By Connor Thomas
In one of the biggest stories of the NFL offseason, the Eagles officially traded franchise QB Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts yesterday for a 2021 3rd round pick and a conditional 2022 2nd round pick. The long game of will they, won’t they, where will he go is finally over after weeks of speculation on where the 5th year signal caller will spend his 6th NFL season. Now, the question for the Eagles organization is a simple, yet broad one: what’s next? There are 3 big issues that the birds will have to address over the remainder of the offseason (and possibly over the next couple seasons) that will go a long way towards bailing the water out of this sinking ship. There are, unfortunately, no easy answers. But if I was Howie Roseman – and given his recent track record, those aren’t huge shoes to fill – here is what I would do.
Issue #1 – Who is the Eagles’ next franchise QB?
This is probably the first question that comes to most fans’ minds: who will be the Eagles’ next face of the franchise. There are some who believe that Jalen Hurts has already shown potential to be the answer and deserves his shot under center. I am not in the same camp as those fans. Hurts had a rough rookie season by the numbers, ranking near the bottom of the NFL in passer rating, QBR, completion percentage, and pass yards per game. Yes, it was a small sample size, but the numbers are not comforting. That being said, I believe Hurts can be a stop gap between the Wentz era and whoever the next QB will be. If I were in the front office at NovaCare, I would not be in a rush to find my next signal caller. Veteran QBs are not an option in my mind. Free agent QBs have won only 3 of the last 20 Super Bowls, and those 3 are all time greats Brady (Tampa Bay) and Manning (Denver), and near-deity Nick Foles. Unless an all-time great becomes available, the path to a winning QB is through the draft. If you, like me, don’t believe Jalen Hurts is the long term answer to Philadelphia’s problems, you will have to eventually find your man in one of the upcoming drafts. Which leads us to…
Issue #2 – How do the Eagles have to draft?
There has been a popular strategy in NFL team building for a long time: find a QB, and while that QB is on their rookie deal, spend the money you’re saving/draft capital on weapons and protection for your undervalued QB. The problem with this blueprint when it comes to the Eagles, is that they (Howie Roseman) has shown no ability to surround a franchise QB with weapons. Not for lack of trying, part of the reason Wentz is now a Colt is the inability to give him competent receivers and depth at offensive line. So what good is drafting a QB if you can’t give him the tools to succeed? Answer: there is no good in it. The Eagles would be better served taking the reverse approach. The next couple seasons – yes, we are heading into a multiple season rebuild – need to be spent compiling young talent on both sides of the ball and building a roster where you are a QB away. It may very well take Howie Roseman half a decade to hit on enough draft picks to build a competitive roster, and in that time another rookie deal will have come and gone. Do not draft the QB until you fill the other holes, and until the holes are filled, the unfortunate reality is that the Eagles fans will have to stomach losing football. The top 3 needs this year when the Eagles get on the clock in April, in my mind, are a true #1 wide receiver, a defensive back with playmaking ability, and a stalwart interior offensive lineman. With another high draft pick likely coming next year, DRAFTING A QB AT 6 WOULD BE A MISTAKE.
Issue #3 – Where do the Eagles clear cap space?
Yes, this is the least sexy of the issues facing the birds this offseason, but it is the foundation that will be laid that will set up the team’s ability to go through the coming rebuild. Wentz being moved is a huge first step towards getting under the salary cap. A combination of moves will undoubtedly follow this offseason as the Eagles cut bait on a number of highly paid veterans. I don’t believe the Eagles move on from Fletcher Cox, Brandon Brooks, or Darius Slay, who have three of the four biggest remaining cap hits on the roster, at least this offseason. But there are certainly spots that Roseman can improve his cap situation in the immediate future. I would guess that Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, Zach Ertz, Derek Barnett, and Marquise Goodwin would no longer be in midnight green next year. All of them are in the top 15 on the team in cap hit for 2022. After the 2021-2022 season, Cox, Brandon Graham, and other highly paid veterans could also be on the move. The Eagles have been an organization influenced strongly by nostalgia, and that needs to stop this offseason if the Eagles want to get on the right side of the cap. Yes, it means bargain brand players and probably worse football. But that is the nature of a rebuild, and make no mistake, the Eagles are rebuilding.
It is easy to put words on paper, but much harder to put plans into action. There is a very good chance that in February of 2022 these 3 issues will still be the main ones that plague the Eagles as the head into next offseason. But I do believe that a good amount of work can be done over the next 6 months to lay the groundwork for an eventual Eagles return to prominence. Now, we sit and wait for Howie to do the opposite.