Following a disappointing year ripe with injuries to important players and shuffling at major positions, it would be easy for the Philadelphia Eagles to hit the reset button and hope to contend without any major changes. 2019 was a year in which the team showed both its proverbial ceiling and floor — competing with the best the league has to offer and sinking to the level of the worst. Nevertheless, through it all, they may very well have been one hit away from a shot at returning to the NFC title game.
In any other city, the Eagles could be forgiven for entering the 2020 season with a relatively unchanged roster in hopes a return to health could restore their former glory. However, Philly fans know better and GM Howie Roseman is no longer feigning ignorance to the fact that patching the depth chart with rented veterans is not a blueprint for long term success.
When we look at our team from 2017 to 2019, we knew that we had one team . . . We made trades for some veteran players to go win. We stick to that. We’re glad of those decisions, but going forward we need to infuse youth in this team.
Said youth movement has already begun in Philadelphia, predominantly on the offensive side of the football. Although, we have also seen some young defenders assume greater roles. Despite some hiccups, the fresh faces of eager recruits have echoed promise through the halls of the Linc and Eagles fans have a reason to be excited about the future. The team ended the season with 30 players under the age of 26 on the roster, a majority of which now have playoff experience. Seven more will rejoin the team from the injured reserves list before September.
As it stands, the front office will add ten additional hopefuls to that list by way of the 2020 NFL Draft. However, getting younger for the sake of getting younger has its own pitfalls. While the Eagles managed to eke their way into the playoffs with a ragtag cast of youngsters, much of their season lacked what was central to the Birds iconic Super Bowl run just three years ago — identity.
The 2017 Eagles were rough and tumble. They pounded the football with an incessant foray of fresh legged backs and weren’t afraid to run you over. They took away opponents’ rushing attack away and held them to third and long situations — when their absolutely dominant defensive line pinned their ears back and licked their chops at the hint of pass pro. They had grit, and a lot of it. When it came time for playoffs and their collective backs were against the wall, they donned the underdog mantra with barred teeth and became something new: champions. They may have been an older team, but they knew who they were and what they were about.
In 2019, Philadelphia masqueraded as multi-faced subsistence. They won the games they needed to, but never in the manner expected of them. Beginning as a high flying offense at the behest of DeSean Jackson, they became a quick-passing, tight-end-heavy, outside-zone-running amalgamation of parts. There were some games that relied heavily on the explosiveness of the offense. Yet, there were others that were entirely dependent on the tenacious, gutsy — sometimes devil may care — defensive mind of Jim Schwartz. Granted, as injuries took their toll, Carson Wentz and the coaching staff did whatever they could to will the team into a playoff position.
However, 2020 is a chance to start anew. This is the time to assume a new identity for the foreseeable future. That leaves the front office with some priorities to set straight.
Rumblings that the key for the offense going forward will be speed make a lot of sense. Rookie Miles Sanders and new addition Boston Scott have proven their ability to outrun a defense. DeSean Jackson will be returning from injury. Coming from Kansas City, Doug Pederson has seen what effect game-breaking quickness can have on the game. This also leaves some lingering questions that have yet to be answered.
If speed is to be the crux, where does last year’s second-round selection J.J. Arcega-Whiteside fit? With rumors swirling that Alshon Jeffery may be unhappy with usage, how will Doug Pederson manufacture his touches? How does this match up with Pederson’s adherence to clock management and time of possession? Can the Eagles’ scout team reverse an unfavorable history of drafting disappointing deep threats?
After shelling out a record-setting contract to Carson Wentz, it seems only right that the Eagles’ first draft in years with a cupboard full of draft picks should revolve around the offense. That may take a bulk of the ten selections Philadelphia has in pocket. After all, not every draft pick turns into a star player. If offense is to be the focus, where does that leave the state of the defense?
Can the Philadelphia offense become explosive enough to outscore all their opponents? If so, it seems the amount of capital needed to make that happen may force Howie Roseman to neglect some needs on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps the return of DeSean in conjunction with the addition of a young counterpart would be enough. However, depth was clearly a concern at nearly all positions last season and will need to be addressed.
The Eagles’ secondary was at-times atrocious last season. While the team has enough early selections to spend one on a cornerback, the defense seems more than just one star player away from lasting success. The defensive free-agent class is relatively lackluster when compared with the monstrous 2019 haul and the free agent answers for the secondary are fairly bleak unless Philadelphia plans to spend big. Trades may be an option, but for a team with a chest full of back-loaded contracts, determined not to deal away young pieces, it may be tough to find a suitable partner. Again, there are questions unanswered on defense.
Who will be the starting corners for 2020? Are the Eagles satisfied with their line-backing corps? Is now the time to bring in a safety of the future? Can the wide-9 continue to produce?
Facing a new age of Eagles’ football, post Super Bowl, Howie Roseman seems ready to take on the next chapter. The next few months will be very telling — none more than April. However, even before then, the Eagles front office will have some choices to make. Regardless of their conclusion, Eagles fans will soon have a very clear picture of what their team will look like for the next few years. 2020 will be the year for a new identity in Philadelphia.
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