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Exit Interview: Philadelphia Eagles

Philly made another postseason run but couldn’t overcome the litany of injuries it faced. What happens next for the NFC East champs?

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As each club is eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Today it’s the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round on Sunday.

What Went Right

In Week 14, the 5-7 Eagles were down to the lowly New York Giants at halftime. A season that once held Super Bowl hopes was on life support and at risk of being snuffed out for good by Eli Manning, a one-time nemesis who had been reduced to backing up a rookie quarterback. Instead, Philadelphia rallied back, pulling out an overtime win and keeping its season alive. It proved to be a catalyst for an injury-plagued team that needed it.

If the Eagles have any one thing to be proud of this season, it’s their fight. It helped that Doug Pederson’s squad played in a terrible NFC East, but they still had to go 4-0 down the stretch while dealing with injuries all over the roster. They essentially eliminated the Cowboys in Week 16 and went on to claim the division title with a Week 17 win over the Giants.

If there was a highlight on this roster, it was Philly’s offensive line, which Pro Football Focus ranked as the league’s best. All four of the five regular starters—Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson—were graded in the top 10 at their position, with center Kelce and guard Brooks taking the no. 1 spots in theirs.

Elsewhere, tight end was again a strength for Philadelphia. Despite missing a game and playing with a lacerated kidney down the stretch, Zach Ertz was his typically excellent self, posting the third-most receptions and fourth-most yards of any tight end in 2019. Dallas Goedert was the fifth-ranked tight end by Pro Football Focus; he notched 58 receptions for 607 yards, but was even more impressive as a run blocker. Also, rookie Miles Sanders and sophomore Boston Scott emerged as playmaking running backs in the second half of the season as they filled in for the injured players ahead of them on the depth chart.

What Went Wrong

The Eagles were as much an infirmary as a football team in 2019. DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery went on IR this season, leaving the Eagles with a subpar receivers group led by Nelson Agholor, whose season highlight was being shaded on the local news before missing time himself. Running backs Corey Clement and Darren Sproles were also lost for the season, while offseason trade acquisition Jordan Howard missed six games with an injury. On the offensive line, Johnson and Brooks missed time. And while Carson Wentz was healthy for all 16 games after missing each of the Eagles’ past two playoff pushes, he left Sunday’s wild-card game against the Seahawks early with a head injury.

Injuries aside, Wentz remains the biggest question mark on this team. The Eagles handed him a four-year, $128 million extension last offseason despite the fact that backup Nick Foles led the team to Super Bowl glory two years ago and a wild-card win against the Bears last January. At points this season, Wentz flashed the potential that made him the MVP front-runner before he tore his ACL in 2017—this season, he became the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards despite not having a single wide receiver catch for more than 500—but he’s been inconsistent. Sometimes, he’s the guy who throws for 319 yards in a must-win game over the Cowboys, other times, he turns the ball over four times against the Seahawks. “We think in Philadelphia that we go as [Carson Wentz] goes,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman told SiriusXM NFL Radio in May. It may be a while until we know for sure which direction that will be.

Free Agency

While the Eagles will return most of their core in 2020, they have some key players they’ll need to make decisions on. Chief among those is 37-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler who has been with the team since 2009. He played 2019 on a one-year deal, and while he performed superbly, there’s a chance the Eagles could move on or Peters could retire. If either of those scenarios come to pass, the Eagles are in about as good a position a team losing its starting left tackle could be: Philly drafted tackle Andre Dillard in the first round last year, and he’d presumably slot right in.

Linebacker Nigel Bradham, safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Ronald Darby, defensive end Vinny Curry, and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan are all set to hit the open market, too. While the Eagles secondary didn’t perform as well as the team would’ve hoped, they aren’t in any position to let McLeod or Darby leave, unless they’re confident they can improve the position. Curry was the team’s second-best edge defender behind Brandon Graham, according to PFF. After playing 2019 on a one-year, $2.25 million deal, he could be back on a larger contract next year.

The Draft

The Eagles will choose 21st in the first round this April and are projected to have 10 selections once compensatory picks are handed out. They’ll need all of those to fill out the holes on this roster.

Their top priority should be receiver. The Eagles attempted to address the position in 2019, but second-rounder JJ Arcega-Whiteside disappointed in his first year. (Seahawks rookie DK Metcalf, whom the Eagles passed on to pick Arcega-Whiteside, had three fewer catches and 9 fewer yards on Sunday than the Philly wideout had on the season, including Sunday.) The Eagles should also look to add pieces in the secondary. Someone like Alabama’s Trevon Diggs or Florida’s CJ Henderson should be available when Philly’s on the board and would add depth to the depleted unit.