of Sam Bradford starting all 16 games seem incredibly low. The question is, will Wentz be the one to replace him?

Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is the best player the Eagles have, but we know what to expect from him. I’m more interested to see if linebacker Jordan Hicks is just as good or better than he was as a rookie. Hicks was clearly on his way to being the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year last season, with 50 tackles and two interceptions in just eight games (five starts). Then he tore his pectoral and went on injured reserve. He returns this season in a new position, as Philadelphia’s middle linebacker in its 4-3. If he can stay healthy, he has the look of a future star.

Cosell: “Total change here [on defense]. They’re going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 ‘Wide 9.’ I think some of their players fit their approach better. I think Vinny Curry clearly fits this approach better, and you can argue he’s their best pass rusher. Now he can line up wide or he can line up at tackle. Basically the approach of the ‘Wide 9’ is you play the run on the way to the quarterback. That’s really what the plan is in this version of the 4-3 defense.”

[Click here for Greg Cosell’s podcast previewing the Eagles and the rest of the NFC East]

From Yahoo’s Andy Behrens: “The Chip Kelly era has ended in Philly, so we really need to stop thinking of this team’s offense as an all-you-can-eat fantasy buffet. Instead, try to see it for what it is: a collection of second-tier skill players, burdened by substandard quarterback play. If anyone in your league drafts an Eagle in the first five rounds, that person is probably dead money. Ryan Mathews will likely be a target for the ZeroRB zealots; Wendell Smallwood is the guy we’ll all be adding when Mathews first limps off the field.”

[Yahoo Fantasy Football is open for the 2016 season. Sign up now]

In Philadelphia’s last four games, tight end Zach Ertz had 35 catches for 450 yards. The Eagles’ 2013 second-round pick is just 25 years old. He teased us with a strong finish in 2014, only to be relatively quiet for the first three-quarters of last season. However, he seems primed for a nice fourth season. Doug Pederson had Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and Kelce posted more than 1,700 yards the last two seasons. Also, the Eagles don’t have a ton of other enticing options at the skill positions. Ertz has a great chance to break out.

IS CARSON WENTZ WORTH WHAT PHILADELPHIA TRADED TO GET HIM?

The Eagles traded the No. 8 pick, a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick in 2016, a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018 to move up six spots to take Wentz. The Eagles also picked up a 2017 fourth-round pick from the Browns in the deal. In other words, the Eagles better be right about Wentz.

I don’t love giving up that much in a trade, although I like Wentz as a player. He has the size and physical tools you want in a quarterback. Despite playing at the FCS level of college football, he already has a good understanding of how to play quarterback in the NFL. In that way, he might be more ready for NFL action than No. 1 pick Jared Goff. To justify giving up that many picks, Wentz needs to be a top-10 quarterback for the Eagles in a few years. That’s tough to expect from any rookie quarterback, much less one with just 612 career pass attempts at North Dakota State, but I think he has a shot. It’s a big gamble for Philadelphia.

When a team fires its coach we remember that team as a disaster, but the Eagles were a mediocre 7-9. And they won 10 games each of the two seasons before that. I’m not the biggest Sam Bradford fan, but others keep raving about his ability so maybe I’ve been missing something these past six seasons. He did finish 2016 with three straight 300-yard games. If a team that looks like it might have given up on Chip Kelly plays hard for Doug Pederson, Jim Schwartz improves the defense (and I do like him as a defensive coordinator) and Bradford puts it all together, it’s not like the NFC East has any sure things. The Eagles could be in contention if everything falls into place.

Quarterback controversies are rarely good for a team, and the Eagles will have one. When you invest heavily in a high-end backup, draft a quarterback No. 2 overall and have a shaky starter — and this all goes down in an intense fan and media market — you know what’s coming. And the Eagles are asking a rookie head coach to manage it all. If the quarterback issue becomes a problem, then Ryan Mathews can’t stay healthy and there are no other answers in the run game, the offense could be in trouble. There are some good players in the front seven and safety, but a ton of questions at cornerback, and it will be a new defensive scheme. There are many ways it could all go very bad.

There were a ton of changes on both sides of the ball, so it’s hard to know what to expect. I am figuring on a year of transition, especially on offense as the Eagles figure out who will stick at quarterback. I’m picking them to finish last in the NFC East. I have fewer questions about each of the other teams in the division.

32. Cleveland Browns
31. San Francisco 49ers
30. Tennessee Titans
29. San Diego Chargers
28. New Orleans Saints

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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