The Philadelphia Eagles are a playoff team. Who’d have thought? Their win over the Washington Football Team on Sunday sent them to a positive record for the first time all year and with the help of some other results, cemented their spot in the postseason. It’s easy to be impressed at how quickly things have turned around in Philadelphia, but when you focus the microscope just a little more, you begin to realize just how much has changed.
If I could turn back time
The month is February 2021. The Eagles have just traded Carson Wentz to the Colts for a conditional first-round pick and you’re not sure whether you’re relieved or about to have a breakdown. This comes just a couple of weeks after Colts offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni, was announced as the replacement for Super Bowl winning Head Coach, Doug Pederson.
It didn’t take long for Nick Sirianni to draw criticism and unsurprisingly, very little of it was warranted. His introductory press conference was a little nervous and saw the rookie HC stumble and stutter a few times while giving very deep answers. This drew heckles and laughs from media personalities, who jumped on the chance to put down a coach who had just landed his dream job for the sake of a few clicks.
While Sirianni may not have been the most inspiring hire in the world at the time, his love for football and coaching was clear. His responses to questions were filled with passion and it’s that very word that players used to describe their new head honcho. Sirianni loves to talk ball and that hasn’t changed since his arrival.
The offseason that followed was a whirlwind. Would Jalen Hurts really have the opportunity to secure the QB1 spot, or would Roseman grow impatient and instead YOLO the Draft to find a new signal-caller? Would Sirianni’s young And inexperienced coaching staff be able to do literally anything? There were a million reasons to be cautious when evaluating the state of the Eagles and the expectation was that this team would endure a retooling period that could take a few years while they figure out what they have.
Before we even get to the regular season, let’s not forget just how impressive this draft class has been so far. DeVonta Smith has been a breath of fresh air at wide receiver, finally giving fawning fans an elite-level wide receiver who they can trust in to not break their hearts. His rookie season has been nothing short of stunning and the ceiling has only gotten higher since he took to the field in week one.
Things remain impressive further down the draft. Second-round pick, Landon Dickerson, has enjoyed a fantastic start to his NFL career despite missing the entire offseason due to rehabbing a torn ACL. A vital cog in the offensive line, Dickerson looks every bit as dominant as he did for the Crimson Tide.
Milton Williams has been an impactful player on the defensive front, Tarron Jackson has flashed in places and even fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson has looked solid despite struggling to see the field due to some really strong CB depth.
RB Kenny Gainwell has experienced a bumpy rookie year but has flashed on occasion in limited opportunities.
Overall, it’s really hard to be anything other than extremely bullish on a draft class that has had such a big impact on the teams’ success in 2021.
Roseman shines again
The same can be said for the free agency class as well that was mostly comprised of bargain bucket signings. They ultimately lived up to that reputation, with Eric Wilson proving to be a disaster and Ryan Kerrigan failing to do anything other than exist. However, this didn’t really matter because they were never brought in to run the table. If they didn’t surpass expectations, it allowed younger players to get valuable snaps and hone their craft, which is exactly what happened.
Free agency was never going to be the backbone of the season. However, what Roseman did during the season absolutely was. Moving on from Zach Ertz, he gifted Dallas Goedert a big-time contract extension and entrenched him as the TE1. He gave a new deal to Goedert’s BFFL and slot corner maestro, Avonte Maddox, who has become one of the teams’ biggest defensive contributors this year.
Then there’s the Jordan Mailata deal. The Aussie won’t be going anywhere for the next four seasons thanks to a saucy $88M contract extension and it’s safe to say he deserves every penny.
When you consider that the Eagles now have a trio of first rounders thanks to Roseman’s trades earlier in the year, not only is the team perfectly poised to build around the likes of Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith, but they have cornerstones in key areas.
A star tight end, a franchise tackle, a key defensive line piece in Josh Sweat who will likely become EDGE1 in time, and of course the Grave Digger, Javon Hargrave. The Eagles have done exactly what they did in 2016 – find cornerstones at key positions, build from the ball out, and stack assets to do so for the long-term and for a cheaper price.
After the opening four weeks of the season, it’s safe to say that there were a lot of reservations about both Nick Sirianni and Jonathan Gannon. While the latter hasn’t come out smelling of roses just yet, Sirianni has done a brilliant job of adapting what was a clunky pass-heavy offense into the NFL’s most dangerous rushing attack.
The sloppy penalties that plagued the team early on disappeared. The poor play-calls and overly simple gameplans began to expand in both confidence and creativity. The injury bug from previous seasons was finally repelled. The Eagles started to believe in themselves and in their Head Coach. Slowly but surely, the team improved. It wasn’t a magical overnight change, but there were subtle tweaks every week and a real sense of development, which is all anyone could ask for.
Speaking of development, Jalen Hurts is the man who everyone had their eye on going into this year. Chris Simms didn’t even rank him as a top-40 quarterback and the disrespect around the league was as loud as it was ignorant. The good news is, Hurts is beginning to turn heads.
As a passer he still has his flaws. But this past Sunday, we saw the most complete game we’ve seen from the Oklahoma/Bama product since he entered the NFL. Hurts made tight-window throws in clutch situations, moved the ball at will and showed a real desire to push it deep. His accuracy has improved throughout the year and while ball security problems are still prevalent, his attitude and work ethic inspire all the confidence in the world that he’ll get it right.
Is he a top-tier NFL QB? Not yet. But has he shown enough to convince the front office to give him one more rodeo as the starter and build a team around him? Definitely.
Nobody expected the Eagles to make the playoffs this year. In fact, most season predictions had the team winning between 3-5 games. To see this franchise not only make the playoffs, but do so as the NFL’s most efficient rushing team and with a pro bowl alternate at QB is absolutely astounding.
This time one year ago, a 4-11-1 team was in total disarray and on the verge of implosion. After a strong offseason and a refreshing belief that patience is a virtue, fans have watched on as the next generation of Eagles football has risen from the ashes with a vengeance, unafraid of whoever stands in front of them.
2021 was supposed to be a transitional year for the Philadelphia Eagles. A year to find out what they have. The answer? They have the core of a winning football team.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire