If you’re looking for additional encouragement, look no further than the NFC East. The Giants improved from 6-10 in 2015 to 11-5 this season. The Cowboys were transformed from a 4-12 team to a 13-3 championship contender.
Looking for a 7-9 team in 2015 that reached the playoffs this year? The Lions accomplished that feat, but only finished 9-7 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. A more inspiring example is Oakland, which went 12-4 this past season. If we put aside all of the “moving to Las Vegas” talk, the Raiders would be a perfect model for the Eagles.
None of this, of course, guarantees the Eagles will reach the playoffs next season. It only means that it is possible.
But is it likely? That’s the million dollar question – or however high that total has been pushed by rising costs.
The Eagles have their starting quarterback. Carson Wentz isn’t Matt Ryan. At least not yet. He isn’t Derek Carr, either. But he appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Wentz will, however, need someone to catch the football. The Falcons have Julio Jones, who might be the best receiver in the NFL, and Mohamed Sanu. The Eagles have Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. Those sets of receivers shouldn’t appear in the same paragraph.
The Eagles also don’t have running backs as good as the Falcons. With apologies to Darren Sproles, the Eagles can’t match the backfield duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman with respect to either running or receiving.
If Sproles can have another productive year, perhaps his final NFL season, and the veteran offensive linemen can avoid a drop in quality, perhaps the Eagles can contend for the NFC East title, or at least a wild card berth.
But there are questions about how the Eagles are approaching next season. Head coach Doug Pederson spoke of being “extremely close” after the season. By contrast, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was preaching patience.
We should get some clues during the offseason. If the Eagles release center Jason Kelce – Roseman would not commit to retaining Kelce last week prior to the veteran’s appearance the Pro Bowl – and guard Allen Barbre, it’s a clear indication that they’re building for the future rather than trying to contend for a playoff berth next season. The offensive line could still be very good if Jason Peters stays healthy and Lane Johnson doesn’t get suspended, but the signal sent by going with youth will be unmistakable.
Another barometer for the Eagles’ approach to the 2017 season will be their free agency signings. Do they try to pick up a receiver or cornerback via free agency or will they wait for the NFL Draft? If they address both needs via free agency and the draft, it may be a sign that the Eagles plan on contending sooner rather than later.
The Eagles may try to contend because some of their most important players may not have many years left playing at a high level. Peters is a prime example. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive end Brandon Graham also may not be far from passing the peak of their careers. Consequently, the Eagles may have a long-term plan and a short-term window, which necessitates using some of their resources to trying to contend soon.
Planning to contend doesn’t mean the Eagles will contend. So much depends on Wentz’s development. The Eagles could aid that development by finding a consistent running back. If not at the same quality, they need a running back who can take some of the pressure off Wentz, just as Ezekiel Elliott does for Dak Prescott.
Roseman must do a good job signing and drafting receivers, cornerbacks, linebackers and possibly a defensive end. Those are a lot of holes to fill in one offseason.
Could the Eagles follow the Falcons’ path to the Super Bowl next season? That’s highly unlikely. But could they make the playoffs? That’s certainly possible.
But it’s also possible that the Eagles finish 7-9 again. Or worse.