Have the Eagles catapulted themselves into NFC contention?

NFL: DEC 26 Giants at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 26: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) celebrates a first down during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

When the 2021 season came to a predictably disappointing finish against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Eagles fans were left feeling optimistic. Playoffs in year one under Nick Sirianni? A pleasant surpise. DeVonta Smith breaking the franchise record for rookie receiving yards? A dream come true. With a flurry of first-round draft picks going into the offseason, Howie Roseman would have a chance to build on a roster that somehow pushed its way to a playoff berth, and surround a potential franchise QB with the pieces needed to answer the questions surrounding his ability. Fast forward a few short months and this Eagles team is in a completely different spot.

It’s not that the Eagles hit home-runs by bringing in star power across the board, even if you can argue that they did. But each signing opens something up. It’s more than just ‘the Eagles needed a corner and this guy is good’. Each player has a very clear role on the team.

Defense

Haason Reddick is one of the league’s most dominant pass-rushers with the fifth-most sacks of anyone since 2020. His presence alone in that linebacking group and coming off the edge so explosively is going to give Gannon some options when it comes to rushing the passer, a mindset that will be anchored by first-round pick Jordan Davis.

However, that wouldn’t be possible without a strong linebacker group.

Enter Kyzir White and rookie LB Nakobe Dean. It’s still stunning that the Eagles were even able to land Dean in the first place, but now there’s a real sense of intelligence in coverage at the position, something that totally lacked last year. By having confidence behind the front four, Gannon will be able to be more aggressive with the way he rushes the passer.

On the back end, the Eagles just added James Bradberry to a secondary that saw breakout years from Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox. You now have three extremely solid cornerbacks, whose ability to dominate the top of the route and carry players vertically will take a lot of weight off the shoulders from a safety position that still lacks notable talent.

Offense

The early stages of the offseason saw subtle housekeeping, but the Draft is where things really heated up. The Eagles traded for A.J Brown, giving them a trio of DeVonta Smith, A.J Brown, and Quez Watkins. You could not ask for a better young group to build around. Two of those wideouts are extremely close with Jalen Hurts, and they all have plenty more in the tank to uncover.

Nick Sirianni, the WR whisperer, now has a group of young and hungry wideouts who all tick every box that the Head Coach has on his dream-list. Having so many options for Jalen Hurts is only going to give him confidence.

On the offensive front, Jason Kelce hand-picked his replacement. You couldn’t ask for a smoother transition and a better fit than one selected by the future Hall of Famer himself.

You now have the league’s most lethal rushing attack, a dominant wide receiver tandem, a monstrous offensive line, and an entrenched TE1. This offense has all the potential to become one of the most explosive in the NFL and will be captained by a QB who spear-headed that rushing movement last year. If anything, those shiny new toys are only going to open up even more opportunities to run.

The schedule

The Eagles have the third-easiest schedule in the NFL next season. Their upcoming opponents had a combined winning percentage of 46% last year, which is shocking. There are a few teams who are going to cause some problems for the Birds, with the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers both on deck. But in a division where the Cowboys seemed to get weaker, the Commanders have Carson Wentz, and the Giants are still a few steps back, the divisional crown is more than there for the taking.

Contenders or pretenders?

I don’t think it was by design. The Eagles still have two first-round picks in 2023 and the intent was always to bring in players who can become cornerstones over the next four/five years. It didn’t really matter which positions were prioritized, because that transitional period was happening across the board. But somehow, the stars just continued to align.

The Eagles brought Haason Reddick home. They then somehow landed A.J Brown, one of the brightest young wideouts in the league. Nakobe Dean fell into their laps. They signed James Bradberry after electing not to draft a CB despite it being a key positional need.

If everything happens for a reason, the reason could be to send the Eagles careering back deep into the heart of the NFL playoffs. And who knows, maybe even beyond…

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Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire

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