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Eagles questions UNanswered following the 2021 season

Here’s what we DIDN’T learn.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After previously looking at the questions answered by the Eagles’ 2021 season, here are the ones that remain.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Can the Eagles win a Super Bowl with Jalen Hurts at QB?

Hurts is undoubtedly a talented runner and has shown flashes of making some pretty athletic plays in some big moments. But in order for Hurts to be a Super Bowl caliber QB (and after all, that’s what we’re all playing for, right?), he has to be able to win games with his arm.

After his first full season, we still haven’t seen him do that.

Hurts threw just 16 TDs this year and his QB rating of 87.2 was 22nd out of 25 NFL QBs. Only Taylor Heinicke (85.9), Ben Roethlisberger (86.9) and Lamar Jackson (87.0), who was injured most of the season, were worse. He has yet to beat a playoff-caliber team and his performance against Tampa in his first playoff game was not encouraging.

There’s a reason Sirianni had to change the offense after Week 6 and much of that was because of the limitations of his second-year quarterback. Hurts leaves big plays on the field. He’s inconsistent with his accuracy. He doesn’t have good touch on the deep ball and he can’t seem to find his playmakers when he needs them most. All his deficiencies were on display against Todd Bowles’ defense, who played a million defenders in the box, dropped his defensive backs into soft coverage and dared Hurts to beat them through the air.

He couldn’t. The question is, will he get there? And how long should the Eagles wait to find out?

It would have been better for the future if Hurts had either been awesome or stunk up the joint. But he didn’t do either. Having a high-floor, low-ceiling QB is generally good enough to get you to the playoffs but not very far once you get there. Right now, that’s what Hurts is, but unless a significant upgrade is available that doesn’t appear obvious at the moment, he should get one more crack at it in ‘22.

What is Nick Sirianni?

Long-term, it’s still anybody’s guess, but it’s remarkable the success the team has had in hiring head coaches, even going back to the Norman Braman days.

Since Marion Campbell was fired after the 1985 season, every Eagles head coach has taken his team to at least one postseason:

  • Buddy Ryan: ‘1988, ‘89, ‘90
  • Rich Kotite: 1992
  • Ray Rhodes: 1995-96
  • Andy Reid: 2000-04, ‘06, ‘08-’10
  • Chip Kelly: 2013
  • Doug Pederson: 2017-19
  • Nick Sirianni: 2021

In fact, since Dick Vermeil was hired, only Campbell has failed to take the Birds to the playoffs since 1979. That’s actually pretty incredible. The list above features some of the best coaches in franchise history, but also a fair share of one-hit wonders. So, what is Sirianni?

Is he the team’s next Vermeil, Reid or Pederson? Or is he Ryan, Kotite, Rhodes and Kelly? Will this be his only playoff team? Will he have a couple seasons of success and them whimper out? Or is he building something real? Are there strong roots allowing his flowers to blossom?

He needs more players before we know for sure, but so far, Lurie has been able to do what few owners have — avoid group-think when it comes to hiring head coaches and think outside the box. It’s one of the reasons every head coach he’s hired has made the postseason in their first or second year with the team.

How do the Eagles get DeVonta Smith more involved?

It’s inconceivable that DeVonta Smith, the only true star wide receiver on the team, would be ignored so frequently by Hurts and Sirianni this season. But even though he set a team rookie receiving record, one wonders if they could have gotten even more production out of him.

On the Fox broadcast, analyst Troy Aikman repeatedly destroyed Sirianni and Hurts for not getting Smith more involved. Despite Tampa’s corners giving him 10 yards of cushion, Sirianni continually called for routes that would run Smith directly into traffic, and when the plays were there to be made, Hurts was either late or didn’t see him. It’s insane Jalen Reagor is receiving a 4th and 10 target and not Smith. It’s insane Smith didn’t see a target until 1:55 left in the 2nd quarter. It’s insane he didn’t have a catch until 1:13 in the second quarter.

If Sirianni and Hurts are ever going to be the heads of a productive offense, they have to understand ways to scheme up their best players to get the ball, and for the QB to get the ball to him on time and accurately. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

Have we seen the last of Jason Kelce as a Philadelphia Eagle? And if not, how do they survive without him?

