NFL Worst to First in 2021: Philadelphia Eagles
We continue our NFL worst to first in 2021 series today, looking at each of the divisions around the league to see if any of the bottom dwellers in 2020 can take a leap to the top of the pile next season.
By James Pike
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We started with the New York Jets, and you can see that article here.
Today I am going to break down one of the NFL’s most intriguing divisions from the previous year. It might have been for all the wrong reasons, but throughout the 2020 NFL season the NFC East was one of the most competitive divisions in the whole of football.
Going into the final game of the season three teams all had a chance to make it into the playoffs, while those who missed out would have the chance at selecting a stud in the 2021 NFL Draft with a guaranteed top 15 selection at the NFL’s annual celebration of the future of the league. However, there was one team that went into the final game of the year with no hopes of making the postseason, and it is this team I wish to talk about today. As we ask the question: Can the Philadelphia Eagles take home the NFC East crown next year?
Philadelphia Eagles: Can They Win the NFC East in 2021?
Projected Cap Space: -$53 Million
Notable Draft Picks: 6th overall, 38th overall
2020 Record: 4-11-1
Chance of winning the NFC East next season: High
How the mighty have fallen. Just three years removed from winning the Super Bowl in spectacular fashion the Eagles now find themselves as basement dwellers in the NFC once more. Compounded by the fact that they finished the season with the worst record in the weakest division in football. Ouch!
It doesn’t get much worse for a team who in the past couple of seasons have invested heavily to keep the band together and remain a dominant force in the NFC’s overall hierarchy. What has gone wrong with the Eagles? There isn’t a simple answer to this question, but I know exactly where to start.
The decline of former franchise quarterback Carson Wentz has been one of the most dramatic in recent memory. In the space of just a couple of seasons he has gone from being a superstar quarterback on the rise to a player whose future as a starter is in serious doubt. His play has taken such a significant drop off in recent years that there are now serious questions about his leadership, ability and professionalism.
It has been truly shocking to see such a fall from grace, but this is the nature of the unforgiving world of the National Football League. One minute you’re the saviour. The next you’re the scapegoat.
To be fair to Carson Wentz, he isn’t the only problem with the Eagles franchise. Doug Pederson; the now former head coach of Philly, had lost the locker room which was abundantly clear during the final few weeks of the season. There was a strong contingent who wanted the team to stick it out with Wentz until the end of the season. While others clearly saw that rookie Jalen Hurts gave the team the best chance to win games down the stretch. Pederson’s days were numbered way before the decision to start Hurts was made towards the end of the season, however. His team simply couldn’t get things going and he was the one to suffer the consequences.
It seemed as though everything that could have gone wrong for Philadelphia in 2020 did. Their team was ravaged by injuries, the players who were healthy underperformed, and internal turmoil in the organisation was rife which ultimately proved too much to overcome, resulting in Philly’s worst season in years.
So why have I rated the Eagles as having such a good chance of winning the division next year? The answer: the NFC East.
The NFL’s once marquee division was the league’s whipping boy last season. Washington Football Team claimed the divisional championship with a less than impressive 7-9 record. The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants tied for second place with 12 wins and 20 losses between them.
All in all, the NFC East as a division lost 40 games between them in 2020. Leading to a combined record of 23-40-1. Yikes!! Looking at how poor the East was this past year gives you a good indication as to why I believe that Philadelphia could bounce back and claim win the division next year, because they have the smallest mountain to climb of any other team unfortunate enough to finish in last place.
Another reason for Eagles fans to remain positive of a quick turnaround is that I can’t really see a clear path for any of their rivals to become infinitely better next year either. A 12-win powerhouse isn’t magically going to manifest during the offseason in the NFC East unless serious work is done to improve their rosters. Fans of America’s Team would argue that they would have won their division if it wasn’t for Dak Prescott’s grotesque leg injury he suffered way back in week 5 of the season. Although before the injury to their star quarterback the team were 1-4.
The New York Football Giants would argue that they are a team on the rise. A much-improved defense allowed the Giants to stay competitive in most of their games, as well as the fact that they also lost star running back Saquon Barkley to injury in week 2 this season. Daniel Jones flashed his due threat abilities (just no one mention the trip against the Eagles on Thursday night football!), however he was still prone to turning the ball over and making mistakes you would like to see disappear when a quarterback enters his second season. All in all, despite showing glimpses of improvement the Giants aren’t going to be a winning ball club any time soon.
Then comes the Washington Football team, who overall showed the most improvement of any team in the division last year. Chase Young helped to elevate an already impressive defensive unit into one of the best in the entire league. “Scary” Terry McLaurin continued to develop into one of the best young wide receivers in the entire league, and rookie running back Antonio Gibson had an outstanding debut campaign showing off his ability to punish defenses on the ground and through the air.
We can’t talk about the 2020 addition of Washington without talking about the comeback of Alex Smith, who just two years ago was at risk of losing his life let alone his football career. He came back and helped guide this young team to a playoff berth.
Despite the feel-good story in Washington, there were many flaws on the Football Team throughout the 2020 season. Outside of McLaurin and Gibson there weren’t all that many impact players on offense. J.D McKissic shone as the team’s Swiss army knife, and Logan Thomas had his moments at tight end, but outside of that the offense wasn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with in 2020.
