Second mailbag of the week!
I wrote about the loss of Brandon Graham and the idea of dealing Miles Sanders before the trade deadline in a mailbag earlier this week. I’m going to tackle this question below solo. If you want to ask a question for a future mailbag, you can tweet at me or email me a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time for a very relevant discussion...
@abbenowitz: How did the Eagles get so bad so fast after winning it all in 2017? What went wrong?
How much time ya got?
In the simplest terms, everything that could go wrong for the Eagles has since that night that Nick Foles won Super Bowl MVP.
Every championship team, regardless of sport, gets to the Promised Land through a lot of lucky breaks. That feels even more true for the 2017 Eagles.
During the 2016 and 2017 offseasons, the Eagles hit on so many free agent signings: Brandon Brooks, Rodney McLeod, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, Torrey Smith, etc. All of those guys played key roles on the Super Bowl squad. That hit rate is incredible and a credit to Howie Roseman. It worked as well as any Eagles fan could’ve hoped for in 2017, but it was not sustainable. Those free agent signings covered up a lot of poor draft decisions the team had made. The stop-gap help the Eagles got was tremendous, but they never restocked the cupboard with young talent to truly contend for the next half-decade.
Look at this collection of first and second-round picks:
2014: Marcus Smith (1-26), Jordan Matthews (2-42)
2015: Nelson Agholor (1-20), Eric Rowe (2-47)
2016: Carson Wentz (1-2)
2017: Derek Barnett (1-14), Sidney Jones (2-43)
2018: Dallas Goedert (2-49)
2019: Andre Dillard (1-22), Miles Sanders (2-53), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (2-57)
2020: Jalen Reagor (1-21), Jalen Hurts (2-53)
Wentz is an entirely different matter and I will get to him later. There are some nice players in there for sure. The jury is still out on if some of them will be true championship building blocks in the future. If you’re looking at things from a pessimistic viewpoint, there’s a chance none of those players are legitimate contributors on the Eagles come 2022. Maybe the Eagles don’t deem Hurts to be The Guy. Maybe Sanders gets dealt. Maybe Barnett and Goedert walk in free agency.
Coming into the 2021 season, who would you have said the Eagles’ three best players are? I would’ve gone with Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. All three of those guys were drafted when Andy Reid was in town and calling the shots. That was three head coaches ago! Graham was drafted 11 years ago! Kelce was drafted 10 years ago! Cox was drafted nine years ago! I might have gone with Lane Johnson as my fourth pick and he was drafted eight years ago. The Eagles selected a handful of franchise legends from 2010 to 2013 and haven’t been able to replicate that developmental success since then.
The Eagles’ best players were in their prime in 2017. Now they’re all older, injury prone or gone from the team entirely. It feels like an oversimplification, but it’s the truth. It’s okay to wreck Roseman for the Eagles’ draft blunders, as I’ve done countless times, but it’s also pretty damn hard to draft a core of All-Pro players every few years. The Eagles got lucky when Graham no longer performed like a bust, Kelce was an all-time sixth-round steal, they were able to trade up for Cox and then Johnson and Zach Ertz fell to them in 2013.
There was a path to keep building with homegrown talent and the Eagles took their train off the rails instead.
There’s the quarterback issue too. Yes, without a shred of doubt, there is no way the Eagles win the Super Bowl without having Wentz under center that season. That’s a fact. He never returned to that 2017 form though and that’s what also doomed the organization. If you don’t have a franchise quarterback, it’s impossible to build a consistent contender. Wentz played like an MVP in 2017, but following his catastrophic knee injury, he was never able to quite be that guy again. There was also the elephant in the room of him having to play under the shadow of Nick Foles’ playoff glory. That’s understandable. He is human. It just never clicked for Wentz in Philly after that.
The Eagles are now just another okay team amidst a ton of them in the NFL. If you’re disheartened about the state of the franchise, think back to all of the times you said, “I’d do ANYTHING for the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.”
tl;dr: the Eagles stopped drafting well and stopped having a franchise QB.