The 2020 NFL season has quickly turned into a nightmare for the Philadelphia Eagles. Some of the problems they currently deal with are surprisingly new, such as Carson Wentz’s subpar play 3 games in. And then others, like the endless injuries, seem all too familiar. While I never advocate for a football team to tank their season and deliberately lose all their games for a higher draft pick, there are situations where a team needs to play out the current season while also focusing on their long-term outlook. I would argue that the Eagles are in that situation right now. I’m not saying the team should just give up not play for anything, but rather that the goals and expectations they set out should be altered.
Let’s be honest; there are a ton of issues with the Eagles right now that prevent them from being in contention for anything, even just a Wild Card spot. Carson Wentz isn’t playing well, the coaching on both offense and defense is bad, and the injuries still won’t stop. To add to that, the team is entering a very tough part of their schedule in which they face the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens consecutively. It’s tough to see the Eagles coming away with wins against those teams with the healthy players they currently have.
Hypothetically speaking, here’s how I see the best-case scenario: Carson Wentz starts playing like a great QB again, Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz start coaching well again, the players on short-term injured reserve all return, and the team miraculously stops suffering any more major injuries to key players. With all that playing out the Eagles absolutely could win the atrocious NFC East. However, they likely still won’t be good enough to compete with the top-tier teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, and Baltimore Ravens. Is there a chance they could? I’d be wrong if I said there wouldn’t be. But how much are you willing to bet on those chances? The roster just lacks the talent and personnel on either side of the ball right now.
So then what should the Eagles be focusing on for the rest of the 2020 season if it’s not about winning a Super Bowl anymore? First and foremost, and this may be a bit of an obvious point, but they must find a way to fix Carson Wentz and refute any thoughts of Jalen Hurts replacing him as the starter.
There are a couple of points to tackle here, but let’s start with Wentz’s contract.
If you think Carson Wentz is going to be traded/released this offseason, here’s a breakdown of the dead cap hits the team would have to eat. So unless if you’re telling me the team is willing to take that hit for a year, Carson’s going to be here a couple more years.@spotrac pic.twitter.com/Yu0xiupc3F
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) September 28, 2020
As you can see above the dead cap hit that the Eagles would incur as a result of trading or releasing Wentz is way too high to consider moving him after the 2020 season. If you look up the rest of Carson Wentz’s contract details you’d see that there is a potential out on Wentz’s contract after the 2021 season where the team would incur “only” a $24.5 million dead cap hit while saving about $6.7 million on the cap. If you want to believe that the Eagles could depart from Wentz at that point, then so be it. But even so, that means Wentz isn’t going anywhere this season or the next.
The other point to make here has to do with the Eagles’ 2020 2nd round pick Jalen Hurts. It’s come to no surprise that many fans have already been clamoring for Hurts to be put in as the starter. However, those people don’t seem to realize the issue of system fit. For Hurts to have immediate success, he needs a read-option or some type of QB-run system, similar to what the Baltimore Ravens run with Lamar Jackson. Hurts has experience running that in college. He also ran an Air-Raid system at Oklahoma. The Air-Raid system does a good job of simplifying the passing reads for quarterbacks and doesn’t require them to go through the same type of progressions that a West-Coast based system does.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson doesn’t run a QB-run or Air-Raid system; he primarily runs a West-Coast based system. He does have read-option and Air-Raid concepts added here and there, but they’re not the foundation of what he runs. Even in 2017 when Nick Foles had to take over for the injured Wentz and Pederson started incorporating RPOs, those weren’t plays that were run for the majority of the game nor are they the same as QB-run plays like the read-option or speed-option. Pederson doesn’t have any background or history of running that type of system. Now, he could alter his whole system and tailor it to Hurts’ skillset, but even if he did it probably wouldn’t be in the middle of this season.
I like Hurts as a prospect, and I did before the Eagles selected him in the draft (even though that was a horrible decision by Howie Roseman). But if Hurts is expected to run the same offense that Carson Wentz is running right now he’s going to struggle. He’s not ready. He needs time to develop and learn.
So, if Wentz is still going to be the QB for the Eagles for at least this season and the next then the team must find a way to get him back to his old form. The funk that he’s been in to start the 2020 season doesn’t fall in line with the caliber of player he’s proven to be his whole career. Yes, the flaws he’s dealing with now are the same ones he’s been dealing with for the past couple of seasons and it’s concerning that he hasn’t fixed them yet, but even with those flaws, he’s been able to play at a level that is indicative of a highly-talented franchise QB. Trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with him is a whole other discussion for another day as everyone has their theories. But whatever it is, it’s up to the team and Carson himself to figure it out. If he does and continues to play at a high level for the next 2 seasons, then he’ll end up staying here for probably the duration of his contract. If not, then the QB changed we’ve speculated about could occur in 2022.
