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Eagles’ firing Doug Pederson is an organizational failure years in the making

Jeffrey Lurie hired Doug Pederson to drive the car but never got out of shotgun and let him work. Pederson’s failure began with that mistake.

NFL: JUN 12 Eagles Minicamp Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After an agonizing will-they-won’t-they in which everyone could see the conclusion, the Philadelphia Eagles fired HC Doug Pederson on Monday.

That Jeffrey Lurie fired Doug Pederson indicates two things. One: that he knows something is really wrong with the team. Two: that he doesn’t know what it is. Pederson was a problem in Philadelphia this year, but he wasn’t the only one, and he was far from the biggest one. This is like taking a dead appliance and plugging it into a different outlet — sure, it might suddenly work because something changed. But you’re just trying that because you’re ignoring, or are unaware altogether, of the real problems: frayed wires, bad engineering, the attrition of use and age.

The biggest demerit on Pederson’s record over the last few years is the slow collapse of the passing game. Both 2018 and 2019 lacked the punch that the 2017 offense did, and no additions in the offensive roster — Golden Tate, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Jordan Howard — could buoy the sinking ship. Offensive coaching staff changes were forced upon him when internal promotion Mike Groh was fired, and Press Taylor had an equally empty effect when promoted in tern.

When starting QB Carson Wentz began truly nosediving this year, it fell on Pederson’s shoulders to solve the problem. The odds were not in his favor. He had a first-year passing game coordinator, a few senior offensive assistants (Rich Scangarello, Marty Morninhweg) who did not share his philosophy on offense, and few weapons on the offensive roster to turn to. Wentz, who has reportedly butted heads with the coaching staff over the way the offense should run, seemed reticent to change his approach. He never stopped skidding, and was eventually benched for Jalen Hurts.

There are so many inflection points just in that summary alone: the Groh hiring and Groh firing; the Scangarello and Morninhweg additions; the Tate trade, the Jalen Reagor pick, the trust in Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson; the Hurts pick and the Wentz benching. At each of these points, Pederson had some influence — the question is, how much?

Roseman has influence in the coaching staffs since Pederson was hired; the green light for the Wentz benching came from Lurie; the coaching staff pushed for Reagor over Justin Jefferson, who the scouting staff preferred. The power balance in Philadelphia is occluded from an outsider’s view, as Lurie touts a collaborative approach to team management and decision-making. When it comes time to assign blame and reap what you’ve sown, that leaves a lot of mess to sort through.

Pederson accordingly feels like a scapegoat, a lamb sacrificed at the altar of Wentz, in whom the Eagles may still have undying faith, and at the altar of Roseman, who has now seen three head coaches fired under his tenure at general manager. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Pederson left in frustration with the lack of power he had to make decisions, and that position is not only understandable, it’s concerning for the future of the organization.

As the Eagles bring in head coaching candidates, what will they think of this departure? How certain will they be that Carson Wentz will accept their offensive system and take to their coaching, if Wentz already knows he has the power to influence the firing of a Super Bowl winning coach? How much faith will they have in the roster built by Howie Roseman, bereft of both talent and the cap space to add some back to the building? Who wants to tether themselves to this amorphous and noxious blob of responsibility and blame, with no clarity at quarterback and towering expectations for a team that’s underwhelmed for the last three years?

Pederson was the last man the Eagles wanted for the job in 2016, and they fell backwards into a great head coach. They sold him to the fan base as an emotionally intelligent leader who could develop a quality culture — and it seemed like he did. The players loved him, the coaches worked well in concert, and for three seasons, the Eagles made the playoffs despite enduring significant injury and a depressing roster. But that shine dulled over the time of mediocre seasons, and Lurie’s top pick at general manager and top pick at quarterback outlasted his fourth pick at head coach, who never got the power and trust he earned with his early-career performance. They signed a head coach and tied one hand behind his back — how dare they wonder why his team struggled in the long run.

Pederson can still design an offense and coach a team — that is beyond doubt. The work he did opening receivers for Jalen Hurts over the end of the season was masterful, and the team that brings him in — either as a head coach or offensive coordinator — will benefit immediately from his expertise. If those organizations have their power structure ducks in a row, Pederson will thrive; Philadelphia didn’t, and he pulled the short stick out of their self-imposed mess.

Pederson’s failure and firing isn’t an indictment on him; it’s an indictment on Jeffrey Lurie and the Philadelphia Eagles. They can still get this right — Wentz is fixable, Roseman has great moments as a GM, a new head coach can bring a lot to the table — but with Pederson’s firing, they plain got it wrong.