The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season. Does it get any better than that?
It just might.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve dissected the 2018 Eagles’ roster one position at a time. The majority of the time, we determined this year’s team was more talented than the group that won a championship. But when it comes time to put all the pieces back together again and kick off on Sept. 6 against the Atlanta Falcons, will the Eagles truly field a superior squad compared to last season?
The Eagles are demonstrably improved in two key areas. Replacing Torrey Smith with Mike Wallace was a clear upgrade in a receiving corps that should also benefit from a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins having a year in the NFL under his belt. And while the defensive line as a whole has some question marks, adding three-time Pro Bowler Michael Bennett at defensive end along with the continued development of Derek Barnett could provide the Eagles a vastly scarier pass rush off the edge.
Another spot we might see a significantly elevated performance is, tight end, assuming second-round draft pick and freak athlete Dallas Goedert can come in and contribute immediately. Goedert joins Wallace and Bennett as the key newcomers for 2018.
While there is a ton of talent at cornerback, it’s extremely unlikely anybody will be able to match the job Patrick Robinson did in the slot. Robinson was a proven option for the nickel, posting a career year with the Eagles last season. The options to replace him full-time, on the other hand — most notably Sidney Jones, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox or De’Vante Bausby — have next to zero NFL experience in that role. This is essentially a starting position, so Robinson’s departure in free agency is no small matter.
Another spot to keep an eye on is the vacancy at weakside linebacker following Mychal Kendricks’ release. Kendricks enjoyed a resurgent season in 2017, and the candidates to take over — Corey Nelson, Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill — lack name recognition. Fortunately, this is a limited role, so Kendricks isn’t as big a loss as Robinson.
The great news is there’s a ton of carryover for last season’s Super Bowl champions. If you consider Jay Ajayi the lead back for that squad, which he basically was, then 19 of 22 starters are returning, along with many key backups. That is incredible continuity few NFL teams are blessed with, let alone the reigning champs.
That continuity extends to the bulk of the coaching staff as well. Schwartz and his entire defensive staff return. There were some changes on the offensive side with Frank Reich and John DeFilippo snagging new jobs, but the Eagles were able to promote from within. Most importantly, Pederson remains as head coach, and Roseman stays on to run the front office. The foundation of the franchise is the same.
Injured players: QB, LT, MLB, PR/RB, DT
Perhaps the biggest question as to whether the Eagles are better or worse lies in the recovery of the many injured star players from a year ago, almost all of whom are expected to reprise their roles.
Can Carson Wentz recapture his MVP form? We’ve seen quarterbacks struggle in their first year back from an ACL injury. Can Jason Peters still dominate at age 36 after an ACL of his own? The franchise left tackle has battled back from worse. Will Jordan Hicks be the same after a ruptured Achilles? The young man is a student of the game, but that’s a big one. Will Darren Sproles be as electric out of the backfield and in the return game at 35 and, again, with an ACL? Throw Tim Jernigan on to the list, too. The defensive tackle is sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, hurting the Eagles’ depth up front.
Then again, the Eagles already won the Super Bowl with almost all of these guys sidelined. For everybody but Hicks, there is a clear replacement waiting in the wings should they falter. Still, it’s a concern.
Better or worse?
As is always the case, the only way to find out for sure is on the football field. And the Eagles could very well put a better squad out there, but still not repeat as champions, as luck and timing are also factors here.
That being said, some questions and concerns aside, the Eagles look like a more talented team overall. Nineteen starters are back. Two replacements, Wallace and Bennett, look like upgrades aside. Kids like Barnett, Goedert, Jones and running back Corey Clement could be on the verge of becoming stars. Best of all, the Eagles remain strong along the offensive and defensive lines and have two quarterbacks capable of leading a team to the promised land. They may not be a better team than the group that just won it all, but the 2018 Eagles sure look like a BETTER team.