Here’s this weekend’s batch of Roob’s 10 Eagles Offseason Observations on the best NFL day of the year – AFC and NFC Championship Game Day.
1. We’re already seeing a heavy dose of anti-Jalen Hurts sentiment after a disappointing season, and that shouldn’t be surprising. He has to play better, no argument here. But what I’m missing is the connection between a poor stretch late in a season when nobody was playing well and he wasn’t getting much help and the notion that he’ll never get back to where he was a year ago. Since when do we give up on 25-year-old quarterbacks a year removed from an MVP-caliber season and a historic Super Bowl performance? People keep making the same mistake, equating a disappointing season or stretch of games with a guy who’ll never be elite again. From late in 2021 to the middle of 2023, Hurts went 27-2 with 44 TD passes and 17 interceptions (and 29 rushing touchdowns). It’s one of the most impressive stretches of quarterback play in Eagles history. And now a shaky month and a half under a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator about to get fired in an unimaginative, stale offense with the head coach and play caller out of sync somehow renders all of that irrelevant? His ability didn't just go away. Even with things falling apart around him, Hurts still had the 2nd-most touchdowns in the NFL – 38 passing and rushing. People want to blast him for struggling against the blitz, and he did, but how about the coach giving him some answers? How about the coach helping him out a little bit? As gifted as Hurts is, he can’t go out there without any help and carry a team to a Super Bowl. There’s no question Hurts has to make better decisions. Has to cut down the turnovers. Has to get rid of the ball quicker. Has to use better judgment when to run and when to stay in the pocket. But this is a 25-year-old kid who’s already made two MVP runs and taken three straight teams to the playoffs and had a remarkable Super Bowl performance and won 70 percent of his starts since becoming the full-time QB, and if you don’t think he’s got the ability to help the Eagles get back where they were last year – with the right coaches around him, the right offense in place, the right guy calling the plays – you just haven't been paying attention.
2. Including the playoff loss in Tampa, the Eagles this year were outscored 460-442. They’re only the sixth playoff team in NFL history to be outscored by 18 or more points. One of the five others was the 1995 Eagles, who were also outscored by 18 points (405-387). Despite going 10-6 in the regular season, the 1995 Eagles lost games by 31 points to the Raiders, 15 points to the Bucs, 22 points to the Cowboys, 12 points to the Seahawks and then 19 points to the Cowboys in the conference semifinals.
3. The last seven times the Eagles had a top-8 scoring defense they reached at least the NFC Championship Game: 2nd in 2001, 2nd in 2002, 7th in 2003, 2nd in 2004, 4th in 2008, 4th in 2017 and 8th in 2022.
4. Incredibly impressive comparing Vic Fangio’s defenses in his first year with a new team and the previous season. Every single team improved in both yards and points - most of them dramatically. Now, two of Fangio’s DC jobs were with expansion teams – the Panthers in 1995 and the Texans in 2002. But in 1999, he took over a Colts team ranked 29th in both yards and points allowed in 1998. A year later, they improved to 17th and 19th. When he became 49ers defensive coordinator, they improved from 16th and 13th in 2010 to 2nd and 4th in 2011. In 2015, he took over a Bears defense ranked 31st in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. In Fangio’s first year, they were 20th and 14th. He became Broncos head coach in 2019, inheriting a defense ranked 13th and 22nd and improving to 10th and 12th. And even in his one year with the Dolphins, Miami went from 24th and 18th to 22nd and 10th. Average improvement 23rd to 14th in yards allowed and 22nd to 12th in points allowed. That’s wild. Just a reminder, the Eagles this past year were 30th in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed.
5. When you’re watching the Ravens’ secondary Sunday, keep in mind their secondary coach is Dennard Wilson, who was the Eagles’ secondary coach for two years, including 2022 – when they had the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL. The Eagles hired Sean Desai as defensive coordinator instead of Wilson, which obviously backfired. Wilson deserved that job, and when he didn’t get it he left for Baltimore and you sure can’t blame him. It’s impossible to say for sure what would have happened if Wilson had been Eagles DC this year, but the Ravens led the NFL in scoring defense at just 15.6 points per game and Wilson’s pass defense held opposing quarterbacks to a 74.6 passer rating – lowest in the NFL. Compare that to what we saw from the Eagles this year. Obviously, the Ravens had far better personnel, but Wilson has also done a terrific job down there. He’ll be a DC soon.
6. By the start of next year, the Eagles will have had seven coordinators in three years.
7A. I know everybody’s concerned about the dead money if (when?) the Eagles release James Bradberry with two years left on the three-year deal he signed last spring. And it is a lot of money. The Eagles would absorb about $17 million in dead money under the 2024 cap if the Eagles release Bradberry, this spring according to Spotrac. But they could lessen the immediate impact with a post-June 1 designation, which would split the cap hit into about $4.7 million in 2024 and $12.5 million in 2025. The thing about the salary cap is that it keeps increasing as revenues keep increasing. So the same cap hit is a smaller percentage of cap expenditures with each passing year. The unadjusted cap was about $225 million in 2023 and is expected to be between $240 and $250 million this coming season and somewhere in the $280 million ballpark in 2025. And Howie Roseman isn’t going to lose any sleep over $4.7 million this year or $12.5 million next year. Heck, Carson Wentz counted nearly $34 million in dead money and Howie shrugged it off and the Eagles kept winning. It’s not an ideal situation. You’d like your $38 million cornerback to be able to cover someone. But Howie has always shrugged off dead money. As long as Howie is here, dead money won’t be an issue.
7B. And one last thing about Bradberry. I had absolutely no problem with the Eagles signing Bradberry to the deal they gave him and I don’t know anybody who did. He was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2022, he was 29 when they signed him and there was absolutely no sign of the decline we saw this past year. Sometimes you just miss.
8. An underrated offseason need is third wide receiver. The Eagles’ top two are as good as anybody, but they’ve got to find someone better than Olamide Zaccheus, more reliable than Quez Watkins, younger than Julio Jones. It’s got to be someone who can be a consistent, productive playmaker to take some pressure off DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown, to make the offense more well-rounded and unpredictable, to give Jalen Hurts another dangerous option down the field. This was the first year since 1992 that the Eagles didn’t have a third WR with at least 170 yards. Obviously, most of the Eagles’ offseason needs are on defense, but another weapon or two wouldn’t hurt.
9. A.J. Brown’s disappearance the second half of the season is as egregious as anything the offensive coaching staff did this past year. Whether it was Sirianni’s structure or Johnson’s play calling doesn’t matter. A big task for the new OC will be finding ways to keep Brown productive all year, no matter what opposing defenses do to try to take him away. When Sirianni talks about the offense getting stale, a big part of that is the passing game growing predictable and easy to defend. Through Week 8, Brown was the 2nd -leading receiver in the NFL with 117 yards per game, second only to Tyreek Hill’s 127 yards per game. The rest of the year, Brown averaged just 57 yards per game. There is absolutely no excuse for a player as gifted as Brown to experience that sort of dropoff. Brown’s final numbers look great – 106-for-1,456 – but that’s a 51 percent decline in production the second half of the season. Brown’s 939 yards were 8th-most in NFL history through eight games. His 513 yards after that ranked 31st in the league from Week 9 on. For a guy like Brown? That’s inexcusable and the blame goes squarely on the coaching staff.
10. Jason Kelce has made 1st-team all-pro more than Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Richard Dent, Michael Irvin, Edgerrin James, Troy Aikman, Harold Carmichael, Andre Reed, Warren Moon, Roger Staubach, Tommy McDonald, John Elway, Harry Carson, Isaac Bruce, Tim Brown and Mel Renfro … combined.