the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Sam Bradley ’23
Over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles compiled 13 total wins, with prominent struggles on both sides of the ball. This year, they’ve yet to lose a single game. So how did they transform from a .500-ish team into the Super Bowl favorites?
For the past few seasons, it has begun to seem like the only way to win in the NFL is to have an elite, top-10 QB commanding the team. The trouble is, finding this type of quarterback is like finding a needle in a haystack. The upside of doing so is high, but so are the costs. We witnessed several teams buy into this model by either moving up in the draft or trading for a veteran QB, costing years of future picks and players. And it does work — sometimes. Last year, the Rams were able to make a playoff run and an eventual Super Bowl victory with Matthew Stafford at the helm, who cost them two first round draft picks as well as quarterback Jared Goff, who was at the helm when the Rams played in Super Bowl 53 in 2019. But there are also examples of this not working out as intended. The 49ers traded three (3!) first rounders to select Trey Lance, who is still unproven in the NFL and is currently out for the season. Likewise, the Broncos gave a boatload of assets to acquire Russell Wilson, in addition to his $50 million annual cap hit. They are now on pace to have a worse record with him than the previous season without him, and take make matters worse, Wilson’s former team in Seattle has found form and currently leads the NFC West. These teams forfeited significant resources that could have been spent on less risky players that would enhance the overall talent of the roster.
Instead of selling the farm for the opportunity to pick a top QB in the draft, the Eagles patiently waited until the 53rd pick to select Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma University in the 2020 NFL draft. By doing this, they preserved valuable capital. Additionally, they avoid any issues of sunk costs, where franchises are hesitant to move on from clear draft-bust quarterbacks because of the high pick invested in them. An example of this would be former Jets and current Panthers backup quarterback Sam Darnold, the third overall pick in the 2018 draft, who started for four years in the NFL, despite continuously being a bottom 5 talent at the position. With these high-value picks that the Eagles retained, they shrewdly added the best players available: Devonta Smith (WR), Jordan Davis (DT), and a trade for AJ Brown (WR). Additionally, the Eagles’ front office has been successful in drafting starting talent in the late rounds, such as Jordan Mailata (T) near the end of the seventh round in 2018.
In addition to drafting, the Eagles have filled out their roster through free agency and effective signings. Over the offseason, they picked up some strong starters for the defense in Kyzir White (ILB) and Haason Reddick (OLB). Every year, teams in free agency make the mistake of paying top dollar for players that never contribute at the level they are paid. This year, the Chargers agreed to pay defensive back J.C. Jackson $82.5 million across five years after his success in New England. He has since been benched due to multiple weeks of poor play, and the Chargers are still on the hook to pay him. On the contrary to many teams, Philadelphia has been keen on reasonable contracts. And overall, no single player accounts for more than 8% of the total salary cap, allowing them to have stars across the board for relatively inexpensive price tags. Notably, the four rostered running backs that lead the offense make up less than 3% of the total cap altogether. It’s been shown that giving running backs significant contracts is a bad idea, so avoiding is key to their success. Just ask the Cowboys, who will be paying Ezekiel Elliot $15 million+ as he enters his age 32 season, celebrating his abysmal efficiency in the signature crop top jersey. Meanwhile, they’ll be paying big money to Dak Prescott, Ceedee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, and Micah Parsons, all of whom are far more valuable than Elliott. Even the Packers will likely find themselves regretting the four-year, $48 million deal they gave Aaron Jones this past offseason, with AJ Dillon lurking behind him in the depth chart, angrily repping 650 lb. squats. Instead of investing tens of millions across multiple years in an injury-prone position, the Eagles have a committee of young, talented runners on rookie contracts. Other noteworthy players include Darius Slay, Jason Kelce, and AJ Brown, whose cap hits are less than $10 million each while playing at the highest level for their respective positions. Looking past the star players, there is depth throughout the roster. Unsung veterans like defensive back James Bradberry, defense end Josh Sweat, and tight end Dallas Goedert, among others, were savvy acquisitions and have proved to be the backbone of the team.
Good players are nothing without an effective scheme to maximize their talents. This season, the Eagles have leaned into their run-heavy offense while also maintaining an ultra-efficient passing game. They are No. 2 in total rushing touchdowns and No. 5 in total rushing attempts, with rushing TDs scored by Hurts, Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott. This young rushing core, complemented by the No. 1 run-blocking offensive line, has taken the weight of the offense off Hurts’ passing ability. By not forcing him to throw the ball 40+ times a game, the offense has minimized turnovers and created a dominant run game. Through this, the Eagles can control possession of the ball and the game clock as they desire. This is an aspect that other prominent, high-powered offenses lack. Although teams like the Chiefs and the Bills have elite passing, they are rarely able to establish the ground game. In week nine, Patrick Mahomes passed the ball 68 times in a slim victory against the Titans. Meanwhile, their leading running back Isiah Pacheco had a meager five carries for five yards. This isn’t to say that Jalen Hurts isn’t a good passer, though. He has an outstanding touchdown to interception ratio of 12:2 in his best year yet as QB. And though his pure volume stats aren’t on the level of other top QBs, his efficiency stats are. He ranks sixth in QBR, fifth in PAA, and sixth in EPA, all indicative of strong passing ability. The addition of a proven No. 1 receiver in A.J. Brown has also contributed to this newfound efficiency, giving Hurts a bona fide star to turn to. Both Brown and Goedert are in the top 15 in the NFL in total yards after the catch (YAC). The marriage of these elements has been effective thus far, yielding the second best offense in the league, up from twelfth-best last season.
By avoiding the increasingly common mistakes within the NFL — misguided investments in the QB positions, overzealous free agency signings, and ineffective offensive schemes — the Eagles have proved themselves as the NFL’s premier team. And with young players across the depth chart, cap space for the future, and two first round picks in the 2023 NFL draft, it’s clear that their contender status is here to stay.