There was a time when it wasn’t so clear Jim Schwartz was going to return as the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator in 2020.
Let’s rewind back to Doug Pederson’s comments from his postmortem press conference a few days after the Eagles’ 2019 season ended. When Pederson was asked if offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers Carson Walch were going to return, his answer was definitive.
Q. Will Groh and Walch be back?
DOUG PEDERSON: Yes, both those guys will be back.
By contrast, Pederson wasn’t as straightforward about Schwartz’s standing.
Q. Is Schwartz coming back?
DOUG PEDERSON: He’ll be on a plane back here [to Philadelphia] at some point after the interview [for the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching job].
Q. But what if he doesn’t get the Cleveland job? Will he be back in Philadelphia?
DOUG PEDERSON: Oh. As part of the evaluation and process and all that? I would assume, yes. He’s currently my DC, yeah.
Q. Just to clarify on Mike Groh, you said he would be back. Jim Schwartz, you were a little more vague. If he doesn’t get the Browns job, do you want Jim back as your defensive coordinator?
DOUG PEDERSON: With all my staff guys, I’m in that process of evaluating and would love to have them all back, obviously. We know what this league is about, and any time an assistant coach can get a promotion, whether it’s here or somewhere else, I encourage that. But as I evaluate, and look we’re only three days removed from the season so everything is still fresh on my mind, too, so we are still evaluating. All my coaches are in that evaluation process, as well.
Pederson’s words ended up meaning nothing.
Groh and Walch were fired the next day. And the Eagles were quick to encourage multiple national NFL reporters to tweet that Schwartz’s job in Philly was safe should he fail to land the Browns’ head coaching job, which obviously turned out to be the case.
Further, the Eagles actually issued a statement from Pederson in which the superior essentially apologized to his subordinate:
The idea that Schwartz was ever in jeopardy is hard to believe now. Philly’s defensive coordinator has significantly influenced the Eagles’ offseason to this point. Such a development isn’t shocking given previous reports detailing the power that Schwartz wields. Still, the sentiment is worth revisiting since it’s been so apparent.
It began with the coaching staff changes in January.
The Eagles hired former NFL safety Marquand Manuel, who played for Schwartz on the Detroit Lions in 2009, as their new defensive backs coach.
Even more notably, the Eagles fired former defensive line coach Phillip Daniels just one year after promoting him to that title. It’s not even like that unit struggled in 2019. And yet the Eagles replaced Daniels with former Schwartz assistant Matt Burke, who joined the team as a defensive special assistant in 2019 before being promoted to [defensive] run game coordinator/defensive line coach this offseason. Burke has never coached a defensive line group since starting his coaching career in 1998.
Another Schwartz ally received a promotion in the front office. After only joining the Eagles as an advanced projects coordinator in 2019, Jeremiah Washburn (Jim’s son) was elevated to an unusual combined title: director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant. Washburn is now second in command to Andy Weidl, who took over as the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel when Joe Douglas was hired away as the New York Jets’ general manager. Washburn, who served as Schwartz’s offensive line coach in Detroit from 2009 through 2013, is the new Weidl in addition to helping out the Eagles’ coaching staff in some capacity.
Speaking of player personnel, it’s clear the Eagles have disproportionately funneled resources to one side of the ball. Eight of their nine combined free agent additions/re-signings have come on defense.
DEFENSIVE ADDITIONS AND RE-SIGNINGS
CB Darius Slay - 3 years, $50 million
DT Javon Hargrave - 3 years, $39 million
S Rodney McLeod - 2 years, $8.65 million
CB Jalen Mills - 1 year, $4 million
DB Will Parks - 1 year, $1.5 million
CB Nickell Robey-Coleman - 1 year, $1.3 million
LB Jatavis Brown - 1 year, $1.05 million
DT Hassan Ridgeway - 1 year, $1 million
OFFENSE ADDITIONS AND RE-SIGNINGS
QB Nate Sudfeld - 1 year, $2 million
Two of the Eagles’ five new defensive additions have previously played for Schwartz. Slay overlapped with him during the 2013 season in Detroit. Schwartz was Robey-Coleman’s defensive coordinator on the Buffalo Bills in 2014.
The Mills re-signing and position change is important to highlight as it relates to the Eagles declining Malcolm Jenkins’ 2020 option. Schwartz really loves Mills; he regularly praises him during press conferences. And it’s probably worth noting that Schwartz’s son was spotted wearing a Mills jersey following the 2018 NFC Championship Game. Whether the confidence is misplaced or not remains to be seen but it the Eagles clearly have some level of faith in Mills’ ability to replace Jenkins.
The Eagles’ inaction at a couple positions always speaks to Schwartz’s power. Not much has been done to address linebacker after cutting Nigel Bradham, thus increasing the chances that coaching staff favorite Nathan Gerry takes on an even bigger role in 2020. And despite calls for the Eagles to add another edge rusher, the team remains very confident in the starting duo of Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. The latter, who will likely have his fifth-year option picked up in the near future, is especially a Schwartz favorite.
“Yeah, both my daughters wear Derek Barnett jerseys to the games, so that tells you how much I think of him. Derek is always a guy that plays with a chip on his shoulder. It’s one of the things that makes him successful.”
So, what does all of this mean?
Well, it does reinforce the notion that Schwartz’s influence is “unparalleled” for an NFL coordinator. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if he’s making good decisions. Then again, the Eagles have gone down dangerous roads by giving coaches too much power in the past. See: the demises of Andy Reid and Chip Kelly.
Something to consider with Schwartz is that he’s clearly hungry for another head coaching opportunity. He’s in a tough spot, though, because that’s obviously not going to happen in Philly. And defensive-minded head coaches aren’t as trendy as offensive gurus in today’s modern NFL.
Schwartz’s best bet at a second chance is to oversee an Eagles defense that performs at a very high level. And in order for that to happen, Schwartz is incentivized to push for more resources spent on his unit. He’s gotten good production out of what he’s previously had to work with in Philly:
Schwartz Defenses (DVOA Rank - Cap Spend Rank from Spotrac)— Brent Cohen (@EaglesRewind) January 8, 2020
2019: 12th - 21st
2018: 15th - 23rd
2017: 5th - 8th
2016: 4th - 12th
There’s reason why the Eagles could be willing to oblige Schwartz’s demands on their end, as I’ve previously written about.
The thinking here isn’t that the Eagles believe Schwartz is a bad defensive coordinator, because he’s not. The Eagles have allowed the fewest home points per game since Schwartz came to Philly in 2016. The Eagles have also allowed the fifth fewest overall points per game in that span.
The potential problem with Schwartz is that he may have worn out his welcome within the NovaCare Complex. Remember how back in 2017 there was a report that some Eagles players believed Schwartz was trying to overtake Pederson as head coach? That report was essentially swept under the rug with the Eagles having so much that year en route to a Super Bowl win.
But my understanding is that that report wasn’t off-base and that the Pederson and Schwartz relationship hasn’t always been so amicable (to put it lightly). My sense is that the Eagles would prefer Schwartz to get hired away so they don’t have to go through the optics of dismissing him.
What the future holds in store for Schwartz remains to seen. What we do know is that his fingerprints have been all over this Eagles offseason.