In February the Eagles played in the Super Bowl. If you decided to forget everything that happened between halftime and today, or everything since then is just a blur, you are forgiven.
If you did, or even if you didn’t, let’s recap the Eagles offseason.
LB TJ Edwards, S Marcus Epps, S CJ Gardner-Johnson, DT Javon Hargrave, QB Gardner Minshew, RB Miles Sanders, RG Isaac Seumalo, and LB Kyzir White all left in free agency; OC Shane Steichen (Colts) and DC Jonathan Gannon (Cardinals) were hired as head coaches.
TE Dan Arnold, S Terrell Edmunds, S Justin Evans, OT Dennis Kelly, QB Marcus Mariota, LB Nicholas Morrow, RB Rashaad Penny, DT Kentavius Street, CB Greedy Williams, and WR Olamide Zaccheaus were signed as free agents; RB D’Andre Swift was acquired by trade, and Sean Desai was hired as defensive coordinator.
Draft picks: DT Jalen Carter, Georgia (Round 1); LB Nolan Smith, Georgia (Round 1); OL Tyler Steen, Alabama (Round 3); S Sydney Brown, Illinois (Round 3); CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia (Round 4); QB Tanner McKee, Stanford (Round 6); DT Moro Ojomo, Texas (Round 7)
The Eagles were pretty quiet in free agency; every player the Eagles signed were on one-year deals, or in Mariota’s case, void after one season. The biggest moves off the offseason were internal or at the draft. Jason Kelce delayed his retirement for another year, and James Bradberry, Brandon Graham, and Fletcher Cox were re-signed. The big drama was that Eagles told Darius Slay that if he could find someone who wanted to trade for him that they would listen, but no one did, so they then told everyone they were going to cut him. But then... they didn’t cut him. At the 11th hour the Eagles reversed course and Slay signed an extension.
Then in April the big one happened. Jalen Hurts signed a mammoth five-year contract extension that had $180 million guaranteed and a no trade clause. It was the largest contract in NFL history… for ten days, until Lamar Jackson and the Ravens finally agreed to an extension worth $185 million guaranteed.
Most of the veteran acquisitions fit a profile. A majority of them are former high draft picks: Mariota (2nd in 2015), Swift (35th in 2020), Penny (27th in 2018), Edmunds (28th in 2018), Williams (46th in 2019), and Evans (50th in 2017). The Eagles are hoping that their combination of surrounding talent and coaching can elevate these players. Morrow and Street weren’t high picks, but Morrow has started 36 games in the past three seasons, and Street has played at least 32% of snaps during that time, and they’re both on their third team in as many years. They’re role players who understand their roles.
It was at the draft where the Eagles made their noise. Drew Rosenhaus claimed that Jalen Carter would not make it past the Eagles at 10th overall, and he was almost right: the Eagles traded up one spot to No. 9 to make sure they were able to take him. At 30th overall they took another Georgia defender in Nolan Smith, and then traded into the fourth round to grab yet another Georgia defender in Kelee Ringo, bringing their total to five on the roster alongside 2022 draft picks Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean. In between, they drafted Alabama LT Tyler Steen and Illinois S Sydney Brown. And they made further waves by trading for Lions RB D’Andre Swift (who, you guessed it, went to Georgia) on the third day of the draft. The Eagles’ draft haul was so impressive that it caused other GMs to complain to the media about how much praise Howie Roseman was getting.
How do these new players fit with the team?
The Eagles lost seven starters from their 2022 team: RB, RG, DT, both LBs, and both S. Who replaces them in 2023 has real intrigue, because almost no one is guaranteed anything. Nakobe Dean as one of the starters at linebacker is the only one we can write in pen. All other positions are, or should be, open for competition.
Free agent additions Morrow and Edmunds should start, and Street should see a spot in the DT rotation. But the Eagles aren’t counting on them to be difference makers. They won’t mind if Sydney Brown earns a starting spot over Edmunds or if Street falls out of favor because the Eagles’ core of young DTs play him out of a spot. Arnold, Evans, Kelly, and Williams will be competing for a roster spot. The veteran acquisitions the Eagles made this season were made with the floor in mind, the young players competing for spots will determine the ceiling.
Jalen Carter should see the field right away, but the question is in how big of a role. Last year Jordan Davis played a single-game high of 42% of snaps, and with Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Kentavius Street, and Marlon Tuipulotu, the Eagles can afford to take it slow with Carter.
The same can be said for Nolan Smith. Until the Eagles traded for Robert Quinn during the season, Brandon Graham served as the backup to both Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, Smith should slide into Quinn’s role of about 25% of snaps with room to grow.
Cam Jurgens was assumed to take over at RG, but immediately after drafting Alabama LT Tyler Steen, the Eagles said he would be competing at RG.
The most high profile concern is the position the Eagles value the least: running back. Miles Sanders had the best season of his career and the Eagles let him walk in free agency.
In the playoffs Kenneth Gainwell had more touches than Miles Sanders, 40 to 33. Some of that was because the Eagles first two games were blowouts, Sanders’ last touch against the Giants was with over 12 minutes to play, and he didn’t play in the fourth quarter at all against the 49ers. But in the Super Bowl Gainwell had 11 touches to Sanders’ 7. The Eagles had basically already moved on from him.
Or perhaps more fitting, they moved on from giving a running back who doesn’t create a threat in the passing game a high-usage role. In his career just 14% of Sanders’ touches have been receptions while D’Andre Swift and Gainwell both have at least a 30% reception rate.
The Eagles aren’t suddenly going to become a 90s West Coast offense with a heavy dose of running back passes. Rashaad Penny has a career high of nine receptions, and that was in 2018. But on early downs they want to open the entire field up, and a platoon of Swift and Gainwell can, at least on paper, do that.
So what should we expect this season?
For the regular season, we can expect the Eagles to take a step back from their 14-3 record. Don’t freak out. In the previous 10 seasons, 23 teams have won 13+ games. The next year they won, on average, 10 games, and 12 of them won at least 11 games.
The defense will take a step back. There is only one way to go after recording 70 sacks last season, and that is down. Additionally, they have a brutal four-game stretch in November and December. After their bye in Week 10 they play at the Chiefs, host the Bills and then the 49ers, then play at the Cowboys. There will be despair after a loss and elation after a win during this four-week span. Again, don’t freak out.
Is the QB good? Is the team relatively healthy? If both those answers are yes, the team will be fine. The Eagles have the MVP runner-up at QB, and have surrounded him with star players on both sides of the ball. This is a very good team, and DraftKings Sportsbook has them favored to win the division (the line opened at +130 and has since moved to +115). The Birds are also currently sitting at -340 odds to make the playoffs.
While we should expect the Eagles win total to go backwards, we should still consider them the favorites in the NFC if they stay healthy.