Well, folx, it's over, and we're almost a week out from the draft now. Howie completed his multi-year-multi-first wheeling and dealing by bringing it to a fever pitch. Since we're about to enter the coldest part of the news cycle, I thought I'd offer some of my thoughts on the offseason thus far.
As with all of my work on this draft, I have no inside sources, only a lot of time spent reading on lunch breaks and listening to podcasts ambiently while I work on grad school stuff, so take this set of opinions as just that. I'll start off by reflecting on where we started, then examine the free agency signings, and finish with the draft and some overall conclusions. I'll try to give each move or set of moves a grade, since I'm an academic, and this is my job (lol), and I'll give an overall GPA for each "Project" and a final, offseason GPA below.
How It Started
Things looked pre-tty grim at the start of this offseason. Jonathan Gannon, coming off a year that saw the defense perform inconsistently drew a bunch of head coaching interest, but ultimately returned heading into next year. Nick Sirianni had gone from running a bad offense to helming a team that had some bad, bad men on offense down the stretch. Jalen Hurts had shown us equal parts fun and frustrating, Devonta Smith played well, leaving a number of corners needing ankle replacements, but Miles Sanders failed to score a rushing touchdown. Javon Hargrave produced some marvelous sack numbers & Darius Slay scored a BUNCH of defensive touchdowns, but the team also had the infamous 80% completion streak.
All-in-all, I had a hard time feeling like we were headed for anything other than dreaded football purgatory -- too good to pick high enough in the draft to find the franchise's future without bleeding for it, and too bad to contend for a 'ship. Given the centrality of quarterback play today, I think we're still possibly there, but we are in a better spot than the beginning of the offseason.
Offensively, most of the core team was sticking around, and Goedert got signed to an extension, which was nice to see. However, Kelce was set to potentially retire or go to FA, Herbig was an RFA, and Brooks retired soon after the offseason began. At skill positions, we weren't looking at any major inertial shakeups, but Quez was mainly serviceable, Raegor & JJAW were both awful, Miles was a prime trade candidate in my mind because he's on his last year of contract, and he hasn't shown consistency or availability so far....Hurts could've moved if they had a shot at a big upgrade...it was messy-looking.
Defensively, we felt old and expensive without a whole lot of young talent ready to move into place and build the defense of tomorrow. Barnett was a bust -- we generally agree, I think -- Cox was old and not as comfy this year, Hargrave was fun, but expensive and approaching 30 faster than you'd like, Sweat beat bad OLines and got beat by good ones, linebacker was a barely-mitigated disaster (thank you, TJ Edwards), and the secondary was like...the okayest thing. For a team that puts such a premium on safety play over the last 5-6 years, the deep halves looked...bad. Harris looked like a better-Kurt-Coleman or worse-Quintin-Mikell type of player and McCleod played alright, but he was more flashy than good for most of the year. There was potential that this team would enter the 2022 season with SEVEN new faces in starting base defenses, with Maddox, Sweat, Slay, and Hargrave as the lone remaining holdovers. Not great.
From a needs standpoint, I thought the team was faced with a similar conundrum to Brandon Staley's Chargers' defense (a couple of tremendous breakdowns of Staley's work can be found on Alex Rollins' YouTube channel). The Eagles played a very coverage-heavy defense, a great deal of 2-high safeties, and generally rushed with 4 or 5. They played multiple fronts, but generally, the key was that this was a much less explosive defensive philosophy that stressed smarts, fundamentals with tackling and such, and playing through takeaways. The advantage of this approach is that the Eagles could mitigate some of their weaknesses: playing 2-high meant they could mitigate their less rangy safeties, more coverage people meant they could protect their suspect CB2 spot and linebackers from bad matchups, and their 1.5 gap run fits flatter to the line of scrimmage meant they could also, in theory, protect their pretty bad linebacking corps from linemen getting their hands on them. The offense had two main problems this offseason: 1) Do you bet on Hurts again? and 2) Who is WR2? The defense, meanwhile, was caught between personnel builds for a very different kind of defense, not the more overt issues when teams change between 4-3 and 3-4 front sevens. As I saw it, while we were definitely a rebuild in progress, the progress needed to kick it up a notch on defense in particular.
