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What a difference two years makes

December 2020 was dawn and dusk

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Jalen Hurts will not be playing against the Saints on Sunday, but we won’t let that deny us the opportunity to look back at two years ago when he got his first start against the Saints. (Is that a Batman origin story?) While both teams are very different than they were that season, there’s a familiar feel to this game.

Just as they are today, in 2020 the Saints and Eagles met late in the season with the franchises having dramatically different seasons. The Saints were 10-2, riding a nine game winning streak. The Eagles were a 3 win team and had just benched Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts. The Eagles would win that game, ending the season 4-11-1. The Saints would end the season as the 2nd seed, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the second round.

One rises, one falls

Despite the completely different regular seasons, those teams were more or less in the same place in the offseason. After 20 seasons Drew Brees unsurprisingly retired, while Carson Wentz requested a trade, which also wasn’t surprising. Even without those moves, both teams were staring at crippling salary cap situations. The structure of the NFL all but dictates there is only one path a team in this situation can take: rebuild around a new, young QB. It’s simply the nature of the NFL right now and for the foreseeable future, if you don’t have the QB your team is just a tomato can for other teams to pad their record against. And in today’s NFL there is a blueprint that works: have a young QB on a cheap contract; pair him with an offensive minded coach; and use the cap savings from QB to build a high floor team around him.

The Eagles, not entirely as intended, took this route. They had been there before in 2016, and it won them the Super Bowl the next season in part because their starting QB had only the 28th highest cap hit among QBs that season, and their offensive minded coach pushed all the right buttons on a team that surrounded its young QB with veterans. They’re repeating that formula again this season, Jalen Hurts has the 53rd highest cap hit among QBs and their offensive minded coach is pushing all the right buttons on a team that surrounded its young QB with veterans.

The Saints did not do this even when presented with the option twice.

When Drew Brees retired they replaced him from within with Jameis Winston. When Sean Payton retired a year later they replaced him from within with Dennis Allen, whose 8-28 record in Oakland was the worst winning percentage of any coach hired by Al Davis. These are not viable replacement plans. For 2021 and 2022 they pushed over $110 million in cap space combined to future years, and will have to push over $50 million this offseason. Rather than accumulate draft picks to build a cheap roster, they traded up for a non-QB and made only 11 draft picks in the past two drafts. In August alone they signed six players over the age of 30. For what? At best a first round exit that kicks the can down the road another year? The Saints have nowhere to go next year. Maybe the Eagles could offer them their 2023 1st round pick in exchange for their 2024 1st round pick (the Eagles should not do this).

It should have been staring the Saints in the face that a rebuild was the preferred option, because like the Eagles this is how they won the Super Bowl. In 2006 they hired an offensive minded coach in Sean Payton, and paired him with a good, cheap QB in Drew Brees. The QB compensation market was a totally different world at that time but the situation wasn’t completely dissimilar to a rookie contract QB, Brees made half of what the top compensated QBs made when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009.

On Sunday the Eagles and Saints meet again late in the season with the two teams having dramatically different seasons. The Saints, because they chose the wrong path two years ago, are on the verge of a double digit loss season, the worst cap situation in the league, and their best draft capital in the hands of another team. Their opponent this week doesn’t just have their 1st round pick, they are the best team in the league because they took the right path.

Stat Fact of the Week That May Only Interest Me

Taysom Hill, the Saints ever developing gadget player, is 32. He would be the 7th oldest player on the Eagles. He’s older than Fletcher Cox.

Top 5 Brothers Who Were On The Eagles

Kyzir White and Christian Elliss both have brothers on the Saints, WR Kevin White (yes, the 1st round bust Kevin White) and LB Kaden Ellis. They’re the latest in a long line of players and coaches who called the City of Brotherly Love home while having a football brother. Sometimes they’ve had the lesser brother, sometimes it’s been fairly even, and sometimes they’ve had the better one.

1. Jason Kelce

Who else could it possibly be

2. Randall Cunningham

Older brother Sam, a fullback, is in the Patriots’ Hall of Fame

3. Brent Celek

The best tight end in his family, but not the only or the first to play in the Super Bowl, Garrett played 8 years with the 49ers

4. Steve Van Buren

Shared a backfield with his brother Ebert during his final season in 1951

5. John Harbaugh

A saner and more successful coach than Jim

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