The year was 1999 and the Eagles had just drafted quarterback Donovan McNabb with the 2nd overall pick in the NFL Draft. The team struggled through the 1999 season with starting veteran quarterback Doug Pederson before he was replaced by McNabb following a Week 9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The team went 2-4 with McNabb as the starter, matching Pederson’s win total with three less starts. Add in a Koy Detmer start and win and the Eagles finished with a 5-11 record in their first year under Andy Reid.
Fast forward to 2016. The team and roster were recovering from the Chip Kelly purge that saw arguably the best core of offensive players in franchise history exit the NovaCare Complex within a 12 month span. Kelly was fired before the final game of 2015, less than a year after he won a power struggle with GM Howie Roseman, in which he took control of the roster and football operations. After hiring Pederson as the new head coach, who was serving as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City, the team elected to re-sign QB Sam Bradford, who was heavily criticized for his conservative approach on offense. With Bradford back, many questioned where the franchise was headed until Roseman pulled off a deal that nobody saw coming. After two trades and a cleansing of all things Chip Kelly, the Eagles had moved up from the No. 13 pick in the draft to No. 2 overall.
With the newly acquired pick, the Eagles selected QB Carson Wentz and the future started to become clearer. The plan was to make Bradford a bridge QB until Wentz was deemed ready to play. That plan was ultimately derailed when Bradford was traded a week before the season started for a 2017 first round pick. Upon the trade, Wentz was named the starter and the rest is history. The Eagles started 2016 3-0, but injuries, suspensions, poor play from the cornerbacks and Chip Kelly’s roster deconstruction caught up with them and they finished 7-9.
Now we turn our attention to 2017. After an offseason in which the Eagles bolstered their WR core with Alshon Jeffery and veteran deep threat Torrey Smith and addressed several needs on defense, the team appears equipped to take a step, but what should their expectations be? We’ve heard it all offseason, “They're not expected to contend for a Super Bowl this year.” While I do agree with that statement, just how far away is a team from contending for a championship? My definition, which is by no means the standard, would be a team that finds it’s way to a Conference Championship Game. I don't believe the team is ready to advance that far, but what should we expect from a team, that on paper has only gotten better?
BGN Radio’s James Seltzer has routinely shared his belief that if the Eagles don't make the playoffs this year, Pederson is out. I don't believe that will be the case as the team has shown they are making moves for the long term as well (see Jones, Sidney). With all of that said, let’s finally look at what we should expect from the Eagles in 2017. For the second straight year, the Eagles’ schedule isn't a cake walk, but there is some relief as opposed to what they faced in 2016. A playoff berth at 10-6 should be the reasonable expectation, with a realistic ceiling be a division title at 11-5 and the floor no lower than 8-8 with a healthy roster. I want to take a moment to explain the ceiling, expectation and floor.
With the ceiling, a second year QB is able to propel an offense where he has legitimate weapons. Taking a look around the division, there hasn't been substantial improvement. The Cowboys have lost two starters along their offensive line and many more on the defensive side of the ball. They did a good job of supplementing some of those holes in the draft, but you can't count on hitting on all of your picks. Washington saw two of it’s best receivers sign elsewhere this past offseason amongst a dysfunctional front office saga. The Giants added veteran receiver Brandon Marshall in addition to Evan Engram this offseason, but it’s hard to consistently throw the ball well when you can't run it and expect Ereck Flowers to start.
For the reasonable expectations, the team lost six games by seven points or less, finishing 7-9. Two of those losses were by a single point, one in overtime and another after missing a field goal and going for it on fourth down on two separate drives deep in enemy territory. With the apparent regression of teams in the division and the improvements the team has made in the offseason, it should be easier to win some of the closer games.
The floor of the team should be 8-8 if everything stays on track and progresses the way we project it. Despite the apparent regression of NFC East rivals, division games are typically a dog fight where the phrase “Any given Sunday” applies more often than not. Factor in the AFC West and games all over the West Coast, progress could be halted. The team could finish with a record worse than 7-9 that could result in Pederson’s dismissal, but I believe both are unlikely. The only way I can fathom a sub-seven win season is if the team is decimated by injuries, under which circumstances Pederson would likely return for a third season.
In 2000 the Eagles kicked off the season by officially ending the Dallas Cowboy dynasty of the 90’s, blowing the Cowboys out 41-14 in Dallas in what is now known as the “Pickle Juice game.” Our own John Barchard, Dave Mangels and James Keane all reflected on the offseason leading up to 2000, with the general consensus that the expectation was maybe eight wins and a beacon of hope. After Week 1, expectations were sky high and the team finished 11-5, winning a playoff game against the Buccaneers. McNabb started 16 games with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21/13, rushing for over 600 yards and six touchdowns as the offense’s top weapon, Duce Staley, was limited to just five games. We often hear that history repeats itself, but we can't rely on that to always be the case. Some of the circumstances of the 2000 offseason are similar to those of the 2017 offseason. The Eagles have a young promising second-year QB, arguably the top set of tackles in the league, a second year coach with an offense the maximizes QB success and a defense that many expect to be amongst the league’s best. The expectations may not be to bring home a Super Bowl this year, but they are to take a leap to the playoffs which is a goal the team achieved in the past under similar circumstances.