Free Agency (40% of Grade)
Free Agency was never going to be super spicy, because the Iggles weren't exactly swimming in cap room, they had an Old-Dude-Big-Contract problem at a couple of spots, and -- as we found out -- sUrPRisInGly few receivers wanted to sign big deals to come to Philly and watch Hurts, Sanders, and [INSERT POWER BACK HERE] run the ball 42 times per game. That being said, Howie & Co. accomplished some very good things.
- Open Up Some Cap - (C+) This was a huge priority. Wentz bled the team dry, and they needed to continue to generate breathing room to address some of the issues we've seen above. The team accomplished this, to a decent degree. They did that weird cut-and-re-sign with Cox that kicked his money down the road a bit more til they hopeful cap surge next year, and Brandon Brooks retired. Most importantly, they avoided overpaying for anybody currently on the roster. While they didn't have the MOST cap, the Eagles had more cap than they did before.
- Make a Hurts Decision - (B-) My impression is that this decision got made for the Eagles. Neither Watson (who I was REALLLLY hoping WOULDN'T come to Philly) nor Wilson wanted to wear midnight green, and nobody else on the market offered a definitive upgrade from Hurts, so the Eagles stuck with him, figured they could gamble again on his drive, leadership, and willingness to put in the dang work. Let's see what happens, but they had to make a decision, and they didn't leave themselves in too uncertain a position.
- Sign a Prototypical Coverage/Weakside Linebacker - (C+) I would argue that the Eagles didn't for-sure need to sign any linebacker with a pulse like we did last offseason, because the team has it's Thumper in Edwards. No need to go and get more thumpers. What they really needed was a chess piece with coverage skills and speed in pursuit, hence why I was so devastated that they didn't grab Owusu-Koramoah last year...bloody shame, that. This is another thing that they did...to a degree. Kyzir White is hardly the second coming of Darius Leonard, and he's not exactly film candy when it comes to tackling and run play...but he IS fast and he's shown he can go man-to-man in coverage, which opens an underrated number of possibilities for a defense that played it pretty vanilla last year.
- Figure Out the Plan at Safety - (D) I was NOT a fan of the safety play this past year. It was like...the most deeply okay thing, but it didn't excite me as a fan who still remembers my years spoiled by Brian Dawkins and the dark days before we signed Malcolm Jenkins. Nate Allen/Kurt Coleman was BLEAK, Y'ALL. Ultimately, I would argue Philly didn't really do much for this need so far. McCleod left, and he wasn't spectacular before he did anyway, Harris got re-signed for...reasons, I guess, and the remainder on the roster were Marcus Epps, who the team is higher on than most fans and pundits, and K'von Wallace, who has been deeply unimpressive 2 years in. Not sure where this goes from here, but maybe the philosophy toward safety/corner has shifted with Gannon in and Schwartz out.
- Find EDGE Talent - (B-) The team has a whole bunch of good Pressure guys, but they lacked a true finisher heading into the offseason, and I'm still not confident that Sweat is going to be that dude. I'd say, once again, that they partially fulfilled this one in free agency. Signing Haason Redick is HUGE, but it's not necessarily projecting to me as a full-time defensive end type of signing. Reddick's issue is he's linebacker-sized, but has EDGE cover skills and run-reading in space, so he mostly serves well as a pure pass rush threat. Does it make sense to send big bucks for those guys? Absolutely. Does re-signing Derek Barnett mitigate a major hole in this defense? Absolutely not.
- Get WR2 Figured Out - (A+ for Effort, D- End Product) They gave it the college try, but all they came up with during Free Agency was Zach Pascal, who will basically provide some nasty red zone slants and blocking help. Far be it from me to ask any of us to put aside the trauma of re-signing Riley Cooper post-racial slur dropping to a deal that paid him way more than he should've gotten because he was a good blocking receiver. This needed more time.
- Shuffle Picks Around with the Saints - (B+) Getting another 1 next year makes sense, regardless of whether or not Hurts kills it this year and earns a big extension and the team's faith. They can now either trade up for a QB they like, stand pat and acquire talent, OR trade for another key known quantity player. In all of these cases, the Eagles also avoid A) having to pay 3 first round picks on the same draft class cycle, and B) potentially having to EXTEND three players from the same draft class simultaneously in the unlikely event that all three were to turn out really well.
