10 Burning Questions About the 2016 Eagles Season
It sure hasn’t been a quiet nine months since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Chip Kelly and tried to turn back the clock to 1999 by hiring Andy Reid’s protégé: Doug Pederson. Lurie also put Howie Roseman back in charge, initiating an unusually large amount of wheeling and dealing to retool the roster.
The Eagles re-signed Sam Bradford, added Chase Daniel, traded up in the draft for Carson Wentz and then traded Bradford away — and that’s just what happened at the quarterback position. They also spent hundreds of millions of dollars by giving out several large contracts and brought in more than a dozen new coaches.
Now that the deals are done and the season is upon us, what can we expect from the 2016 Eagles?
What will we see from Carson Wentz?
The expectations for any No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft are typically pretty high, but Wentz isn’t the typical No. 2 overall pick. The North Dakota State alumnus only started for a year and a half at the NCAA Division I FCS level. He then missed the bulk of the 2016 NFL preseason with a rib injury. There’s no question Wentz flashed impressive talent this summer, but there were also times when the 23-year-old struggled with accuracy. Wentz will give Eagles fans reason to be excited this year. He’s the most promising talent the Eagles have had under center in quite some time. But there will likely be growing pains along the way. —B.L.G.
Which new addition, outside of Carson Wentz, will have the biggest impact on the team this year?
While the Eagles may have spent the most money on right guard Brandon Brooks ($40 million over five years, including $21 million guaranteed), safety Rodney McLeod looks like the most talented player Roseman acquired. McLeod will form, as defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said, one of the best safety tandems in the NFL along with Malcolm Jenkins. McLeod signed a five-year deal in March worth $37 million, including $17 million guaranteed. The 26-year-old didn’t miss a game during his four seasons with the Rams, and he forced at least four turnovers in each of the last three seasons, which is tied for the league lead among safeties. He also recorded the ninth-best tackle rate, according to Pro Football Focus, and is impressive when you turn on the film because of his range, intelligence and anticipation. —J.P.
What grade would you give Howie Roseman for the offseason?
It’s hard not to be impressed with how Roseman — who essentially spent the 2015 season in exile while Kelly was in charge — has maneuvered this offseason. The de facto general manager’s defining move was obviously the trade to acquire Wentz. The Eagles have sorely lacked a legitimate franchise quarterback since the days of Donovan McNabb; Roseman recognized that flaw and took action to invest in the NFL’s premium position. What makes the Wentz trade even more palatable is that the team was able to recoup some of the picks lost in the deal: The way Roseman was able to pressure the Vikings into giving up a 2017 first-round pick (and 2018 fourth-round pick) in exchange for Bradford was a strong move. Overall, Roseman deserves an “A” for the offseason. —B.L.G.
Is the future of this team brighter now than it was nine months ago when Chip Kelly was fired?
There’s a reason an “A” is a justifiable grade for Roseman. While the Eagles may finish with a worse record than they did last year, they appear to be better positioned for long-term success. The Eagles spent a ton of money before free agency even started this offseason — including more than $100 million in guarantees — but they did so to keep a core group of players together for several more years. Zach Ertz will be a focal point in the offense, Vinny Curry could be the Eagles’ go-to pass-rusher, Jenkins is an impressive safety and an even better leader, and Lane Johnson is the left tackle of the future (if he can stay out of trouble). When you add Brooks and McLeod, Roseman certainly acquired a lot of talent.
But, obviously, Roseman’s offseason will ultimately be judged by one move: trading up in the draft to select Wentz second overall. If the Eagles miss on the guy they’re trying to build a championship team around, the future won’t be much brighter than it was before the Pederson era. Still, they absolutely appear to be better equipped to be successful several years from now than they did nine months ago. —J.P.
What’s going on with Lane Johnson?
There are a lot of unanswered questions — even in Johnson’s eyes — in terms of his second failed drug test and his impending suspension. Although he confirmed he failed the test, he still hasn’t received the results of the “B” sample, which will determine whether or not he is suspended. If Johnson’s “B” sample does come back positive for a banned substance, he will be suspended for 10 games because he also failed a drug test two years ago. He still doesn’t know whether he would appeal the suspension, and if he does, he’s unsure on what grounds he would do so. If Johnson does appeal, he would be able to play until the matter is resolved — which could take weeks. As for the Eagles’ first game against the Browns, Johnson is expected to start at right tackle. If he does miss time, it would be a significant blow to the offensive line. —J.P.
