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  • Paul Domowitch

2022 SHOULD BE AN OFFSEASON WITH MANY CHANGES


Paul Domowitch

By PAUL DOMOWITCH


The Eagles’ five-win improvement this season was the third biggest leap in the league, surpassed only by the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, who both took six-win jumps.


And while Howie Roseman rightfully should feel good about his team’s 9-8 record and brief encounter with the playoffs, he also is smart enough to know his team still is quite a bit more than a hop, skip and jump away from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

“We are certainly not satisfied with where we are,” the Eagles general manager said last week after his team’s 31-15 wild card loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. “We know there still is a lot of work to do, and we started that.

“We started that during the season by re-signing our own free agents, we did that to get a head start on next season. But there still is a lot of work to be done.”

Roseman signed four players to contract extensions during the season – defensive end Josh Sweat (3 years, $40 million), nickel corner Avonte Maddox (3/$22.5 million), offensive tackle Jordan Mailata (4/$64 million) and tight end Dallas Goedert (4/$59 million).

But there still are numerous holes to fill on this team, particularly on defense, where they need reinforcements at every level.


The Eagles finished 31st in sacks with 29, which equals their fewest in 46 years, 27th in takeaways (16) despite an offseason emphasis by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon on forcing turnovers, 18th in points allowed (22.6 per game), 32nd in opponent completion percentage (69.4), 21st in touchdown passes allowed (28), 24th in third-down defense (42.9%) and 29th in red zone defense (66.1%).

The defensive line, long the heart and soul of the defense, has major issues. Former first-round defensive end Derek Barnett has been a disappointment and won’t be re-signed. He has just 21 ½ sacks in 64 games with the Eagles.

Brandon Graham, who missed most of this season with a torn Achilles, will turn 34 in April and it remains to be seen how much the Eagles are going to be able to count on him going forward.

“We missed BG,” Roseman said. “We missed BG the player, and there is nobody who can replace BG the person, the leader. We know he’s attacking his rehab and he has a chip on his shoulder and we do see a role for him going forward. He’s a huge part of our football team.”


Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon will need a complete overhaul of his roster for 2022. Photo by Andy Lewis.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is a six-time Pro Bowler, but hasn’t played at an elite level since 2018, when he earned his one and only first-team All-Pro nod.

The last couple of years, the only time you really have noticed him is when he’s been complaining to the zebras about being held.

Their linebackers are woefully inadequate. Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards both are tough, smart players, but lack the speed to cover tight ends and running backs and make plays in space.

Their fastest ‘backer is 2020 third-round pick Davion Taylor. He was starting to come on this season before injuring his knee in November and missing the rest of the year.

They need to replace both of their starting safeties. Anthony Harris, who they signed as a free agent last March, was a disappointment. Their other safety, Rodney McLeod, will be 32 in June and has had two major knee injuries in the last two years.

Much like Graham, McLeod is revered in both the locker room and the coaches’ offices. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve covered in nearly 40 years on the beat and has done a lot for the community.

But Roseman, who has been guilty before of sentimentality with older players who have served the franchise well, needs to develop a colder heart. And that means finding a younger, faster safety than McLeod.

At 5-9, Maddox is too small to play on the outside, but has developed into one of the league’s tougher and more dependable nickel corners. He also can slide back to safety.

The Eagles also need to find another outside corner to pair with 31-year-old Darius Slay. It’s doubtful they’ll try to re-sign Steven Nelson, who was too inconsistent in his one season with the Eagles.

Eagles fans focused much of their anger over the defense’s poor play on Gannon and his ultra-conservative bend-but-please-please-don’t-break approach.

While it definitely was hard to watch, would it have been any easier to watch if he regularly sent five or six rushers after the quarterback, played press coverage with a single-high safety and gave up a regular diet of 40-yard touchdown passes and more points?

Gannon did what he thought was best with the limited talent he had. And for the most part, his strategy worked. During the Eagles’ nine-game resurrection after a 2-5 start, the Eagles allowed just 16.5 points per game.

Granted, it was against some woeful offenses. But the Eagles did manage to hold Justin Herbert and the Chargers to 27 points, which was better than the Chiefs and Bengals managed, and 28 points to Tom Brady and the Bucs, which was better than the Bills and Colts.

That said, Gannon’s unit needs to be almost completely rebuilt. Roseman has the ammunition to do that. Whether he has the aim, only time will tell.

But he should have plenty of money to spend in free agency. And he’s got 10 picks in the April draft, including three in the first round – Nos. 15, 16 and 19 – and five among the first 83 selections.

This is the kind of draft that can finally change the minds of those who think Roseman is a scouting village idiot, or convince them once and for all that they were right.

This is a deep DE/DT draft, so the Eagles will have the opportunity to upgrade their pass rush, again assuming Roseman uses the picks wisely.

The top two edge-rushers in the draft – Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson – could be the first two players off the board, so the Eagles will have no shot at them.

But there will be some immediate-impact rushers available in the middle of the first round.

Many Eagles fans will spend the offseason focused on the team’s quarterback situation and the question of whether Jalen Hurts has a high enough ceiling to be to them what Patrick Mahomes is to the Chiefs and Josh Allen is to the Bills.

The truth is, nobody knows the answer to that question yet. Both Roseman and head coach Nick Sirianni have said Hurts will be their starting quarterback in 2022.

That isn’t etched in stone because nothing in the NFL is. But neither of them hesitated when they said it, indicating they want to see how much Hurts can progress in a second full year as a starter. *

The fact that the quarterback crop in the draft isn’t great and that the top QB on the trade market is dealing with nearly two dozen sexual misconduct lawsuits and a potential suspension from the league, probably has helped sway their opinions.

“We have to do whatever we can to continue to help him develop,” Roseman said.

“I’m pleased with the way he developed as a passer, as a quarterback,” Sirianni said. “I think we’ve seen so many things that he got better at. That goes into, first and foremost, Jalen and the football character that he has. The desire and the want-to that he has to be an elite, elite player in this league.”

There’s a good possibility Roseman could trade one of his three first-round picks for multiple selections, including another first-round pick in 2023 when the quarterback class is expected to be better than this year’s, in the event Hurts doesn’t make the kind of progress they want him to next season.

That way, the Eagles can focus on defense this year, much like the Cowboys did last year when their first six draft picks, and eight of their first 10, were defensive players.

The Cowboys improved from 28th to seventh in points allowed, from 26th to third in opponent passer rating, and from 28th to seventh in TD passes allowed. And their first-round pick, Micah Parsons, is going to be the league’s runaway Defensive Rookie of the Year. *

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