The most important Eagle is whoever the quarterback is. The second-most important Eagle is the future Hall of Famer who, at 34 years old, was named an AP 1st-Team All-Pro once again this year. He’s still just as fast and just as mobile as he ever was, but it’s unclear if he will be back for the 2022 season. Kelce annually takes a few weeks after the season to decide if his body can hold up to playing another season, and we’ll wait with baited breath for his decision this time around too.

If he leaves, it’s anyone’s guess how the Eagles fill that hole, although Dickerson was likely drafted with the idea he’d be the heir apparent.

How do the Eagles go from half-decent go “good?”

This stat tells us a lot.

We know the Eagles could beat the bad teams this year and struggled with the good teams. Were they a “good, bad team” or a “bad, good team?” More importantly, what needs to happen to get them over the hump?

They need multiple playmakers on defense, many of them likely coming with their insane draft haul this spring, including real, athletic linebackers, a couple edge rushers and No. 2 cornerback, a productive, veteran wide receiver to pair with Smith, a new punter, and lots of depth everywhere else.

All that will help. But the most important thing they need is for Jalen Hurts to play better against good teams. Having better personnel around him will help, but most of it will come from improvement from him.

Will Jonathan Gannon be the Eagles’ defensive coordinator in ‘22?

Gannon is a head coaching candidate for a couple teams, a head scratching development given how lackluster the Birds’ defense was for much of the season. Perhaps their slow start against the Bucs on Sunday will douse some enthusiasm around his candidacy (or not!), but what we saw in his first year in Philadelphia was a coach that still had a lot of growth yet to do as a coordinator, let alone someone who should be given a head coaching job.

It’s unlikely he’ll win one of the available top jobs out there, and his defense needs better players. But it’s still fuzzy exactly what Gannon wants to do on defense and what his style will be. While he was able to beat up on some pretty awful QBs in the season’s second half, his inability to scheme up a defense that could slow down elite quarterbacks is an issue moving forward.

What do the Eagles do with three first round picks?

Howie Roseman has a few options.

  • Spend them all on defensive players.
  • Mix and match all three on offense and defense.
  • Trade one or two of them to move up in the draft and select a college QB.
  • Trade a number of them for a veteran QB like Russell Wilson or Derek Carr.
  • Trade one of them to get another first round pick next year and take a shot at next year’s QB class, which will likely be better than this year’s.

Confidence was not high at the start of the season that Roseman would know what to do with three first round picks, but he’s earned back a bit of trust with his last draft, so the clouds suddenly aren’t so dark.

Will Jalen Reagor be back in 2022?

Should he be back? No. Will he? Probably.

Here’s the thing. Even if he comes back, what’s his role next year? Is he even good enough to be the team’s No. 4 receiver? He’s not good enough to play special teams, and he shouldn’t be getting meaningful snaps. I’d rather have Greg Ward as the No. 4 again that give that spot to Reagor, a player who actively makes your team worse.

That being said, he’s a former first round pick and has a cap hit of $3.6 million but a dead cap hit of $7.8 million. If you’re looking for a reason why Reagor will stick around for one more season, $7.8 million is the place to start.

What the heck are the Dallas Cowboys going to do this off-season?

We’ll end this on a fun note. Just think, you could be a Cowboys fan.

Dak Prescott took the fans to task for throwing bottles at the players, and rightfully so. However, upon hearing that the target was the refs, Dak changed his tune.

Dude.

The Cowboys have now made 11 straight playoff appearances without going to a conference title game. That’s an NFL record. They haven’t been to an NFC Championship Game since 1995, and as bad as the Eagles have ever been (they’ve been through some pretty rough stretches where, admittedly, they didn’t ever get to the playoffs) they’ve never gone through what Dallas is going through. The Cowboys were in win-now mode and are paying their franchise QB $40 million a season.

Do they trade Ezekiel Elliott? Does Mike McCarthy get fired? Does one of the coordinators take his place? Does everyone keep their jobs?

The Eagles are heading into an important off-season, but no team in the NFL has more pressure on them right now than the Dallas Cowboys, who join the Eagles on the sidelines for the rest of the postseason.

You hate to see it.