Draft Day (60% of Grade)
Draft Day was an anxiety fever dream for me. There were no surefire top 3 guys, a whole bunch of really good 8-20 range players, and more depth than any draft year in recent memory. I figured the team would probably be kind of boring, trading back, grabbing as many picks as possible, and soaking up a bunch of young dart-tosses to accelerate the personnel-scheme match on defense in particular. I had a lot of trouble looking at this draft and thinking we wouldn't indulge most heavily in defense, despite the many cries for a receiver. Most importantly, I thought they'd be able to grab a budget quarterback who might bloom into something cool without the 1st round pick pressure. I thought some trades might get spicy, but I had no idea HOW spicy. Howie came out rolling like a Carolina Reaper slathered in gochujang.
- Trade Up to 13 for Jordan Davis - (A+) To me, this is the pick that unlocks the whole defense to become whatever Gannon wants it to be. If you want to have your line play read-react, 1.5 gap run fits, then you need a player who is extraordinarily difficult to bend to offenses' wills. Jordan Davis is Mount Cody-sized, but with better-than-Ndamukong-Suh-type athletic testing. Davis has the traits to become what Mike Mayock would call a "dancing bear" - a big man with quick feet and a fast getoff that allows him to do whatever he and his coordinator want to do. Davis will be front-agnostic, able to play the nose in Odd or the 1 OR 3 in Even, able to stop running games with just his size and strength, but also able to crush pockets when they decide to let him loose. A team that gets this kind of player can ask its line to play as many gaps as they want.
- Trade 18, 101, and $100 million away from AJ Brown - (A) It was hard not to A+ this one, but the price tag isn't cheap, and I'm a bit miffed to see the team giving more picks away. That being said, this was still an absolute COUP. I love AJ Brown's game so much. He's probably my favorite receiver in the league right now, and having him in Philly is a dream-come-true. The fact that he has an existing close friendship with Jalen Hurts makes this even better, even though best friends may not make best co-workers. We'll see, but for now, color me chuffed about this one. We should also monitor Brown's health, which has caused some hiccups in his career so far.
- Cam Jurgens - (A-) Say what you will about "drafting people who won't play immediately" but I loved the Jurgens pick, despite how un-sexy it was. There were teams who had him graded above Linderbaum, and his slightly better size means that he's better across multiple blocking schemes. Since Philly runs the whole gamut, from Power, to Pin & Pull, to Zone, they need someone who can succeed across all of those possibilities. Kelce advocating for Jurgens is just the icing on the cake. This dude will NOT stay off the field.
- Nakobe Dean - (B+) This grade is based on the injury uncertainty. Similar to the way that Carson Strong's draft position was going to reflect how teams felt about his knee, Dean's drop was a byproduct of his medical. Now, the Eagles are willing to take shots on players who got a bit more beat up in college, and this defense needed its leader of tomorrow. It needed a new beating heart to take over when Graham retires or gets released in the coming years. Dean COULD be an easy A+++, but he could also never stay healthy and ultimately play more than like 10 games for us. He's a much better chance to take than Damone Clark, but I worry a little.
- Kyron Johnson - (B) Johnson felt like a bit of a reach here, but he is one of this class's best athletes at linebacker, and he projects as closer to Haason Reddick's mold than many other prospects in this class. I'd say, look out for Philly running some Odd fronts with Reddick and Johnson at EDGE backer spots here and there. Even if that never materializes, at least he'll contribute on special teams with his speed and nastiness.
- Graham Calcaterra - (B) They needed another tight end, let's be real. If Tyree hadn't blown his knee out, I'd have felt like this was a less-likely pick, but as things stand, the team could afford to take a shot at a new TE2 with real receiving chops. Calcaterra's injury history is messier than Dean's, so I'm, again, skeptical, but he could be well-worth it, especially this late.
Overall Offseason GPA (thus far): 2.85 (B-)
It's an exciting time to be an Eagles fan! A B- isn't an exciting grade to see, but as with all averages, there's a lot that gets flattened out and obscured by the GPA here. Draft Day was full of amazing moves. The underwhelming initial free agency period DID set the team up for a two year plan of success, but it also felt very much like grading someone's work when they're treading water instead of thriving. This isn't to say that I judge people who have to tread water in classes or school in general -- I was an adult ADHD diagnosis, and I've had to do the same on several occasions -- but if I'm forced to stick a number to the body of work, this is what happens. The GPA really doesn't reflect how I feel about the offseason overall. We have the seeds of an exciting future. Now we just have to wait, with bated breath, for minicamp and training camp injuries and signings and emerging Cinderellas.
I'll try to be back just before preseason with another one of these so we can think some more about where Philly is at and where they're going!