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State of the Eagles: Post-Draft Apocalypse (Part I)


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State of the Eagles: Post-Draft Apocalypse (Part I)


The Eagles just completed the first phase of one of the most bizarre offseasons in recent memory, in one of the most bizarre years in recent memory

By Matt Harkenreader@Harkenfootball  Apr 30, 2020, 8:00am EDT

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NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana StateJason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

I hope you’re all managing their quarantine as best as you can, and if you are on the front lines dealing with the pandemic - thank you. Even in a pandemic, the majority of the Eagles’ roster overhaul is now complete, with free agency and the draft occurring since I took a stab at both in my last post. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and while I prefer to cram everything into one needlessly long post, I know that Jalen Hurts will dominate the discussion of any post he’s mentioned in, so I decided to keep the discussion about him in its own needlessly long post, separate in from pretty much everything else in the offseason discussion. Keep an eye out for Part II of this post tomorrow! In this article:

  • Howie’s 2-year plan to get back to the Super Bowl
  • Jalen Hurts, Andrew Breiner, and... Tommy Stevens? Why drafting Hurts isn’t really so unprecedented for the Eagles
  • Assessing the Eagles’ strategy for finding and developing backup quarterbacks

We’ll get in to all of that in a minute - but before I offer what is now probably the billionth take on Jalen Hurts, it needs some perspective. How does the Hurts pick fall into Howie’s vision for the Eagles’ roster? What is Howie’s vision for the Eagles’ roster? While I obviously don’t know what that is for sure, I think a bird’s eye view of his offseason moves paints a picture of what that might be.

Howie Roseman and the Two Year Plan

The Eagles’ championship run in 2017 was forged in the fires of the 2016 and 2017 offseasons. It took two years for that team to come together, and I think that is the deadline Howie is being held to after conceding that their window with the current core of players had closed after falling to the Seahawks in the wild card round. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to surmise that, in whatever meeting Howie had with Lurie after the playoff loss, he was given one year to win a playoff game with Wentz and another to make a deep playoff run, if not win the Super Bowl. We can see bits and pieces of this "Two Year Plan” by taking stock in the offseason as a whole:

  • He bolstered the defensive line depth with young, up-and-coming talent to complement Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, two formidable players in their own right who are nonetheless exiting the prime of their careers.
  • He traded two draft picks for Darius Slay, and then immediately signed him to an extension, although with the contract details released it is essentially a 2-year deal.
  • He declined Malcolm Jenkins’ option. While I think he wanted Jenkins to stay - if he didn’t the option would have been declined with Nigel Bradham’s - he didn’t want to give Jenkins the financial security the safety demanded. Jenkins is good enough to help the Eagles compete in 2020 - will he still be good enough to help them win a Super Bowl in 2021? At the price tag he would demand? While his leadership cannot be understated, and likely will never be replicated, at some point a leader will leave and create a void, and you need to trust that other players will step up to the plate. It’s better to get in front of that now than later.
  • He essentially ignored the offense entirely in free agency, opting instead to inject youth into that side of the position through the draft.

Put all of these moves together and a picture starts to form of this two year plan:

  1. Shore up the defense with aggressive moves in free agency 2020 while also freeing up cap space for future years
  2. Establish a new, younger offensive core in the 2020 draft
  3. Compete in 2020 and evaluate contributions of older players
  4. Let go or trade older, underproducing talent in 2021 and plug remaining holes on offense in free agency
  5. Use 2021 draft to snag an impact player at a luxury position

This isn’t a sexy plan for us fans, who root for our team to win a championship every season, but Howie isn’t merely a fan. He’s responsible for the long-term trajectory of the team, and there’s little you can do to reload for a championship run in a single offseason if you’ve come around to the idea that your window has closed. So while we may be frustrated as fans that some of the moves the Eagles have made won’t move the needle in 2020, this offseason has never been about 2020. It’s been about 2021.

Which brings us to the Oklahoma-sized elephant in the room: Jalen Hurts.

Everybody Hurts Sometimes

No matter how well all of the other players in the Eagles’ 2020 draft pan out, it will always be known as the "Jalen Hurts draft” after Philadelphia shocked the football world by taking the Sooners’ quarterback in the second round. A lot of interesting ideas have been thrown around to explain (if not defend) the pick. I see it as the Eagles trying to be clever and kill two birds with one stone:

  1. In 2019 (and 2018), the Eagles had a boring, predictable offense as injuries to key players eliminated the potential for much creative flash or flair.
  2. The Eagles have appeared in 6 playoff games since Carson Wentz was drafted, and he’s only attempted 4 passes in them due to injuries. As good as he is, and as much as his injuries have been freak accidents, the Eagles need a cheap insurance policy with his hefty contract on the books.