Carson Wentz’s ball placement and overall accuracy continues to be erratic. Him missing Miles Sanders early in the 4th quarter was one of the worst missed opportunities I’ve seen from the Eagles offense this season so far. pic.twitter.com/Z0W5HpjJXa
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) September 29, 2020
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) October 1, 2020
The second thing the Eagles should focus more on this season is playing their young talent. Having young pieces to build with has been an issue for the past couple of seasons now. Howie Roseman and the rest of the front office have made some good draft selections here and there, but there are far too many egregious misses that have prevented the team from being infused with the young core pieces winning organizations consistently have on the roster.
The Eagles aren’t completely void of young talent, though. And whatever talent they do have needs to play this season.
Miles Sanders was seen by many as a breakout candidate in 2020, and so far, he hasn’t disappointed. The Eagles have made it crystal clear that he’s the offense’s featured RB. One way they can help make Carson’s job easier, especially with all the injuries, is by leaning on Sanders more. So, if Sanders is running well like he was in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Pederson shouldn’t make the same mistake and shy away from giving Sanders more carries. Give him the ball 20-25 times a game.
We already know how great Dallas Goedert is and what he brings to the offense. Staying healthy is key for him right now as he nears the end of his rookie contract, but it’s near impossible not to see him as another one of the core weapons for this team for years to come.
I already mentioned Jalen Hurts and how he’s not ready to be the starting QB for the team right now. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute in other ways. We’ve already seen the team use him as a decoy or a runner on some plays, and that needs to not only continue but also increase.
Once Jalen Reagor is healthy and returns to the lineup he must continue to be a starter and log a majority of snap counts. The flashes of big-play ability were there in his first two games and we can fully expect him to provide that explosive playmaking ability on the outside that the Eagles’ offense has been missing.
Greg Ward continues to be one of the only reliable receivers for Wentz. His story and development have been incredible. Keep playing him.
The team also has their other speed receivers they selected late in the 2020 Draft in John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Hightower saw significant playing time against the Bengals and if you look at the All-22 film you can see the speed and vertical threat ability he brings. Watkins brings an intriguing combination of speed and athleticism. He could be good if developed correctly. Wentz must start building chemistry and trust with both of them.
Jack Driscoll is another 2020 draft pick that could get some playing time at some point this season if the injuries continue to pile up. He did some good things in Week 1 against the Washington Football Team and I’d like to see him build on that.
Corey Clement isn’t running well. He may be a good special teamer, but if you need someone to spell Sanders and be a reliable runner between the tackles then call up either Elijah Holyfield or Michael Warren from the practice squad.
In the wake of Goedert going on IR the team signed Hakeem Butler and plan to convert him to TE. Numerous draft evaluators thought highly of him as a big slot receiver, which is essentially what he’ll be as a moveable TE. It was a low-risk, medium-high reward. Play him and see how he does.
On the defensive side of the ball, Josh Sweat has developed into a really good player on the edge. As long as his knee holds up, he deserves more and more snaps.
Safety K’Von Wallace is already a fan favorite with high expectations, even if those expectations are beginning to be unreasonable (people need to stop comparing him to Brian Dawkins). If Jalen Mills continues to struggle then why not put Wallace in and see what the kid can do?
Davion Taylor was the team’s 3rd round pick in this past draft, even though he should have been a 5th round pick at best. Yes, he’s super raw and needs time to develop. That being said, can the LB corps get any worse? Nate Gerry has been atrocious. I wouldn’t be opposed to Taylor getting some playing time this season. He’ll make a bunch of mistakes, but he’ll also make plays that showcase the physical ability he possesses.
There are probably a few other players I haven’t mentioned that should get more playing time as well. But the point here is that the Eagles need to start figuring out what they have in these young players. Getting some snaps under their belt should help them learn on the fly and gain much-needed experience now instead of down the road. Not all of them will pan out to be contributing players for the future, but in a season like this one, it wouldn’t hurt to start trying to figure out which ones will.
Other problems will need to be addressed and fixed after the season is over too. Howie Roseman must be held accountable for not drafting well enough and the organization would be wise to hand over personnel decisions to someone else. If Jim Schwartz doesn’t start doing some amazing things with his scheme then the team should start looking elsewhere next year. And Doug Pederson put himself on the line when he helped decide not to hire an offensive coordinator. People have been speculating that a good portion of that Super Bowl victory had to do with Frank Reich, and Pederson has done less and less since Reich left to dispel that speculation. The leash that was given to all of them from winning the Super Bowl is near its end and significant changes should be made this offseason if the team doesn’t start playing better this season.
Should the Eagles still try their best to win every single game they can for the rest of the season? Yes, they absolutely should. I would never tell NFL players to intentionally lose or not care about winning games. However, the team also needs to be self-aware enough and prioritize the future of the team. NFL teams who know they are in transition or are rebuilding don’t focus so much on the wins and losses as much as they do on developing building-block players who can help establish a winning organization for years to come.
After the Super Bowl LII victory, Doug Pederson talked about the “new norm” for the Philadelphia Eagles. Well, it’s safe to say that his statement hasn’t panned out. But there’s still a chance it can if they start building the right way. Accepting that they may have to take one step back this season could mean the difference in taking several steps forwards for many more seasons to come.