The Eagles had themselves quite the draft weekend. Let’s unpack how it shapes their outlook for the future.
With three first-round picks, the Eagles figured to be one of the more entertaining players in the 2022 NFL Draft, and they did not disappoint. They completed an 8-pick trade with the Saints with one first, traded another (and some Day 3 picks) to move up and grab an athletic unicorn (or perhaps, more accurately, sasquatch) in Jordan Davis, and finally traded their third (and a third) for A.J. Brown. And that was just the first round!
While it is a notoriously futile exercise to grade a draft immediately after it ends, you can at least grade the apparent intent. Some GMs make crazy moves to make headlines or save their jobs. Others defy logic and convention to prove they are the smartest guy in the room. And yet others make deliberate, calculated moves with a clear build strategy in mind. You can probably make an argument Howie has been the first two GMs at different points in his career, but in the 2022 Draft he was very clearly the third. We’ll talk about that – and more – in this edition of State of the Eagles.
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The job of NFL General Manager is a prestigious one, but it is also brutal. Unlike coaching jobs, which are usually available in some shape or form to well-known coaches, you really only get one opportunity to be a GM. It is rare to see someone get a second shot, although it does happen on occasion.
This reality means a GM cannot generally execute long-term strategies for their franchises. If they are taking over a bad team (which is generally the case), they likely have 2 years to show they are guiding the team in the right direction, and that will buy them maybe 1-2 more years of goodwill to take it to the next level. So they have, at maximum, 4 years to make a team into a contender, and as such will not hesitate to hand out potentially crippling contracts if things don’t look so great in Year 3. If those job-saving moves don’t work out, the GM is canned and their replacement is tasked with cleaning up their predecessor’s mess. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Howie Roseman has no such problems.
On the heels of a few poor drafts and an absolute cratering of the team and their quarterback in 2020, Howie faced some much-deserved criticism about his stewardship of the Eagles. And yet he could basically ignore all of it since his job wasn’t in danger – he is practically a joint owner at this point with Lurie. Where other GMs would have scrambled to try and replace Wentz with a splashy move for a quarterback, Howie instead drew up a “quarterback revival” plan that will not come to fruition until 2023, a full two years later. This plan would involve the Eagles taking the largest dead cap hit in NFL history – a “it gets worse before it gets better” move that would be career suicide for most other established GMs.
And the quarterback plan is only Phase I of a much more intricate strategy that becomes clear when you look over the Eagles’ current contracts, which I will cover in the next section. There are definitely drawbacks to giving a GM the job security that Roseman enjoys, but what can’t be denied is that his savvy and flexibility for long-term planning are enough to keep the Eagles consistently relevant, which is much more than some teams are able to say.
Whenever the Eagles sign any non-quarterback to a crazy contract, I like to frame it with the relative expectation they will win a Super Bowl during the life of that contract. Depending on the position, you could be shelling out over $100M – if you don’t win the Lombardi, that was ultimately a bad investment, right? You’re devoting a significant portion of your cap to a single player, reducing your ability to build depth or sign homegrown players to extensions. So it seems worthwhile to consider the trajectory of the team when these contracts are booked, even if that is a flawed exercise. After all, we can’t see the future.
This brings us to A.J. Brown. His much-publicized 4-year, $100M deal is an extension, meaning he will play out the remaining year of his rookie deal before the new contract kicks in. And even then, his cap hit in 2023 is only $8.5M, before ballooning to $27M in 2024. He’s officially on the books through 2026, although we can probably write that season off – he’ll be due over $37M but will only carry a $8.7M dead cap hit if he’s released. So, it’s more likely than not he either signs another extension before 2026 or is cut. Therefore, we can consider his tenure with the team to run through 2025.
Considering the exercise I described above, these next four seasons (2022, 2023, 2024, 2025) make up the “A.J. Brown Window.” If the Eagles win a Super Bowl in that period, the move paid off. (You could also argue it will have paid off with a Super Bowl appearance, or a deep playoff run.) If the team collapses, or finds itself mired in mediocrity, then the move was a bust. A collapse doesn’t feel imminent, but mediocrity seems like a real possibility – especially since the Eagles are in the midst of a “mediocrity dynasty” right now.
Fortunately, Howie’s long leash has enabled him to mitigate this risk moving forward as much as he can. Check out when the contracts expire of the Eagles’ current nucleus (excluding players who haven’t played a down for the team):
*Player is on rookie contract.
Let’s unpack this and ignore the quarterback position (for now). Players who are frequently injured (Sanders, Seumalo) or are part of the expensive “old guard” (Cox, Hargrave, Graham, Slay) all come off the books by 2023… paving the way for extensions of any of the players signed through 2024 that earned themselves a shiny new contract. Meanwhile, the draft provides a cost-controlled pool of players to refresh talent, and free agency will be more in play to fill needs (*cough*LB and DB*cough*) and add depth as the salary cap expands. To put this more concisely, this is a solid roster core, with very clear avenues to maintain that core through 2025. The person responsible for tying it all together is Nick Sirianni, and if he proves to be capable of that, then it is not hard to imagine this nucleus blossoming into a championship roster. The jury’s still out on him, but I like what we saw in 2022.
But we do need to talk about the quarterback.
If Jalen Hurts entrenches himself as “the guy” in 2022, case closed. I’m doubtful of that, and think the team is probably searching for a quarterback in 2023. They have the draft capital to do it, but finding a trade partner could be difficult, especially since quarterback-needy teams like the Texans, Falcons, and Panthers might find themselves near the top of the draft next year. Trading for a veteran may be on the table if the quarterback frenzy from this spring continues next offseason.
Whichever of those three possibilities comes to fruition, if the Eagles “hit” the matter of putting a team around him won’t be a question. And the recent trend in the NFL indicates that if you’ve got a coach and you’ve got a quarterback, your championship window can open in as little as two seasons (see: Eagles, 49ers, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams, Bengals). Those are big “ifs,” but what cannot be questioned is Howie’s masterful efforts to eliminate all the others.
But those last two “ifs” are the hardest to nail down, and will define the A.J. Brown Window. The Eagles are on the clock, and it might run out in 2025.
With the NFL schedule set to release this Thursday, let’s take a look ahead and get a sense of how the Eagles will do. There is some idea that the Eagles are division favorites this year given their strong finish to 2021, the moves they made this offseason, and the Cowboys’ roster turnover. I’m not sure it’s quite that simple for two reasons:
All that said, I do think the Eagles will be competitive, and I do think Hurts will improve – just not enough to silence any concerns about being the franchise quarterback. The expectation should be to make the playoffs, and here’s how I think that will happen:
Final tally: 10-7. A one-win improvement over 2021 seems about right for this team, and it could be enough for them to win the division. It should, at the very least, earn them one of the seven playoff seeds in the bracket.
Overall, I thought the Eagles had a very good spring. They’ve set themselves up well to round into championship form over the next few seasons. Nick’s growth and hitting on the elusive quarterback will be the biggest thing holding them back (duh). The understated story in all of this might be how the Eagles manage their recent personnel department turnover. If they can replace their departures with bright, ascending talent evaluators it could be the difference maker as they seek to maintain their core nucleus through 2025.
But that’s a story that will be slowly unfolded over time. For now, there is reason to feel excited about the Eagles, and given how hard it is to win championships, for what more can we reasonably ask?
Howie Roseman and the A.J. Brown Window – Bleeding Green Nation