By Connor Thomas
Tomorrow, the Eagles will officially report to 2021 training camp to prepare for what will certainly be a unique season. Outside of the addition of a 17th regular season game, and a bunch of new penalties and rules surrounding COVID protocol, the Eagles season will still be one of a kind due to the major changes that occurred following the team’s 2020 season. If you’ve been living under a rock, the team moved on from Head Coach Doug Pederson and traded QB Carson Wentz early this offseason, replacing them with Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts respectively. Both of those come with major question marks that won’t be answered until some regular season games are in the books. Following those changes though, the Eagles have quietly built a roster that, while it might not be competitive enough to win the NFC East or make the playoffs, is better than some are giving them credit for. When you look at some of the additions the team made over the past couple months, it’s hard to say they aren’t in a better spot than they were when they traded away their franchise QB back in February.
First of all, the Eagles actually look to have had a solid draft. They handled their 1st round selection beautifully, trading back to add another 1st round pick in 2022 and still getting one of the best playmakers available in Heisman Trophy Winner DeVonta Smith. Center Landon Dickerson, who the Eagles drafted in the 2nd round to be the heir apparent to Jason Kelce, has dealt with injuries, but is extremely talented. Milton Williams has upside on the defensive line, Zech McPhearson has great athleticism and can hopefully turn into something at corner, and Kenneth Gainwell looks to be a steal in the 5th round as a talented running back. With every draft class, there are questions, but by the Eagles’ low standards in that department, this year’s group of selections seems like a positive.
There were a couple of nice free agent acquisitions made by the team as well over the past couple months, starting with the addition of safety Anthony Harris back in March. Harris, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, was a serviceable safety in Minnesota, but more importantly perhaps is his relationship with new Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who coached Harris when he was the Vikings secondary coach. The birds also solidified the QB room, adding Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens, both who have starting experience, to share the room with 2nd year presumed starter Jalen Hurts. Jordan Howard, who has popped in and out with the Eagles over the past 2 years, is back in the running backs unit, and he’s joined by Kerryon Johnson, who adds solid depth and some more pass catching in that unit.
I know what a lot of Eagles fans are thinking at this point: “Yeah, yeah, but what about going and getting an NFL caliber linebacker??” Well the team did that as well, bringing in Eric Wilson who started 15 games in serviceable fashion for the Vikings last year. Pairing him with breakout backer Alex Singleton is… well, better than last year’s abysmal group. Ryan Kerrigan, who had spent some time at linebacker during his tenure with Washington, will also be a helpful veteran addition. All that really left was the cornerback position, and over the weekend the Eagles signed Steven Nelson, a talented outside corner that started every game this past year in Pittsburgh. He’ll be the much awaited running mate to Darius Slay, and hopefully gives the Eagles a huge boost in the defensive backfield. Just don’t look at who is backing up the starters back there.
They’re not a Super Bowl contending team. They probably are not a division winning team or a playoff team either. But in the first year of what looked like a multi-year rebuild at the end of last season, the Eagles have checked a lot of the necessary boxes to put the team in a better spot than they were. Now it will be up to Sirianni, Gannon, and the rest of a very young coaching staff to prove that they can put the birds in the right position to win a couple games and show that this year’s offseason was a step in the right direction.