The man who orchestrated the Eagles’ first Super Bowl win is gone. Philadelphia shockingly fired head coach Doug Pederson after five seasons on Monday. The Eagles, who defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII in 2018, went 46-39-1 (including playoffs) during Pederson’s tenure. Philadelphia finished the 2020 season 4-11-1, and despite Pederson’s job appearing safe at the end of the year, owner Jeff Lurie decided to move in a new direction. The decision to depart from Pederson ignites more pressing questions for a franchise that not too long ago stood at the top of the league.
In a statement, Lurie explained his decision that it was time to part with Pederson—but it may have been at least somewhat mutual. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Pederson “was sick of people [in the organization] telling him what to do.” On Sunday morning, reports surfaced that Pederson’s role with the Eagles was in jeopardy after he met with Lurie. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Tim McManus, Lurie held concerns about Pederson’s management of personnel and coaching staff, and he was “not sold on how Pederson plans to fix the offense” after an underwhelming season, highlighted by Pederson benching quarterback Carson Wentz in favor of rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts late in the year. Wentz and Pederson’s relationship was reportedly “fractured beyond repair,” and the former no. 2 overall pick was expected to seek a trade this offseason.
Despite all of the turmoil, Pederson had expected to remain the Eagles’ coach going into next season. Going into a Week 17 game against Washington, there was little reason to think Pederson’s job was in true jeopardy. But ahead of the fourth quarter, Pederson subbed out Hurts in favor of third-string QB Nate Sudfeld, a move that drew public criticism from around the league as it appeared the Eagles were intentionally losing to score a better draft position. The Eagles lost, 20-14. The Lurie-Pederson meeting happened after this game, and ESPN reported the two were expected to meet again this week in Florida. Instead, Pederson’s time in Philadelphia is up.
“I have spent the last few weeks evaluating everything from this past year and looking ahead,” Lurie said in his statement. “We are all very disappointed with the way our season went and eager to turn things around, not just for next season but also for the future of the franchise. Coach Pederson and I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what that collective vision would look like moving forward. After taking some time to reflect on these conversations, I believe it is in both of our best interests to part ways.”
Pederson guided the Eagles not only to a Super Bowl, but also led them to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2017-19), and two NFC East crowns (2017 and 2019). There was a widespread sentiment that, despite a last-place finish in the division this season, Pederson would at least get one more year to try to right the ship. History suggests that Super Bowl–winning coaches typically get more leeway; Pederson became the first head coach to get fired within three years of winning a Super Bowl since the Baltimore Colts fired Don McCafferty in 1972, two years after winning Super Bowl V.
Whoever is chosen to replace Pederson will step into a cloudy situation, at best. Hurts flashed potential, but didn’t demonstrate enough to solidify his role as Philadelphia’s starter next season. That’s more than what can be said for Wentz, who struggled all season and finished 2020 as one of the NFL’s least efficient quarterbacks. Before Pederson’s departure, Wentz posed the biggest question mark of the Eagles’ future. The 28-year-old is owed almost $50 million in guaranteed salary over the next two seasons, but would cost nearly $60 million in dead cap if Philadelphia decided to cut him this offseason. Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Pederson’s firing “significantly increases” the likelihood Wentz stays in Philadelphia. His cap figure is only part of an unfavorable cap situation for the Eagles, whose expected 2021 salary cap space is well over the projected cap figure.
Beyond the cap, there’s a matter of following Lurie’s vision for the Eagles, both on the field and in assembling a coaching staff. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Pederson was “forced” to fire former offensive coordinator Mike Groh in 2019. Additionally, Pederson “wasn’t keen on” making significant changes to his coaching staff, and lobbied to make in-house promotions, such as elevating passing game coordinator/QBs coach Press Taylor to offensive coordinator and bringing back former defensive backs coach Cory Undlin as defensive coordinator, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane. McLane added that Lurie was underwhelmed with Pederson’s suggestions.
Now, the Eagles are starting over. Just three years ago, the NFL world was awed at the mention of “Philly Special” and lauded Philadelphia’s Super Bowl triumph, which was commemorated by a statue featuring former QB Nick Foles and Pederson erected outside of Lincoln Financial Field. According to McManus, there are a handful of potential candidates, including Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Chiefs QBs coach/passing game coordinator Mike Kafka, who are each Andy Reid disciples, like Pederson. There’s also the possibility Philadelphia plucks Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, whom McManus reports “is said to have a strong relationship with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.” Regardless of who the next head coach is, they’ll have a long road to bring the Eagles back to the heights Pederson reached just three years ago.