Eagles Will Be Tested After Late-Season Collapse

A little less than a year ago, in a Philadelphia Eagles locker room full of celebratory cigar smoke following an NFC championship game victory, owner Jeffrey Lurie talked about the team’s sixth sense when it came to the ability to cut ties with the past. There was a hint at some sort of proprietary formula Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman were in possession of that would never see the light of day; some type of emotional intelligence calculation that could prevent the team from hanging on to a coach or player—a depreciating asset—for too long.

And, indeed, at that point in time, the move from Doug Pederson just three years out from a Super Bowl title to Nick Siranni looked prescient. After Pederson delivered Philadelphia its first Super Bowl, he suffered a bit of a drain on coaching talent (most notably, the loss of offensive coordinator Frank Reich to a head coaching job with the Indianapolis Colts). Almost as devastating was the kind of Jackson Pollock splatter paint canvas of different voices being imported into the room to try to solve the problem.

Sirianni has reached the playoffs in all three of his seasons, but has lost two wild-card games.

Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports

But on Monday night, after watching his team lose its sixth game in its last seven tries, to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is clearly inferior, I would be curious what kind of alarm bells are going off for the owner now. What does the formula say? Because, in an eerily similar fashion to the 2018 post–Super Bowl offseason, the team was stripped of intellectual horsepower after last season’s Super Bowl loss and found itself confounded as to how to replace it. OC Shane Steichen leaving for the Colts and nearly bringing that team to the playoffs, and DC Jonathan Gannon leaving for the Arizona Cardinals and not finishing with the worst record in the league should be an indicator of what Sirianni had buttressing him the year before.

This is how one comes to find Matt Patricia of all people calling a defense in 2024, standing there on the sideline looking into the abyss like a lost pirate floating in the Indian Ocean (in fairness to Patricia, none of his players seemed willing or interested in making tackles when in position). OC Brian Johnson, who has a bright future in the NFL and was a trusted voice for Jalen Hurts, provided his quarterback with absolutely no solutions for Tampa’s pressure packages. As much as people will want to impulsively blame the quarterback, Hurts rolled out on every snap looking at a garbled Rubik’s cube, having grown accustomed to a ’22 season in which he had all the answers.

This is a long windup to the central point: The Eagles are again receding. The rhythms should be familiar to Lurie and Roseman now. The difference between 2020, when the pair decided to oust Pederson, and now, when they will have to decide either how they will save Sirianni or who they will replace him with, is that this slow deterioration comes with a far steeper cliff ahead. The calculus must change.

Choose how paranoid you want to be. What will happen to the mysticism around this defense, and the ability to take risks on players such as Jalen Carter, when and if Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are gone? What will happen to Hurts, who is now in possession of a long-term contract (kind of, read more here), the further away he gets from his time with Steichen? What will happen to the offensive line after Jason Kelce retires?

And, what will happen to Sirianni when he no longer has any of that foundation to stand on, with the team having to essentially start over?

In fairness to Roseman and Lurie, they have always armed themselves with an ability to hire, deal and draft their way out of grim situations. Perhaps we’re being a little too macabre after an unexpected playoff loss. The team will (in theory) still have two excellent anchor tackles, Hurts, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith with time remaining on his rookie deal. It’s not like the NFC East has a Thanos. The Dallas Cowboys got whipped by the No. 7 seed the night before, and are asking themselves a lot of the same questions now.

That said, the Tampa Bay loss was like previewing an obituary. Sure, it could be colored by a stretch of absolutely awful football and some collective defeatism, but it looks more like a team that has reached its expiration masquerading as a team with all the answers.

Which is why we should all want to get ahold of the formula now. Which is why the formula is more important than ever. I’m never one for abandoning a head coach less than a year after reaching the Super Bowl. Back then, Sirianni had tapped into something real, even if he had a lot of help along the way. And we should all try to stop an emotional train wreck before judging a coach on his inability to plug this end-of-season freefall. It might just take time.

The formula, though, didn’t want to wait for Andy Reid or Chip Kelly. The formula was ready to dispose of Pederson (when he gave a press conference at the combine during his first year as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pederson still seemed shellshocked by the idea that his tenure in Philadelphia was being painted as some sort of failure after a Super Bowl, three straight winning seasons and three straight playoff berths). The formula will now have its say for a coach and a team that, not that long ago, seemed to have it all. 

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