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Lawlor: Eagles Resolved Key Issues In 2016

Posted Feb 19, 2017

Think back to a year ago.

There was a lot of mystery with the Eagles. Doug Pederson was the new head coach, but no one knew what to make of him. Howie Roseman was back in charge of personnel. He had spent a year away from that role and fans were not sure what to expect from him.

There were some rosters questions as well.

The Eagles had no quarterback. Sam Bradford was a free agent. So was Chase Daniel. Carson Wentz was a draft prospect. The Eagles didn't have a top-10 pick in the draft. Fletcher Cox and the team were talking about an extension, but weren't close on terms. The overall roster was in a state of flux in the transition from the Chip Kelly era. There were going to be major scheme changes on both offense and defense.

Overall, there was a lot of uncertainty.

Things definitely look a lot better now. Pederson led the team to a 7-9 record. That doesn't sound impressive on the surface, but when you take into account injuries, suspensions, starting a rookie quarterback, and facing the league's toughest schedule, the record looks better.

You also judge a new coach on how he does with laying the foundation for the future. Pederson kept the locker room together in times of adversity. There was an ugly half of football against the Bengals, but aside from that the team was very competitive all year long. The Eagles were a handful of plays away from being a playoff team. This happened all while playing plenty of rookies and other young players. Pederson did an excellent job of balancing the need to win now with also keeping an eye on the future.

Roseman went from a mystery to a strength very quickly. He traded away linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerback Byron Maxwell, and running back DeMarco Murray. The Eagles were able to move into the top 10 of the draft. Roseman then went further, making a bold move by trading up for the second overall pick. The Eagles paid a high price, but Roseman felt the Eagles had to go get a franchise quarterback. Wentz is the player that he and Pederson targeted. Roseman put the Eagles into position and when the Rams chose Jared Goff, Wentz became an Eagle.

Roseman signed key free agents in guard Brandon Brooks and safety Rodney McLeod. He added a trio of defenders who had experience with Jim Schwartz, with Nigel Bradham proving to be an excellent signing. Roseman traded for Dorial Green-Beckham in August to give the receiving corps a boost. He claimed Kamu Grugier-Hill off waivers and he proved to be a good special teams player as a rookie. Roseman pulled off a major deal just before the season began, dealing Bradford to the Vikings and getting a first-round pick in return. That balanced out the cost the Eagles had paid in moving up to get Wentz. You could say the Eagles traded Sam Bradford for Carson Wentz. That's a deal anyone would be excited about.

The team showed a lot of promise in 2016. Schwartz brought in his attacking 4-3 defense and the Eagles ranked in the top five of all defenses for part of the season. Injuries hurt them in the second half of the season and the defense fell to 12th in points allowed and 13th in yards allowed. That was still a major improvement from the year before.

The defense showed great potential at times. They held the high-powered Steelers to just three points. The NFC Champion Falcons had the best overall offense in the NFL this year. The Eagles limited them to just 15 points, their lowest total of the season. The Falcons also had season lows in rushing yards and total yards in that game. Atlanta scored at least 23 points in every other game. When things clicked for the Eagles, you could really see their potential.

Defensive end Brandon Graham played the best football of his career. He was a force off the edge all year. Cox got his contract extension in June and had another outstanding season. Jordan Hicks had five interceptions, a crazy total for a middle linebacker. Safety Malcolm Jenkins had another strong season, making plays all over the place.

The offense was outstanding at times, but also inconsistent. Wentz started all 16 games and set some team and league rookie passing records. He proved to be a good leader and a good quarterback. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz were his key targets and you could see good chemistry with the rookie quarterback. Running backs Wendell Smallwood and Byron Marshall showed a lot of potential. The Eagles were 5-1 with Lane Johnson at right tackle, showing his value to the team. The Eagles failed to add young pieces to the offensive line in the past few drafts, but that changed last year. Rookies Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai each started multiple games and looked like they could be good starters in the future.

There was some question about how the special teams would perform. Chip Kelly devoted a lot of time and resources to that unit and got great results. Would the same be true under Pederson? Yes. He wisely kept Dave Fipp as the special teams coordinator and the Eagles ranked No. 1 in overall special teams play for the 2016 season. The Eagles were outstanding when it came to kicking, punting, covering, and returning. There is every reason to believe this group will continue to perform at a high level in the future.

Stop and think big picture for a second.

The Eagles had one of the best defenses in the league at times. They boasted the best special teams in the league. The offense was middle of the pack, but that was with a rookie quarterback starting all year and an offensive line that was constantly being shuffled around. It's hard not to feel good about that.

A lot has changed in the past year. Not every question was answered, but the key issues were solved. The Eagles have stability in the front office and on the coaching staff. They have established schemes on offense and defense. Biggest of all, they have a franchise quarterback to build around. There are really a lot of reasons to feel good about the future. Let's hope the next year is as exciting as the past 12 months proved to be.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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