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Eagles Mailbag: Nick Sirianni’s seat is already hot

Some like it hot, and some sweat when the heat is on

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I asked you for your questions or rants. You delivered. Today we’ll answer the ones that are more of a question, later we’ll get to the ones that are more of a rant.

Simple question. Do you have any confidence in Nick Sirianni as head coach next season? - toddheremans79

This is the most important question of the 2024 season for Jeffrey Lurie. Apparently the answer was yes.

The Eagles’ collapse was so severe and self-inflicted that I can not fault anyone for not having any confidence in Sirianni. Including Jeffrey Lurie if Sirianni had been fired. Tailspins like the Eagles had are typically fatal, so why wait for the inevitable to happen.

The last team to start 10-1 and finish the season with 6 losses were the 1986 Jets. They gave up 45+ points three times in their final five games, they scored 3, 3, and 10 points in consecutive games. But that team won their first playoff game, 35-10, then lost in OT the next week. But the next year, with the same core, they went 6-9, that core never made the playoffs again.

Or look at the 1981 Eagles. Defending NFC champions, they were 9-2, best record in the NFL. Then they lost four straight, and ended the season 10-6, in second place to the Cowboys. They played in a 4 vs 5 seed first round game and lost, down 20-0 at the end of the first quarter. That core never made the playoffs again, with Dick Vermeil retiring at the end of the season.

Or the 2014 Eagles, 9-3 and then they lost four in a row, missed the playoffs, Chip Kelly would be fired before the end of the 2015 season.

Or the 2006 Broncos, 7-2 but finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, which they would do again in 2007 and 2008, and then Mike Shanahan was fired.

Or the 2016 Panthers, 6-2 then seven straight losses. Ron Rivera was fired 12 games into the next season.

A collapse like the Eagles had, one that wasn’t caused by injuries, or by some kind of unforeseeable external influence, is not unprecedented. But there’s a cost, and it’s the head coach’s job, eventually.

What do you need to see next year for Nick to keep his job? How bad next year will the eagles have to be for Nick to lose his job? - evangrossman113

He has to win a playoff game. Anything short of that and the Eagles are looking for a new coach. Another first round exit, his third in four seasons, isn’t good enough for what this franchise is trying to achieve.

Maybe he can get a reprieve if the team is slammed by injuries, but even then I would not be sure. Doug Pederson didn’t survive an injury plagued 2020 season. A major injury to Jalen Hurts probably won’t be enough to get him off the hook either. Shane Steichen just had a winning record with Gardner Minshew starting 13 games. Antonio Pierce went 5-4 with Aidan O’Connell, the Raiders QB3; the Giants were 3-3 with Tommy DeVito, their QB3; the Vikings 3-3 with Josh Dobbs and Jaren Hall; the Browns brought Joe Flacco out of mothball and went 4-1. Next season some other teams will suffer a QB injury and have respectable records with backups. “But my QB got hurt” probably isn’t going to sway Lurie, while injuries can derail a team, we just saw teams lose their QB1 and tread water or better.

What did Sirianni say to keep his job? Bonus question. Are the last 7 games “The New Normal?” - jacol84

Do you think that if the Eagles come out next year and stink up the joint (as in they’re just as bad as they were at the end of this year), that Nick Sirianni will be fired mid season? - drmdub

I would like to have been a fly on the wall for Sirianni’s end of season debriefing. The defense was a disaster, and Sirianni and the people above him (Roseman and Lurie) all had their hands in it. If I was in Sirianni’s position, my message to my superiors would be that for various reasons we were handcuffed in our ability to replace Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon, and that now with a proper offseason to search for replacements, we can right this. It seems that bringing in Vic Fangio, or accepting Fangio being forced on him, may have been one of the selling points.

But if they start next season as flat as they ended the season, I don’t see how Sirianni can survive. Why would Lurie tolerate it? And then we’ll have gotten to the point where the coaches have changed but the play is the same, so it’s the players next.

The Eagles non-divisional games next year are the Ravens, Bengals, Rams, Saints, and Bucs on the road, and the Jaguars, Packers, Steelers, Browns, Falcons, and Panthers at home. We’ll see how the order shakes out in the spring, but if they’re, say, 2-4 to start the season, it’s going to take a serious run to save Sirianni’s job.

Jeffrey Lurie entered the 2017 season anticipating he would need to change head coaches, which was bizarre at the time. It won’t be this year.

After the obvious cuts and restructures, what is our cap situation? - Ziggy2020

Nick Sirianni do not read this.

Let’s go over the obvious first. According to Over The Cap, the Eagles are 17th in effective cap space with $16.2M, which is actually really good for them compared to recent past seasons, they’ve usually been closer to the bottom five than the middle of the pack. They’re above, among other self proclaimed or actual Super Bowl contenders, the Ravens, Jets, 49ers, Browns, Cowboys, Bills, and Dolphins in cap space. So hey, there’s some good news. Everyone has money they can move, but the Eagles starting point is pretty good compared to many of their peers. But now the bad news, if you’re Nick Sirianni: the Eagles are locked in with this core. A few additions on defense are mandatory, but for the most part it’s going to be on the coaches to create improvement.

Restructuring a contract to create cap space is converting salary, which counts fully for the current year, into a bonus, which counts only for the average annual value. And here the Eagles have a problem.

The only players with more than $2M in salary for 2024 are Haason Reddick, Kevin Byard, Avonte Maddox, and Jake Elliott. That’s it. Byard and Maddox won’t be back. Cutting Byard will free up $13M in cap space, while an outright release of Maddox saves $2M, a June 1st release would free up $7.1M, but would mean the Eagles wouldn’t see the savings until June 1st. Jake Elliot is not going anywhere, and with 2024 being the final year of his contract, he’ll get an extension that lowers his cap hit. But at $3.5M in salary there isn’t a lot of cap savings to be had.

Which leaves us with Reddick, who will be in the final year of his contract. The only way to lower his team high cap hit of $21.9M is to give him an extension. Cutting or trading him accelerates the remaining $20.6M of bonus money that is currently spread out over three void years. But will Reddick want an extension? Will the Eagles want to give him one? Javon Hargrave played out the final season of his contract, at the highest salary on the team for 2022. Those are questions for another day though, the takeaway here is that there are only two players worth keeping on the team next year who can free up money with a restructure, and one of them is, no offense, the kicker. There’s not much room to maneuver.

What does a realistic path forward to fix the defense look like? Can they release James Bradberry considering his contract? Can we depend on Howie to get Jeremiah Trotter Jr and is he worth it? How much stock do we put in Nakobe Dean? What happened with Reed Blankenship? Is Avonte Maddox even dependable at this point? How many new starters can we expect to see next year? - greenmaestro

A realistic path is bringing in a quality defensive coordinator, which they are doing with Vic Fangio, and then adding legitimate starters at cornerback, safety, and linebacker. They can’t go searching the scrap heap again, or bringing in unwanted players again. All they can do right now is hire the coach, and so far so good. Next up will be getting rid of the dead weight. It won’t be painless.

Releasing Bradberry out right costs $11M more than keeping him. Releasing him after June 1st or with a June 1st designation saves them literally nothing on the cap for 2024. $0. He has a contract guarantee on March 13, so he’ll be released with a June 1st designation.

Jeremiah Trotter is one of my favorite Eagles ever, so I totally get the nostalgia pull, especially after seeing Joey Porter Jr. do well with the Steelers this year. But Trotter Jr. would be a philosophical shift in how the Eagles want to play defense (which the presumed hiring of Vic Fangio would not be). Trotter is at his best going downhill, the Eagles want their ILBs in coverage. And he didn’t follow up a promising 2022 season with a strong 2023 season.

Do you think Howie can be bullied into spending a reasonable amount of resources on a linebacker or two? He did spend a second rounder on Sanders when the running back room became untenable… - Nickchuck17

Yes, but this draft has limited options at linebackers. We’ll get into it more as we get into the draft season, but this draft is pretty poor on the defensive side of the ball, the strengths are on offense. They need to sign two actual starters–easier said than done–then see how the draft plays out.

Are the defensive personnel deficiency issues fixable in one year considering the need for corners and safeties and linebacker or is this a two year process? - ClayBidwell

In theory, yes. They can field a competent defense next year with new additions and a better coaching staff. But there’s no guarantee that changes will work, the Falcons spent a bunch of money to bring in free agents on defense, changed DCs, and went from 30th in DVOA to 24th. The Dolphins went from 15th without Vic Fangio to 19th with Vic Fangio, though he dealt with a bunch of injuries.

In practice, well, don’t hold your breath. This front office has not given much reason to believe they can properly evaluate linebacker, safety, or cornerback. They’ve had some hits, mostly in acquiring established players, but they’ve also had more than their fair share of misses in recent years.

We have seen the team do needed philosophical shifts in how they acquire talent. For years they seemingly purposely avoided drafting SEC players, and on the occasions where they did they weren’t from top SEC teams. Then in the last three drafts they have selected 8 players from Georgia or Alabama. In 2018 and 2019 they drafted just 10 players total, then in 2020 they drafted 10 players in a single draft, and nine in 2021.

My hope is that this season causes the front office to do some overdue self reflection on how they both value and evaluate linebacker and safety. They weren’t wrong to make linebacker low priority, something has to be the least important position on the field, but to treat the positions as almost afterthoughts was simply not good enough. That they brought in five LBs after camp started (Zach Cunningham, Myles Jack, Quinton Bell, Tyreek Maddox-Williams, and Shaq Leonard) is possibly an indication that they know things need to change.

When they hired Jim Schwartz they gave him a lot of say in talent acquisition, bringing in five players and trading away one that he had coached in Buffalo. If Fangio wants a guy, get him. (Worth noting that when Fangio was head coach of the Broncos the highest draft pick Denver spent on a LB was a late 3rd in his final season.)

We’ll see for sure in March.

Who is a bigger fraud coach: Doc Rivers or Sirianni? - drc242

In Philly? Doc Rivers. For their career… well Rivers has a ring. Flags fly forever. Good luck Milwaukee!

Why do the Eagles keep underutilizing and misusing Dallas Goedert season after season despite him being a Pro Bowl level player? - 1stand11

They didn’t last year, when injuries were the only thing keeping him from a 1000 yard season. Over 2021 and 2022 he averaged 57 yards a game, one of only four TEs to average 50+ in both seasons along with Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and George Kittle.

Then the Eagles had to change play callers, and they could rarely get him out of first gear. Goedert had only four games with 50+ yards. Shane Steichen used him right. Brian Johnson did not.

Why have the Eagles had trouble maintaining success since the Andy days? They have flashes of greatness every four or five years, but can’t seem to keep it going (and let’s face it, they definitely ended this season in the bottom third of the league, regardless of their record). - Relayer2112

A few reasons.

One, the NFL has changed since Andy Reid’s heydays in the early 2000s. There are now four divisions instead of three, in 2000 the wild card Eagles hosted the wild card Buccaneers in the playoffs, today every wild card team has to go on the road.

Two, the Eagles were at that time ahead of the curve on understanding and using the salary cap, and on player aging. Today they not only aren’t but there are good arguments that they are behind the curve.

And three, let’s not forget that after 2004 Andy Reid missed the playoffs as many times as he made it, and won three playoff games in eight years. And in his five non-Patrick Mahomes years in Kansas City, he won just one playoff game. Even he couldn’t maintain his success.

In the last seven seasons the Eagles have made the playoffs six times, won the Super Bowl and been to another. Only the Chiefs can match that.

Their two first round defensive tackle picks never rushed the passer in college because the defensive scheme was predicated on containment with strong LB support. Do they scheme around that fact or do they smash a square peg in a round hole and try to teach those two to rush the QB? - SufferingSince83

Jalen Carter had 6 sacks, only 8 DTs had more this year. Jordan Davis is a nose tackle, he’s never going to rack up sacks.

You know what would help? A blitz that could actually get to the QB. The next non-edge linebacker that has some proper pass rush juice that Howie Roseman adds will be the first. They don’t need to become Brian Flores or Wink Martindale level of blitz happy, but a interior LB who can bring 4 or 5 sacks a year would be nice.

Are the Eagles being aggressive enough in seeking out new coordinators? Ron Rivera and Mike Caldwell sound like two competent guys who the team is familiar with but who are hardly innovative. I think we need young blood and fresh ideas. - arby1

The Eagles coordinator search may have seemed unexciting until yesterday, but it was an unexciting field of candidates. Until Vic Fangio left the Dolphins there weren’t any high profile coaches this year the way there were last year with Fangio or Jim Schwartz, or even Brian Flores.

A word of warning. While the “Fangio defense” is the defense du jour, Fangio’s defenses have mostly been average or worse: 19th in DVOA as Dolphins DC, 20th, 13th, and 13th, as Broncos HC, and 1st, 14th, 22nd, and 31st as Bears DC.

I would hire him in a heartbeat, he is the best candidate available. Just don’t expect a miracle on the field.

I would really like to know if someone can pull together some stats and/or records relating to defensive 3rd down yardage. Not just percentage of conversion allowed, which was terrible this season, but total yardage given up. It often seemed to me that opposing teams looked at 3rd and 22 as an opportunity rather than a deficit against this team. If someone could break that down I think it would be an interesting perspective! - OtterMan55

The Eagles had the fourth most 3rd long (7+ yards) attempts against, and at an average of 3rd and 11.5, had the 6th furthest amount of distance to cover. That should set up a defense to survive.

Spoiler alert: they did not.

On 3rd and 7+ the Eagles gave up the 8th worst conversion rate, the 4th most yards per play, the 2nd most TDs, the 2nd most 1st downs, and the 2nd most total yards.

It was reported that Sirianni put Matt Patricia in charge of third downs during the bye in Week 10. The defense was 29th in EPA per play on 3rd down from Weeks 1-9, and was 29th from Weeks 10-18. It dropped from 28th in success rate before the bye to 31st after the bye. Thanks for nothing Matt Patricia.

Will you publicly own your reply to my question during the last mailbag, when I asked:

Is there any realistic chance the Eagles move on from Brian Johnson after this year if he continues (in my opinion) to be bad but the Eagles manage a good record anyways (i.e., the status quo this year)?

And you replied:

The Eagles are not going to fire Brian Johnson. They are currently 2nd in scoring, which is up from last year (3rd). He has a strong relationship with Jalen Hurts, so you risk pissing off the face of the franchise, as his position coach in his breakout year, Johnson was integral in Hurt’s ascension, and you’d be giving him three play callers in three years which is a bad plan. And the Eagles chose to go through the growing pains of a young offensive play caller, they have to live with them. There are areas to clean up, but it’s been 9 games.

- ticonderoga

Absolutely.

At that time the Eagles had the best record in the league at 8-1, had just beaten the Cowboys, and were 2nd in scoring. That rarely gets a coordinator fired. Let’s not forget that Juan Castillo made it to a second season as defensive coordinator.

The problem is that since then, the Eagles went 3-6, scoring 20.3 points per game on offense. That will get people fired. And it did.

Also, let’s be clear: Brian Johnson was in over his head as OC, but he was fired as a sacrifice so that Nick Sirianni could keep his job. The Giants, Saints, Jaguars, and Bears missed the playoffs and fired a coordinator, the Browns, Packers, and Dolphins made it and fired a coordinator. Next up for them is the head coach if things don’t improve, just as it is for the Eagles.

Who do you think is the most depressed player in the league? I’ve thought for months that Miles Sanders must be devastated that the SB representatives last year didn’t want him back and he had to rob the Panthers and go 2-15. I could see a case for Mac Jones, though. - JemTheRocker

At least Miles Sanders got paid, getting $13M guaranteed to lose his starting job on the worst team in the league. Mac Jones is an NPC who is incapable of feeling feelings.

Two players immediately come to mind who were in position to have breakout seasons that would have set them up for big money, but failed and won’t be starting for their teams next year: Sam Howell, who is the first QB to get benched and start every game in NFL history (I did absolutely no research on that), and Desmond Ridder, who was benched twice.

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