Trench Warmers: Despite Turmoil, Birds Deep Where It Matters – For Now
The Eagles probably won’t – emphasis on probably – be a playoff team next season, but predictions of doom and gloom is, in my view, also an exaggeration.
Don’t get me wrong. They’re still at a major crossroads, and many of the malfunctions that led to the franchise’s ugly divorce with Carson Wentz have yet to be ironed out.
Theoretically, though, they should be better than four or five wins. We use theoretically because, well, as we’ve seen over the past six weeks, some unpredictable stuff can always happen, and injuries can also destroy anyone’s well-researched theory.
I’m typically on the skeptical side. I accurately predicted the Eagles missing the postseason in 2020, which is about the only correct prediction I made. And it’s tempting to view the franchise, right now at arguably its most vulnerable point of the past 20 years, as an inflamed dumpster careening toward a brick will.
But the Eagles aren’t completely devoid of talent and – most importantly – should still be strong in the trenches if Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson each return and stay healthy. On the other side, the combo of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hagrave and Josh Sweat still give the Eagles an upper-tier defensive line.
Sure, the fate of the team ultimately depends on the quarterback, but good teams are typically built from the inside out. While the Eagles have major question marks at linebacker, corner and receiver, they’re strong enough in the trenches to field a competitive team.
Again, this isn’t to suggest the Eagles are well-positioned for a playoff push or that fans should harbor worst-to-first expectations. But they have enough talent to avoid picking in the top six again in 2022.
Of course, this assumes that all, or most, of those aforementioned linemen are coming back in 2021. We’re still in the process of observing Howie Roseman’s plan to trim millions off the cap and rebuild the roster.
Here are some other non-Carson Wentz thoughts about the Eagles:
* Malik Jackson and Zach Ertz are next in line to be shown the exits as Roseman looks to shed tens of millions more in salary for cap compliance. Some surprise casualties are probably on the team’s docket. As we said on the latest Inside The Birds, defensive end Derek Barnett can’t come back in 2021 at his fifth-year option rate of roughly $10 million, but the Eagles and Barnett can probably agree on an extension that lowers his cap number and keeps him here for a few more years. It’s doubtful Barnett would score a big payday in free agency.
* The move of Genard Avery to linebackers makes some sense. Outside of his Superman channeling against San Francisco, Avery didn’t show nearly enough as a situational rusher to warrant the fourth-round pick Roseman swapped for him. Avery’s size [6 foot, 250 pounds] makes him more suitable to linebacker, and he has experience playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, which means he’s dropped into coverage prior to his trade. The new defensive coordinator’s preference for blitzing linebackers, like his mentor Mike Zimmer, could endear Avery’s skill set to Jonathan Gannon and perhaps give Avery an opportunity to preserve his roster spot. Otherwise, the move is just a sign that Avery’s future is likely with another team.
* It’s extension time for some other Birds, namely Dallas Goedert, Jordan Mailata and Josh Sweat, each of whom are available for an extension for the first time. Drafted players can’t be given extensions until after three seasons. All three battled injuries in their Eagles career, and Sweat’s knees were problematic even before the Eagles drafted him, so the team should be able to hammer out cap-friendly deals for all three.
* If the Eagles believe University of Florida’s Kyle Pitts is an NFL matchup nightmare then there’s no reason to to bypass him just because of Dallas Goedert’s presence. Goedert’s blocking, along with his other attributes, means he can function in-line, leaving the slot spot open for someone like Pitts. And if Pitts can also move outside and beat corners or exploit holes in zones, allowing Goedert to flex into the slot, then there shouldn’t be an issue with selecting him.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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