I’m going to address both of these points, as they also coincide with most of the reasoning I’ve seen people use to defend the pick. (Tangent: I wanted to go this post without mentioning Taysom Hill, but since recent reports literally described Hurts as "Taysom Hill on steroids” that ship has sadly sailed.)

Stone 1: The Eagles Have a Boring, Predictable Offense

I don’t need to beat a dead horse with how lethargic and frustrating the Eagles’ offense has been for the past two seasons. Given the whispers we’ve been hearing from the front office, the Hurts pick is part of a plan to rectify that, albeit an unorthodox one. But while it may be... odd... it is not without precedent - at least, not within the ranks of the Eagles’ coaching staff.

When Doug spoke about picking Jalen Hurts, he mentioned brainstorming the pick with his assistants Marty Mornhinweg, Rich Scangarello, and Press Taylor. One coach (of many) he did not mention was Andrew Breiner, which I firmly believe was a smokescreen. I’m not a reporter and I do not have sources to back this up. It’s just a gut feeling, because this whole "Taysom Hill on steroids” idea has his fingerprints all over it.

As Bleeding Green Nation wrote about when he was hired, Breiner is a coaching disciple of Joe Moorhead, the former Mississippi State head coach whom the Eagles presumably pursued but opted for the Oregon Ducks offensive coordinator position instead. I am very familiar myself with Moorhead as a Penn State alum - he was their offensive coordinator from 2015-2017. During his tenure, the Nittany Lions catapulted into national relevance with the dynamic duo of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley.

Their best season under Moorhead was 2017, when they were legitimate national championship contenders before a heartbreaking 1-point loss to Ohio State in the Horseshoe. And while the story that season was about Saquon Barkley, the Lions got meaningful production from another player on their roster: backup quarterback Tommy Stevens.

In 2017, the Nittany Lions got meaningful production from Tommy Stevens, their backup quarterback.

Although most of Stevens’ highlights in 2017 come from when he relieved McSorley in blowouts, he was often on the field with the first string offense, taking the ball as a running back or catching it as a receiver out of the backfield. (For those who are worried about Carson Wentz lining up at receiver, it was very rare that Stevens was the passer if McSorley was still in at quarterback.)

His final stat line from 2017 is wholly unimpressive - he rushed 27 times for 190 yards (7.0 average) and 4 touchdowns, caught 12 passes for 60 yards (5.0 average) and 2 touchdowns, and went 14/27 (51.9%) passing for 158 yards (5.9 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. He was used even less sparingly in 2018 as Moorhead left Penn State to take the Mississippi State head coaching job (where Breiner followed him), and then transferred there in 2019. After a largely unremarkable senior season as the Bulldogs’ starter, he was drafted in the fifth round this past weekend... by the New Orleans Saints, who of course employ Taysom Hill.

I would not be surprised if Breiner brought similar ideas about the "Tommy Stevens package” he may have picked up (or developed with) Joe Moorhead to Doug. They appear to have caught on to the point of making them a foundational part of the offense, way beyond what the Saints do with Taysom Hill - perhaps 25-30 snaps per game. This would explain the late hiring of Marty Mornhinweg, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator in Lamar Jackson’s rookie season - as the idea grew and matured, Doug wanted an NFL perspective on how it could work.

How is this any different from what New Orleans does with Taysom Hill? Superficially, it’s not, but the point is that this isn’t just Doug watching the Saints and Ravens and wanting to copy them. He actually has someone with a real, tangible connection to this kind of offensive package that may have original ideas we haven’t yet seen in the NFL. I’ll admit the prospect of that is intriguing, even if it’s at the same time a bit contrived.

As fans, we’ve been moaning about how unexciting the Eagles’ offense has been, and now that they appear to be trying to fix that, it doesn’t seem exactly fair to lambaste them for it. Granted, this would be quite the roundabout way of doing it, and a major risk in the allocation of resources (there were other electrifying players on the board at 53 that could have made the offense more explosive in conventional ways). But Doug seems determined to leave his mark as an innovator in this league. He has certainly done that with fourth downs to much success, and while I can’t say I’m optimistic about this newest experiment, I feel he has at least earned the benefit of the doubt. At the very least, trying to blaze new trails in the NFL takes a lot of guts, and that is something I can respect.



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