One of the things a smart person does is try to learn from the past. What mistakes did I make growing up that I can avoid making as an adult? What bad decisions did I make, what lessons did other people learn, and how can I use that information to chart my path to the future?
As the 2020 off-season gets fully underway with free agency and we try to think about how to get the Eagles back to the Super Bowl next season, it’s important to look back at 2019 and see where it all went wrong.
With that in mind, there are certain questions left over from last season that I don’t have adequate answers for, and I want them. Many of these questions are centered around process — how did the team come to the decisions they did and why? — and some are centered around questions that really can’t be answered with any rationality.
Nevertheless, these are the hanging chads in my mind from last season that I sure would love to peel off before moving on to the 2020 season.
What has caused this team to suffer so many injuries the past two seasons?
Anyone who was conscious during the 2019 season knows the Eagles suffered a catastrophic string of injuries, which culminated in their wild card loss to the Seahawks when Carson Wentz was cheap-shotted by defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. But the list of injuries was even more incredible when you binge watched the Amazon Prime show All or Nothing. It’s a miracle the team won nine games last year.
Age was blamed for a number of last year’s maladies, and there’s no doubt the team was one of the oldest in the league. DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery were older players, as were Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Brandon Brooks, but Jordan Howard’s mysterious shoulder injury, which never seemed to heal, happened to a guy who was just 25 years old. Nelson Agholor missed the end of the season with a bad knee, Avonte Maddox is a second year player who suffered a concussion/stinger, Ronald Darby gets hurt every year and he’s just 26. Corey Clement went on injured reserve at the start of the season and he’s 25.
So sure, age was certainly a factor with some of the injuries, but not all of them. Younger players were hit by the injury bug each of the last two seasons too, and the team has had numerous changes in its medical and training staff the past two off-seasons. You can be sure that if the front office knew what the problem was, they’d have fixed it by now.
Why couldn’t L.J. Fort get any playing time in Philadelphia?
Fort was the third free agent signed by the Eagles last off-season, and he was given a three-year contract worth $5.6 million, with $1.9 million of that guaranteed.
General manager Howie Roseman targeted him early last off-season as a guy to upgrade the linebacking corps, a young player who would thrive given the opportunity to play more regularly. However, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t use him. At all.
Instead, as the team suffered from injuries in the secondary, the Eagles released him in late September in favor of signing cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Not only did Scandrick come to Philadelphia, hang out for a couple weeks then run to Fox Sports 1 to blab about the inner workings of the Birds’ locker room, he took the spot of a guy who quickly signed with a very smart organization, the Baltimore Ravens. Fort played well enough for the best team in the AFC to earn a two-year extension worth $5.5 million, $3.25 million guaranteed.
With the Eagles, Fort did not play a single defensive snap. Not one. Why? Did he not fit Schwartz’ scheme? It’s not like Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill or Nate Gerry were lighting the world on fire. Was Schwartz not on board with the signing in the first place and, if not, why did Roseman sign him? Did Roseman not check with Schwartz first?
It was a confounding situation, one that I don’t think has been adequately answered.
Who are the problem children in the Eagles’ locker room?
The whispers have turned audible that Alshon Jeffery isn’t going to be on this football team for much longer.
Despite a huge cap hit if he’s released ($26 million in dead cap money) and the unlikelihood that the Eagles will be able to trade the injured, aging receiver, the team is nevertheless rumored to be shopping him because it’s believed he has had a detrimental effect on Carson Wentz in the locker room. It also doesn’t help that Alshon’s game has slipped in a big way since Super Bowl 52.
Whoever it was that spoke to Josina Anderson anonymously, why were they so critical of Wentz this season? By all accounts, Carson was doing a phenomenal job trying to make plays with anyone on the field he could as skill position players were dropping like flies. He wasn’t just checking down to Zach Ertz every play, and when he needed his receivers to make plays, they did stuff like this.
How much dissension was there in the locker room and where was it coming from? Is there anyone else who’s causing problems? If so, the Eagles need to figure out who they are because they... need... to... GO.
Why did it take so long for Boston Scott and Greg Ward to get some playing time?
When Darren Sproles was placed on injured reserve, the team did not turn to Scott, who had been impressive in training camp and was already on the practice squad. Instead, they signed an older former Eagle, Jay Ajayi, who hadn’t played football in a year and a half and was cooked from the moment he stepped on the field. When DeSean Jackson got hurt, the team inevitably signed former Eagle veteran Jordan Matthews, who was invisible when he was on the field. When Alshon subsequently got hurt, Robert Davis was promoted to the active roster.
It wasn’t until November 23 that Ward finally got his shot after the team released Matthews, and all Ward did was catch 28 of 40 targets for 254 yards in three starts, with a game-winning, last second touchdown against Washington and an incredible 18 first downs. Scott, meanwhile, had his legendary three touchdown game against the Giants in Week 17 and in 11 games (two starts), rushed for 245 yards with five TDs and caught 24 balls for 205 yards.
Why did it take so long for the Eagles to give these guys a shot over aging veterans who virtually everyone thought had nothing left in the tank? Is there a talent evaluation issue with regard to the team’s practice squad guys?
How much influence did Mike Groh have in the offensive gameplan, and why didn’t he get any credit when things got better in the last month?
There were few who shed a tear when Groh was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator, but given that the team has essentially punted that job title in recognition of the fact that Doug Pederson is the de facto offensive coordinator and play-caller this off-season, it’s fair to wonder how much of the Birds’ offensive failings the last two years were really Groh’s fault.
Make no mistake, the team will probably be better from getting a fresh perspective and new ideas from their recent hires. But Groh took almost all the blame when things went wrong the last two years and got none of the credit when they went right.
Was that fair? Maybe it was. Maybe Groh really was holding the team back in some way, or at the very least, wasn’t terribly helpful. He certainly didn’t perform well at news conferences and he never left you with the impression that he was on the same level as Frank Reich.
So this is mostly a devil’s advocate question, because I’m not really sure how much of the sauce Groh was cooking. But if Pederson really is the one driving the ship, and he sure seems to be, then was Groh just a fall guy? And is that a reason why the team had a hard time finding a true offensive coordinator to take his place?
So many questions. So few answers.