How you look at the Eagles’ 2019 season is all a matter of perspective.
If you want to be positive, you can point to the four-game winning streak at the end of the season that pushed them into the NFL playoffs for the third straight year, as well as the contribution of young players like running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, wide receiver Greg Ward and tackle Andre Dillard, as well as the emergence of quarterback Carson Wentz as a true leader of this team.
If you want to be negative, you can point to the slow starts to games and the slow start to the season that had the Eagles fighting an uphill battle all year, as well as the disappointing play of veterans like wide receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, defensive end Vinny Curry and just about every defensive back on the team.
And if you want to be fatalistic, you can point to the unbelievable rash of injuries that sidelined important players like wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and running back Jordan Howard – and, of course, the concussion that knocked out Wentz early in Sunday’s playoff loss to Seattle.
Time for Eagles to rebuild
So much for the past. As to the future…
No. 1 on the Eagles list should be to gut the secondary and get of rid of everybody except safety Malcolm Jenkins and start over. That, of course, is impossible, but they should come as close as possible. The Eagles need to rebuild their defensive backfield through free agency and the draft and make that their top offseason priority. And they need to make sure they don’t just rate the DBs on speed in the 40-yard dash or their vertical leap as much as their ability to make a play on the ball.
Too many times this past season an Eagles defender was in position to make a play and didn’t. And that’s because some guys just have a nose for the ball and some don’t – and the Eagles have way too many who don’t.
No. 2 is to bolster the pass rush, which was nonexistent at times in 2019. Getting defensive tackle Malik Johnson back would be a big help — he was the Eagles’ prized off-season acquisition who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first game of the year — but the real problem with this d-line is their edge rushers.
Brandon Graham is still a pretty good player. But he abandons his contain responsibilities too many times while he loops inside trying to get to the quarterback. Derek Barnett, a first-round draft pick in 2018, was inconsistent and he gets more stupid penalties than sacks. Vinny Curry, who was re-signed to give depth to the pass rush, was invisible for much of the season. And young players Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller contributed next to nothing.
Eagles have the second oldest team in the NFL
No. 3 is to add speed to the wide receiving corps – some decent hands would be nice, too. Best-case scenario would be for DeSean Jackson and Jeffery to return next season healthy and to stay healthy, but there’s certainly no guarantee of that.
It’s doubtful that Nelson Agholor will be re-signed, especially since Greg Ward showed so much talent and potential at the end of the season. Perhaps J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will take a giant step forward in his second season since it’s no secret the second-round pick was a major bust as a rookie. Bottom line – the Eagles can’t count on the older guys to stay healthy and they can’t count on the young ones developing, so reinforcements are needed.
The Eagles could also use depth at other positions, including running back – it remains to be seen whether they bring back Jordan Howard, who was having a good year until he injured his shoulder in Week 9. The emergence of Sanders and Scott means this position isn’t the priority it was coming into the season.
The Eagles are also weak at linebacker, but that position just isn’t a priority for this team. They need to upgrade, but there are too many other needs to waste resources here.
No matter what positions they focus on, the Eagles have to hit on their free-agent signings and, more importantly, do a much better job in the draft. This team doesn’t have to rebuild, but it does have to retool and get younger – the Eagles have the second oldest team in the NFL, behind New England.
So, there’s no need to panic. The Eagles still have a strong nucleus and Wentz has proven that he is a franchise quarterback who is good enough to take a team to the Super Bowl. A couple of good players and a little good luck – meaning a lot fewer injuries to key players – and the Eagles should be in the hunt again. And, in the NFL, that’s all you can ask.