The media is already labeling the 2021 season as a lost season or a “rebuild” year, and quarterback Jalen Hurts has been ranked the 31st worst quarterback in the league by Pro Football Focus. Despite all that, the Eagles could very well win the NFC East this season.
In 2020 the Eagles had a putrid record of 4-11. They were in the midst of a quarterback controversy when Carson Wentz was benched in favor of Jalen Hurts in a Week 14 start. Ultimately, Hurts could only start four regular season games, where he threw for six touchdown passes and four interceptions. Four games are not enough to evaluate a player; however, when Wentz decided to pout his way off the team, the Eagles started setting up Hurts for success in 2021. And hopefully, the entire team will follow.
New coaching staff brings a fresh start
After five seasons, including winning the Superbowl in 2017, the Eagles decided to fire Doug Pederson after a destructive 2020 season and the drama surrounding Carson Wentz. In comes a new coaching staff, led by head coach Nick Sirianni. Sirianni was 39 years old, energetic and a former offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. Bringing in Sirianni as the new head coach gave the team an opportunity for a fresh start.
Sirianni has already made an impression with Eagles players this offseason. Veteran center Jason Kelce praised Sirianni’s energy, saying, “He has energy every single day; it’s not an act” (Twitter). Another new face to the Eagles coaching staff is defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who previously coached with the Colts last year as the defensive backs/secondary coach.
Bringing Gannon in as the defense coordinator brings a much-needed new philosophy. It also gives some familiarity with players who have signed this offseason, such as Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson, who spent time with Gannon when coaching with the Minnesota Vikings.
Jalen Hurts has some familiarity with the new coaching staff, as the quarterback coach Brian Johnson (who was with the University of Florida last year) has known Hurts since he was four years old and has helped develop quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Kyle Trask.
More options on offense for Hurts to succeed
Last year, it was evident that the Eagles lacked a true number one wide receiver. While Jalen Reagor still has the chance to become a solid contributor, it’s pretty clear that he is not fit for number one. The Eagles may have solved the problem by trading up in this year’s draft, after trading down earlier, to take Devonta Smith with the 10th overall pick.
Smith was the Heisman winner this past year after recording 117 receptions and 1856 receiving yards. The addition of Smith will help Hurts, and so will the return of a healthy offensive line that was decimated by injuries last year. In 2020, the Eagles offensive line had 14 different line combinations in 16 games, thanks to injuries to starters Andre Dillard, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Issac Seumalo.
When healthy, the Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league. If the Eagles offensive line can stay healthy, then Hurts will have more time to throw and create opportunities for his teammates. If the offensive line is not healthy, Hurts will likely find himself constantly running to survive or find more time on his backside.
Defensive reinforcements have been made
Just like the offensive makeover, the defense has also been addressed this offseason. The most notable addition was the free-agent signing of safety Anthony Harris, who spent the last five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Also signed from the Minnesota Vikings is linebacker Eric Wilson, which is a position that the Eagles have struggled with during the last few seasons and needed an upgrade.
Most recently, the Eagles added Ryan Kerrigan to a pass-rushing corps that already was one of the best in the league. Kerrigan comes after spending the last 10 seasons with Washington. The most sacks he has against any team is the Eagles, where he has recorded 13 and a half sacks in 19 games against the team. If Sirianni can fit the pieces together, the Eagles have the makings of solid defense this year and a stable offense.
The success of the team is ultimately in the hands of Jalen Hurts. If he can meet the standard, he will be the Eagles quarterback of the future. If he can’t, then Eagles fans are likely in for another ugly season.