Spend an hour listening to your favorite Philadelphia radio call-in show, and you begin to believe the city is ready to close off Broad Street in February 2020 for a Super Bowl parade honoring the Philadelphia Eagles. What’s not to love — Carson Wentz is healthy-ish, former Eagles DeSean Jackson is back in the fold, and the team had a decent draft in April.
If only the season were over before the preseason started, then Super Bowl LIV would be settled. Instead, there’s a matter of 16 games that must be played, and the resulting injuries, bad weather, breakout stars, disappointing veterans, and subpar officiating. And despite outlets such as USA Today picking the Eagles to play in the big game next February in Miami, there are good reasons to doubt the team will even make the playoffs.
The quarterback situation
It’s great that the Eagles signed Carson Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract extension. But, for a quarterback who has played in 24 of his team’s last 32 games, it might be labeled “putting all your eggs in one basket.” When he plays, Wentz generally excels. The former North Dakota State star has over a 60% completion rate in his three years in the league with a talent for throwing the deep ball, averaging more than 10 yards per completion. That, combined with an average of less than one interception per game, is a key reason Philadelphia fans are all aboard the Wentz Wagon.
But there is a problem — and it’s a big one. Wentz is injury prone dating back to his college days. The former No. 2 pick in 2016 draft has been plagued with knee (specifically tears in his ACL and LCL), back, and wrist injuries, the latter of which he fractured back in his college days.
In 2019, Wentz will not have super-sub Nick Foles to ride to the rescue, and even the most diehard Eagles fans agree that as goes Wentz, so goes the team. That is due in part to the quarterback backups include Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson, and Cody Kessler. Thorson is a rookie from Northwestern, while Sudfeld and Kessler bring unimpressive resumes as potential fill-ins for Wentz.
The offensive line
Hand-in-hand with Carson Wentz staying healthy is the status of the Eagles’ offensive line. With two solid all-pros in Lane Johnson (hoping he stays away from the PEDs) and Jason Kelce, there are some decent anchors in place. Kelce, however, was close to retiring before the season. At age 31, it’s worth wondering how much he has in the tank.
At the end of last season, all-pro guard Brandon Brooks suffered a severe Achilles injury that required surgery. It is unlikely that Brooks will be able to start the season, so the seriously underachieving Halapoulivaati Vaitai will take his spot on the line.
Tackle Jason Peters almost certainly has a spot waiting in the Hall of Fame, but his play in recent seasons indicates his best years are far behind him. Peters has become injury-prone, and his once-graceful mobility has taken a major hit.
Offensive line second-teamers and backups are not impressive with such players as Anthony Fabiano, a free-agent guard who has been on the roster of seven different teams; rookie free agent Iosua Opeta out of Weber State; and rookie free agent center Keegan Render from Iowa. There is hope that 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard will be able to an immediate impact at tackle.
While there are some possible holes in the Eagles’ offensive line, at least there are some stars — although aging — on that side of the ball. Far more worrisome are the team’s linebackers which are helmed by the starting quartet of Brandon Graham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown (the new middle linebacker), and Nigel Bradham. Some outlets claim Grugier is one the verge of a breakout season, but in past seasons he’s been little more than adequate on defense while mostly playing on kickoff and punt special teams.
The issue for Brandon Graham — another former first-round pick — is consistency. After an all-pro 2018 season, Graham slipped from 9.5 sacks to four sacks last season. Zach Brown is a solid free-agent acquisition, but much like the offensive line, linebacking is an area with little depth. Such unknowns as LJ Fort, Paul Worrilow, and Joey Alfieri loom as second-teamers and replacements.