With each moment of indecision and every errant pass this season, the stunning regression of Carson Wentz and, by extension, the Philadelphia Eagles presented the NFL with one of its most curious cases. How could a one-time near-Most Valuable Player, rewarded with a blockbuster contract just over a year ago, have devolved so quickly into one of the league’s worst quarterbacks? How could the rest of the roster have developed so many holes? How could Philly not be so special anymore, less than three years after that wondrous play helped the Eagles win the franchise’s first Super Bowl — with a backup quarterback, no less?
Those questions remain, but we know now that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie no longer thought Doug Pederson — the coach who had beaten the best coach and quarterback in NFL history in the Super Bowl with a journeyman signal-caller, who had failed to make the playoffs in 2020 after three postseason appearances in a row — was capable of providing the answers.
No matter what you think of Pederson and the Eagles, whether there were too many cooks in the kitchen or Pederson didn’t have a clear enough plan for recovery, know this: It’s a lot easier to fire a floundering coach than it is to trade a very expensive floundering quarterback.
So, after a terrible season for all involved — Wentz, Pederson, the Eagles — the Eagles seem to have made their choice. Whether they go forward with Wentz and hope that another coach can fix the confidence and decision-making of a player who might have been wounded by the drafting of another quarterback, and whose relationship with Pederson was reportedly broken after he was benched, remains to be seen. Perhaps Wentz will end up being traded anyway. We don’t know what Lurie wants to do with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft — speaking to reporters on Monday, Lurie called Wentz “very fixable,” but also said the QB decision should not be made by the owner. We do know Lurie doesn’t want Pederson involved in that deliberation anymore.
The Eagles have manifold roster issues to address beyond Wentz. In his Monday statement regarding the decision to part ways with Pederson, Lurie indicated that he and Pederson did not share the same vision of what it would take to revive the Eagles for the long term. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Pederson wanted to promote from within his coaching staff for both offensive and defensive coordinator jobs, and that Lurie did not agree with that plan. Remember there was tumult surrounding Pederson’s staff last offseason, as well, when the coach parted ways with then-offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch a day after giving them a public vote of confidence.
In his statement, Lurie lauded Pederson, and said he looks forward to him being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
“But as the leader of this organization, it is imperative for me to do what I believe is best for everyone as we look ahead to the future and move into our next chapter,” Lurie said. “I know that we have work to do to get back to where we want to be, but I also believe that we have an exceptionally strong group of people in this organization who can help set us up for future success.”
This firing is not quite as shocking as it might appear on the surface. Pederson remains a Philadelphia immortal, but the landscape is littered with NFL coaches who can attest to a cruel reality — even a Lombardi Trophy is not accompanied by a lifetime appointment. The direction of the franchise has been pointing downward ever since that championship parade, the Eagles’ continued appearances in the postseason being a function more of the mediocrity of the NFC East than the performance of the Eagles.
The Eagles are 22-25-1 in the regular season since the Super Bowl LII victory, and while you could have a decent debate about whether this season’s 4-11-1 output or the Super Bowl was the outlier, what is clearly a trend is the steady decline of the franchise as a whole. Wentz went from what looked like a certain MVP award-winner until he was hurt late in the Super Bowl season to being, arguably, the worst starting quarterback in the league. The roster is injured and too old — those factors are probably not unrelated — and needs more youth and fewer big contracts.
There is plenty of blame to go around. General manager Howie Roseman assembled the roster that was pockmarked with holes. Wentz obviously bears considerable responsibility for his own decline; it was telling that the Eagles looked better with 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts late in the year than they ever did with Wentz, who was benched in early December. And, as Pederson himself pointed out near the end of the season, the roster was beset by injuries.
Still, head coaches bear the ultimate responsibility for their teams, and Wentz’s collapse looks especially bad for a coach who is supposed to be an offensive guru. There are seven head-coach openings in the NFL now, and Wentz’s situation makes this one more complex than most. Again, we don’t yet know if Lurie wants to keep Wentz, and — setting aside Lurie’s stated intention to defer on that decision — that is the opinion that will likely shape the search for the next coach. If Lurie does want to stick with Wentz, a candidate had better be able to present a plan to salvage him, or to convincingly lay out a plan for remaking the team around Hurts or another quarterback. Here’s a testament to how precarious these decisions are: Ron Rivera, who was hired by Washington less than 13 months ago, is now the longest-tenured head coach in the NFC East.
Until the very end in Philadelphia, Pederson was considered a good leader — running back Miles Sanders’ claim that “nobody liked” Pederson’s decision to pull Hurts for Nate Sudfeld in the regular-season finale notwithstanding — who enjoyed good relationships with players and who was collaborative with coaches. That it was no longer working in Philadelphia does not mean it won’t work somewhere else — Andy Reid was fired in Philadelphia before he finally won a Super Bowl in Kansas City, after all — and Pederson is likely to have another opportunity, perhaps quickly. The Jets’ GM, Joe Douglas, who is looking for his team’s next head coach, was a former colleague of Pederson’s in Philadelphia, and the two have maintained a relationship.
Even before Pederson was fired Monday, his name was being linked to the Jets. They have a massive quarterback decision to make, hold the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and are on a decades-long quest to win a Super Bowl. Sound familiar?
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