What’s the biggest question mark on this team?
As a rookie head coach, Pederson has a lot to prove. He wasn’t highly sought after while teams were looking to make coaching hires this offseason, and he wasn’t even necessarily the Eagles’ top option. That could end up being meaningless, but it doesn’t do much to assuage concerns about Pederson in the meantime. His play-calling experience is very limited; he only started to handle those duties on a limited basis with the Kansas City Chiefs last season. There are also concerns about Pederson’s in-game management of the clock due to the struggles of his mentor: Andy Reid. The 2016 season alone likely won’t determine if Pederson is a good coach or not, but if ever there were a season to make a good first impression, this is it. —B.L.G.
How about among the players?
The Eagles’ weakest position is wide receiver. Although Jordan Matthews is good in the slot, 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor and 2014 third-round pick Josh Huff aren’t expected to contribute much. Matthews and Huff, both just 24 years old, are the elders in a very young, inexperienced receiver room. That’s why Dorial Green-Beckham, whom the Eagles traded for just a few weeks ago, could be the “X” factor on this team. Green-Beckham is the most talented outside receiver the Eagles have, and his 6′ 5″, 237-pound frame — combined with his ability — gives the Eagles a potential weapon they haven’t had in years. The problem? His coaches with the Titans weren’t thrilled with his work ethic and effort, both of which will determine how far he goes in Philadelphia. Perhaps the young receiver learned from his mistakes in Tennessee, but the Eagles will struggle in the passing game if he hasn’t. —J.P.
What can we expect from the offense this year?
With Wentz starting instead of Bradford, this got a whole lot tougher to project. The Eagles don’t look to have a very good offense because of Wentz’s inexperience and his lack of weapons, and Johnson’s impending suspension would only make things worse. Wentz will hit the expected rough patches of a rookie, but his talent and potential could possibly elevate the Eagles above expectations, too. In my mind, much of the Eagles’ success comes down to how healthy running back Ryan Mathews remains. Mathews is unquestionably talented, but he’s also undoubtably injury prone. If he can play 14 or 15 games, his presence would really help the rookie quarterback by drawing more attention to the run game. —J.P.
What can we expect from the defense this year?
It’s not unrealistic to think the Eagles could have a top-10 defense this year. Yes, despite the fact that Philadelphia allowed the third-most yards and fifth-most points last season. The Eagles’ defense will benefit from the departure of Kelly’s high-tempo offense because they won’t be forced to play so many extra snaps. In addition, the presence of Jim Schwartz is huge. Schwartz is a revered defensive mind — and he’s got a lot of talent to work with. Philadelphia boasts a very strong defensive line along with one the best safety tandems in the NFL. Second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks showed star potential as a rookie. The Eagles’ defense has real potential, and it showed in the preseason. A big reason Philadelphia was able to force 10 turnovers through four summer games is that they have a strong pass rush. Schwartz’s attack defense could force opposing teams into making mistakes against the Eagles. —B.L.G.
Does this team have any chance of making the playoffs?
The Eagles still play in the NFC East, so they basically have a chance by default. The division is not very strong. The Giants haven’t had a winning season since 2012, and New York’s defense was historically bad last season. The Cowboys are entering the season without their starting quarterback, Tony Romo, and it remains to be seen if/when he’ll return. Dallas has a lot of question marks on defense as well, including a lackluster pass rusher. Washington is trying to become the first division team since the 2004 Eagles to repeat as NFC East champions. They’re led by a quarterback, Kirk Cousins, who has never defeated a team with a winning record.
Philadelphia has a lot of question marks on offense. Wentz is a rookie. Pederson is in his first year as a head coach. The Eagles simply lack talent at certain offensive positions, such as wide receiver. For these reasons, the Eagles are far from a lock for the playoffs. The Birds should have a chance to make the postseason, though, due to the strength of their defense. Schwartz has overseen top-seven defenses in his last three seasons as a defensive coordinator. Anchored by a deep defensive line featuring star Fletcher Cox, the Eagles’ defense figures to give the team a chance to be competitive this year. —B.L.G.