How good are the Eagles right now? It depends on how you frame it. The optimist will state the Eagles are a perennial playoff team, having qualified for the playoffs three consecutive seasons, and during that span, won the NFC East twice and brought home a Super Bowl title for the first time in franchise history.
A pessimist would point out that the Eagles had to make impossible runs at the end of each of the last two seasons just to qualify, finishing 9-7 each year. Also, the Birds are only three games over .500 since winning the Super Bowl (19-16).
The Eagles have shown grit and heart these last two seasons, no doubt, but can’t seem to shake the injury bug.
In 2019, all three starting receivers were out by the end of the season: DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery. At some point of the season, many starters and key players went down, including DTs Hassan Ridgeway, Malik Jackson. RBs Darren Sproles, Corey Clement and Jordan Howard, DEs Joe Ostman and Daeshon Hall, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill, DB Ronald Darby plus All-Pro offensive linemen Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson.
In the first quarter of the Eagles’ Wild Card playoff game, the Eagles lost franchise quarterback Carson Wentz for the day, and ultimately the season, when he suffered a head injury incurred by a helmet-to-helmet hit by Seattle Seahawks pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. The Birds lost the game 17-9.
At the team’s season wrap-up news conference, Eagles Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman talked about both sides of the argument.
“We stand up here with a range of emotions,” Roseman said. “I think the first emotion is disappointment. Disappointment that we are not practicing this week for the Green Bay Packers and that we didn’t achieve our goals that we set out when we opened training camp. I think when you have a disappointing season, it’s not just on the players and the coaches; it’s also on the front office. That starts with me, and I’m sorry to our fans. They give us tremendous support.”
Roseman continued, “I think the second part is a tremendous sense of pride. Pride in our coaching staff. Pride in our players. Because we sat up here about four years ago and introduced coach Pederson and we talked about building a team. Building a team that could sustain success, that could be resilient, and I think we have seen that from our team. If I told you four years ago that we’d have 42 wins, including playoff games and a Super Bowl title, that doesn’t mean that we’ve accomplished our goals, but we’re proud of that.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson sent some conflicting messages during and after the news conference.
When asked about the status of offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers coach Carson Walch, neither a favorite with Eagles Nation, Pederson gave a definitive, “Yes,” to the question of whether they would return.
“I think both of those guys did an outstanding job for me this year,” Pederson said. “There were a lot of things we faced on offense, as you know, through adversity, through injury, through many different facets of trying to get the pieces together.”
By noon the next day, both were fired.
Toward the the end of the presser, Pederson acknowledged defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was being interviewed by the Cleveland Browns for their head coaching vacancy.
On Friday Jan. 9, when it was revealed that the Browns had hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be team’s new head coach, Pederson confirmed Schwartz would be back. But will he?
Cory Undlin, who has served as Philly’s defensive backs coach since 2015, was just hired by the Detroit Lions to take over as defensive coordinator, according to ESPN reporter Field Yates.
Pederson talked about interest other teams have in his staff.
“I love the fact that guys around the league and teams around the league are looking to my staff for possible head coaching candidates,” Pederson said. “First, Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts head coach) a couple years ago and now Jim, a former head coach. I think he would make a tremendous head coach again, and his leadership and obviously what he has brought to me and how I have been able to lean on him through his experiences as a former head coach.”
Roseman said the Eagles will try to fix the injury problems that have plagued this franchise for several years.
“One of the things that obviously has been an issue for us has been the injury situation,” Roseman said. “When we look at the last three years, in 2017, we were able to overcome it. The last two years, the injuries have really hurt our football team. We have hired a new chief medical officer. This is someone that we are very, very excited to have. He came in in June and what he asked for us was that he would observe, observe through the season, observe our training staff, observe our weight staff, our sports science, our processes, and make recommendations to us that we would carry out. So we’re excited about that.”
Both Pederson and Roseman agreed the Eagles have to get younger. Roseman admitted that signing older players increases the risk of injuries.
Roseman also admitted he gets too attached to players he likes. Pederson, based on his actions, has the same problem. Clearly, that was the case with Sproles and offensive tackle Jason Peters.
The Eagles have tough decisions to make coming up this offseason. They must evaluate players based on how they can help the team today, not what they’ve done in the past.
“It’s very difficult when you have guys who have given their heart and soul to this organization, to this team, who you’ve developed personal relationships to say goodbye,” Roseman said. “At the same time, you also need veteran leadership on your football team and you need guys that have been through it. I think you saw that, for us at the end of the year, there are guys that have been through the adversity and were able to overcome it and be able to take our young players and lead them and tell them kind of the expectations that they had.
“So you try to balance all those things. Now, we haven’t gotten into the evaluation of any of this. We haven’t decided on our plan going forward. Those are all the things that will happen in the coming days and coming weeks.”
Eagles Nation will be watching. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii