20 takes on Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz and the 2020 Eagles

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Eagles football is back.

Those four words have never sounded better, likely due to how unlikely sports—let alone football—seemed just a few months ago. It’s not going to be the same (or anything close to it) without fans, but the 2020 NFL season is here.

And my goodness do the Eagles enter it with question marks.

There’s enough there to compete, but also enough uncertainty to worry. For the first time in a few years, we’re not seeing the Eagles mentioned in preseason Super Bowl buzz. Much of what we think about this team and this year will be guess work. For now, we all truly know very little about this squad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have takes on the roster, franchise and its short and long-term trajectory.

Allow me to get the ball rolling with 20 takes on the 2020 Eagles.

1. We have overrated the last four games of the 2019 season.
It was fun. It was exciting. But too many sins of last season were forgiven because of four straight wins against two bad teams and one average team. There’s very little evidence that NFL teams can “springboard” a strong finish into the following season. That includes Carson Wentz, who played very well in the season’s final four weeks. It was a nice stretch, but it’s no more indicative of what the 2019 Eagles were than a poor November was. You are what you are over a full season.

2. The Eagles aren’t trying to win the Super Bowl this year, and that’s a smart thing
I said it in February and haven’t changed my take on this. When Howie Roseman referenced 2021 and 2022 in his outlook on 2020, you knew everything you needed to know. When the Eagles avoided signing a veteran running back or pursuing impact defenders like Jadaveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue, it was sealed. This is a retooling season, not one the front office truly believes will end in a parade. It’s the wise decision, and the Eagles were smart to pivot as they recognized the Super Bowl window had closed.

3. Brandon Graham over Earl Thomas was the right draft decision.
I’m well aware of how great Thomas once was. But look at what his career has become. Unemployed. Dumped from two winning franchises in the last two years. Average on the field. Disconcerting behavior away from it. Meanwhile Graham is heading into his 11th season here, still a (more than solid) starter and team leader. Thomas had a nice run. Graham was the better pick for the long haul.

4. Carson Wentz comes into the season as the 13th-best quarterback in the NFL. 
Good, not great. Talented, but inconsistent. Eye test and stats tell the same story. The Eagles can win with this quarterback, but he needs to be much better to be in the upper echelon at the position. Here are the 12 quarterbacks I have ranked ahead of Wentz heading into 2020: Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady and Jared Goff. Perhaps one day Wentz’s career will match the adoration he’s already been given around here. I’ll be watching and waiting.

5. Not trading up for CeeDee Lamb was the correct call.
Don’t lose sleep if Lamb has the better 2020. Over time, Reagor will turn out to be a very good Eagles pass catcher. The Eagles were wise to save assets rather than trade up for the Oklahoma star.

6. Josh Sweat will break out and have a better year than Derek Barnett.
Sweat flashed often last season, but not frequently enough. Plays arrived, but then he disappeared. The Eagles need a young pass rusher to develop ASAP. Barnett is still young (24), but has been banged up too often to reach the potential he had as a first-round pick. Sweat, the star of training camp, is ready to become a big-time contributor.

7. Darius Slay is in decline.
I’ll just come out and say it: I’m worried about Slay. I’m worried about his age (29), and the fact that he’ll be 30 (at the youngest) before playing in his first playoff game here. Slay was a top-five player at the position, but those days are behind him. Perhaps Slay can stave off steep decline and remain a top-10 or top-15 corner for the next few years. I’ll take that. The Eagles would likely sign up for that. But we’ve seen corners lose a step around this age far too often, especially in Philadelphia.

8. Greg Ward will lead all Eagles wide receivers in catches.
Reagor is currently banged up, and a rookie. DeSean Jackson is not a high-volume catch guy. Alshon Jeffery is not ready to play. It’s fun to have high hopes for Quez Watkins and John Hightower, but they are low-round pick rookies. Let’s pump the brakes for major impact now. I need to see it to believe it with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. We know Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will be Wentz favorites, but my money is on comfort with Ward to produce a ton of catches.

9. Boston Scott is for real, and this backfield will be more of a tandem than the Miles Sanders show.
Do you know how many non-quarterbacks were named Offensive Player of the Week (AFC or NFC) last season? Eight. Here are their names: Nick Chubb, James Conner, Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones, Dalvin Cook, Chris Godwin, Saquon Barkley and Boston Scott. Basically a list of seven guys going high in your fantasy draft, plus Scott. Sanders is the closest thing the Eagles have had to a lead back in years, but let’s not forget that he got banged up when touchdes went up late last season. Scott will be a bigger part of this thing than many think.

10. The Eagles should trade Zach Ertz after the season.
You can make a case that Ertz should have been traded last year. And this is coming from a huge Ertz fan (he and Graham are my favorite players on the team) and President of the Zach Ertz, Future Hall of Famer Club. But paying huge money to a tight end entering his 30s when another (younger, cheaper and already integrated into the system) tight end sits on the roster is lunacy.

11. Defensive coordinator/associate general manager Jim Schwartz went too far on the whole “we don’t need linebackers” thing.
I get the strategy, and generally appreciate how little resources the Eagles pour into the linebacker position. It’s very 2020, and it’s smart. But subtracting Malcolm Jenkins (he was basically a linebacker by the end of his Eagles career) and Nigel Bradham in favor of a sextet of Shaun Bradley, T.J. Edwards, Nathan Gerry, Duke Riley, Alex Singleton, and Davion Taylor is really pushing it.

12. Choosing Andre Dillard over Montez Sweat will haunt the Eagles.
The Eagles won’t know what they have with Dillard heading into his third season. Sweat (7.0 sacks as a rookie) will have a double-digit sack season under his belt by then. If the Eagles are looking for a defensive end in the first round next spring, remember this.

13. Always trust Doug Pederson.
Just leaving this here for the annual “this is Doug’s fault!” week when the Eagles are scuffling. He’ll figure it out and get the ship back on course, just like he does every season when adversity hits.

Unfortunately, it seems like some within the organization still don’t fully trust Doug, the only coach to bring this franchise a Lombardi. Don’t be surprised if Pederson’s job status is truly rumored about for the first time and/or if we hear Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley talked about in this city sooner than later.

14. Howie Roseman is about to lose the fan base he won over in 2017.
You can feel this coming. Cutting Sidney Jones adds another log to the fire. Passing up win-now moves to cover up sudden (and significant) salary cap issues is a new gripe, and one we never thought we’d have with this executive. Roseman is about to be on the hot seat (at least with fans) for the first time in a long time.

15. Jason Peters isn’t a leader.
For a guy that everyone calls a leader, Peters sure doesn’t act like one. He didn’t act like one when quitting on Chip Kelly (you can justify it by saying that you hated Kelly too, but it doesn’t change things). He didn’t act like one when refusing salary cuts in past years. He didn’t act like it by seemingly holding the team hostage until he was good and ready to play the position he was asked.

16. The schedule is brutal.
The NFC West and AFC North are loaded. Add in a first-place schedule that includes NFC foes like the Packers and Saints and one of the NFL’s hardest schedules is present.

17. This will be Fletcher Cox’s last season in an Eagles uniform.
The Eagles could be $50M over the cap next season. Javon Hargrave was just signed to a huge deal at the same position. Cox wasn’t close to great last year, and will turn 30 during the year. He’s on the books for over $22M in 2021. Do the math.

18. Jalen Hurts will stir debate before his first start in an Eagles jersey.
I have no idea when Hurts will be needed to start a game (though it’s quite obvious the second-round pick will be the back-up if one is needed for an extended period), but I do know we’ll see him in some sort of capacity. Despite the best intentions, Pederson
 will open up a big can of worms the first time Hurts takes a series or red zone snaps from Wentz. If it works, we’ll want to see more. If it doesn’t, we’ll second guess all week. This is an NFL coach version of bullpen management.

19. NFC East order of finish: Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Washington Football Team.
No team has won this division in back-to-back years since the Eagles did it from 2001-2004. I’ll take the Eagles to win it next year.

20. Final record: 8-8.
The bad news: Offensive line worries, less-than-special pass rush and a difficult schedule lead to the first non-playoff year since 2016.

The (semi) good news: The new seven-team postseason format means they’ll be in through Week 17.