The point is this. A lot of work is needed by each of these teams to become a true force in the NFL. So it is easy to see why the Eagles could bounce back and claim the division next year, however the Eagles have a lot of work to do themselves, and they don’t exactly have much breathing room with roster flexibility themselves.
Eagles Salary Cap in 2021 Is an Area of Concern
The Philadelphia Eagles are currently projected to be more than $53 million over the cap next season. Carson Wentz’ ballooning contract is a huge reason as to why this franchise is hamstrung when it comes to improving this roster next year. Especially when you consider key contributors like ageless wonder Jason Peters, Greg Ward and Alex Singleton are all expected to hit the open market this offseason.
The Eagles are going to have to make some tough decisions in the Spring in terms of bringing back their own free agents. Then there is the question of how this team goes about improving next year. Even if they find a way to bring back everyone they want to keep next season it isn’t as though these players contributed to winning football in 2020.
Winning just four games the previous year and being in literal salary cap hell is not good, and Philly will have to be extremely careful not to tie themselves down to any lengthy contracts during free agency.
What makes the situation with the Eagles even worse is that there aren't any real viable trades they can make to help this situation they find themselves in. If the Eagles were to trade away Carson Wentz this off season, they would incur the biggest Dead Cap hit in NFL history being on the hook for $33.8 million next season.
They would get a tiny bit of cash back if they are somehow able to find a suitor for Wentz during free agency, but whatever decision is made whether they keep Wentz or not they will still have to pay out his guaranteed money next season. Granted this would free the Eagles up to make some moves in the 2022 season, but it isn’t going to help them improve right now, and that is a bitter pill to swallow.
Acquiring new talent then is going to be difficult for the Eagles in 2021, so what can the franchise do to help improve this team going forward. Well, the first task is simple. They needed to find a new head coach.
Eagles Announce Nick Sirianni as New Head Coach
Doug Pederson: despite being assured by the Eagles he would be the man to lead this team forward next year was relieved of his duties one week later on the 11th of January. News broke this week however revealing who would lead the Eagles going forward. Nick Sirianni: former offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts was named the new head coach on Thursday, and to me this is a very smart hire by the franchise.
The 39-year-old was of course the understudy of Frank Reich the current HC of the Colts, who during his time with the Eagles in 2016 and 2017 was able to get the most out of Carson Wentz. Therefore, all signs point to the Eagles at least trying to turn things around with their franchise quarterback and trying to mend a fractured relationship.
Sirianni was able to help the Colts to an 11-5 record last season and was instrumental in building the Colts’ offense into a powerhouse in 2020. Indianapolis finished inside the top 10 for total offense this past season, finishing in the top half of the league on the ground and through the air.
The Colts had a solid balance to their offense this season which is why they were able to find success against their opposition. It was Sirianni’s utilization of the running backs which was most impressive this year, as he helped develop rookie sensation Jonathan Taylor into a thousand-yard runner in his debut campaign. This is encouraging for Philly, as Miles Sanders is one of the most talented young backs in the league, and if Sirianni can find a way to unlock Sanders' full potential then he could become one of the top backs in all of football.
Indianapolis was also pretty darn good in the passing game too, as Sirianni was able to get the most out of Philip Rivers in his final season in the league. Despite not having a true number one target throughout most of the 2020 season the Colts were still able to torch teams for over 4,000 yards through the air, as well as putting up 28.2 points per game on average. All signs point to this being a smart hire for the franchise and if he can help rebuild the relationship with Carson Wentz and guide him back to his early career form then this team will improve next season.
The Eagles have now found their new head coach. Which is a positive step in the right direction and doing so early on during the offseason is crucial as they will now have a good idea of what their plans will be going forward.
What Will the Eagles Do in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Nothing is more important to the Eagles rebuild than the 2021 NFL Draft, and which direction they decide to go with the 6th overall pick.
Philly will have multiple playmakers available for them to take at the 6th overall pick, furthermore there will also be a slew of teams willing to give up more assets to jump the queue and grab the guy they want. This gives the Eagles options, and that is a good thing to have for a team who needs to improve in a variety of different positions.
If the Eagles want to improve their defense then Alabama corner Patrick Surtain or Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons should be on the board when they are on the clock. If offense is the position of need, then the likes of LSU star receiver Ja’Marr Chase or Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith will also be in contention.
There are a number of different ways the Eagles could go with their selection, as well as a possibility of teams wanting to trade up ahead of their rivals to grab one of the young quarterbacks. It’s hard to determine where Philadelphia will want to improve their roster the most going into next season, so it will be extremely interesting to see which way the organisation decides to go in April when draft night rolls in.
Could we see the Eagles make a giant leap in 2021 and once again become the team to beat in the NFC East?
Now this probably has more to do with the fact that they are in the one division in the league where slight improvements could mean the difference between a seeded position in the playoffs or a top ten pick in the draft. However, if this franchise can find a way to help Wentz recapture his earlier success. If they can continue the development of young talent such as Hurts, Sanders and Reagor, and find bargain bin contributors in free agency, then we could be talking about Philadelphia once again being a threat in the NFC’s overall hierarchy. That remains to be seen.
Who do you think will win the NFC East in 2021? Will the Eagles soar? The Giants rise? Washington retain, or the Cowboys ride? And let us know on Twitter or Facebook which division you want us to take a look at next in our quest to find which team has the best chance of going Worst to First in 2021.
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