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NFL Draft

Eagles Will Have Successful 2021 Season If…

  • The Draft Network
  • June 30, 2021
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After the 2017 Super Bowl win, a successful season for the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles would have been a healthy Carson Wentz and a deep playoff run. For the 2019 Eagles? A healthy Carson Wentz and a deep playoff run. For the 2020 Eagles? Maybe just a playoff run would suffice.

And now, the 2021 Eagles sit in the remnants of those lofty expectations for the Wentz-era Eagles. There’s a new head coach, a new starting quarterback, and the same general manager—all of which might be bad news.

The harsh reality facing the 2021 Eagles forces a recalibration of expectations. The Eagles’ roster, consistently one of the oldest rosters over the last few seasons, is suddenly younger and unprepared for a playoff run. They have two, maybe three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft. They’re building for the future, and ideally, they’d build around second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts.

But it’s worth stepping away from Hurts before we, you know, actually talk about Hurts. Because teams go as quarterbacks go, in the framework of a single season, but actual roster health dictates the duration of winning windows. Think about the Houston Texans of the last few seasons: two division titles, two playoff berths, one playoff win, and never a seemingly legitimate chance to run in the AFC. Deshaun Watson was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL across that stretch, but yet Houston was never really a competitive team at the Super Bowl level.

Philadelphia’s roster, as it currently stands, could not sustain a Super Bowl run with a Patrick Mahomes-Tom Brady fusion dance at quarterback. The Eagles have no established, talented wide receivers in a league in which most teams have two. Their offensive line, talented on paper, is old, oft-injured, and carrying a large question mark at the most important position: left tackle. Their coaching staff is young and unproven—on both sides of the ball. Defensively, a talented front four remains, but the front office’s negligence of the back seven remains glaring. The Eagles have over-30, declining vets battening down the defensive backfield in Darius Slay and Rodney McLeod, no cornerback depth whatsoever, and an ex-UDFA and ex-CFLer starting at linebacker.

No level of quarterback play could elevate this team. And even if a few things break Philadelphia’s way—DeVonta Smith is immediately electric; Avonte Maddox has a bounce-back season—there are too many tipping points they need to fall their way to field an NFL-caliber roster.

This brings us back to Hurts. The Eagles could get super aggressive turning over this roster. With tons of 2022 draft capital and a ballooning cap, they could draft aiming for starting talent, make a trade for a big-name veteran or two, and start trying to compete in the 2022 season. They could also take the long road, allowing for a losing 2021 season to further increase capital in 2022 and 2023 with trade backs and the selling of veterans. This could be a reload; this could be a rebuild.

Hurts’ talent is the deciding factor.

The Eagles have only seen 3.5 games of Hurts in the NFL, and while he was definitely better than Wentz was last season, he was a far cry from being demonstrably, emphatically an NFL-caliber quarterback. Hurts’ completion percentage over expectation was second-worst only to Jake Luton last season, detailing his struggles with accuracy; even with his running ability to buoy his play, Hurts’ EPA/play was right around Taysom Hill’s, Jared Goff’s, and Gardner Minshew’s—not great.

If Hurts sticks at that level of play across the course of next season, the Eagles won’t win many games. They don’t have the New Orleans Saints or Los Angeles Rams’ roster to get away with that.

Hurts very much could get better. He didn’t have a standard offseason in 2020, was behind Wentz in practice reps for much of the year, and was forced into a floundering offense late in the season. The work ethic of Hurts is pretty legendary, and if an offense is built on his running ability, he can be a lot more than he was last year.

So Hurts can win the starting Eagles quarterback job for the next few years by performing well this year. He’d give the Eagles a cornerstone around which to build, bringing stability to a team currently in a pretty substantial flux. And if he performs poorly, he lets them know that they need to find a new cornerstone.

So a successful season for the Eagles isn’t necessarily getting a good season out of Hurts or getting a bad season out of Hurts, it’s just definitively getting one of the two. They’re a team without direction and Hurts’ play in the 2021 season will put them on their path for the 2022 offseason and beyond.

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