It was only so appropriate on The Day After, as the players cleaned out their lockers and met the media for final time in the 2019 Eagles season, that as the locker room closed and reporters spilled into the hallway of the NovaCare Complex, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, shelved with an Achilles injury, scootered into the locker room, followed closely behind by running back Miles Sanders, moving about on crutches.
Injuries left their lasting imprint on a season that ended in crushing fashion on Sunday in the NFC Wild Card playoff game against Seattle, a 17-9 loss at Lincoln Financial Field that sends the Eagles into the offseason with many reasons for optimism and, of course, a lot of work to do on the football program.
"That's the nature of this business," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "Year in and year out, there is going to be change. It has to be the right change."
Jackson is a prime example of the course the 2019 season took: He signed with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent, a durable veteran who would pair perfectly with Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle in a turbo-charged defensive line rotation. Jackson lasted 32 snaps before suffering a season-ending foot injury, the first of the big-time Eagles to go down with season-ending injuries.
At the end of the season, the Eagles had 13 players on the Injured Reserve list. Seven of the 11 players who opened the season as starters on offense (quarterback Carson Wentz, Jeffery, wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor, running back Jordan Howard, offensive tackle Lane Johnson, and offensive guard Brandon Brooks) didn't finish the playoff game against Seattle.
The Eagles head into the offseason with a whole lot to consider, including …
1. The injuries, and why and how they are happening
For three straight seasons the Eagles have been ravaged by injuries. They are a part of this game, sure, and many other teams are having the same injuries happen, but it's something for the team to really look at and understand and improve. Is it the way the team is conditioning? Does the Training Camp plan need to be altered? Should players see more time in the preseason? Less time? Is it equipment-related? There are so many questions here. The Eagles need to find the answers and reduce the number of crippling injuries for 2020.
2. Does Doug Pederson plan to make any changes to the coaching staff?
This coaching staff deserves a tremendous amount of credit for keeping the team together in the face of a 5-7 midseason malaise and making the run to win the NFC East. It certainly wasn't easy with so many injuries and so many roster changes on the fly. That said, addressing the coaching staff is an annual challenge for a head coach, and this year is no different. This isn't to say the Eagles need to make changes, it's just a point that it's part of the offseason agenda.
3. Who is an unrestricted free agent and does he return?
The list of unrestricted free agents is long: Agholor, defensive end Vinny Curry, Howard, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Jalen Mills, offensive tackle Jason Peters, quarterback Nate Sudfeld, offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai, cornerback Ronald Darby, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, among others.
Not all of those players are coming back. The Eagles have some tough decisions to make, as always. They have to get this roster young, faster, stronger, more physical.
4. At which positions do the Eagles need to improve?
The real answer is that they need to improve at every position. Other than maybe tight end, where the Eagles have a Pro Bowl player in Zach Ertz and rising star in Dallas Goedert, is there a position group where the team is set? The goal is to build the roster as complete as can be. The Eagles felt they did that for the 2019 campaign, and nobody argued with the way the roster looked when the regular season began. The Eagles were, it appeared, legitimately loaded.
Then the injuries started happening. Malik Jackson. DeSean Jackson. Corey Clement. Darby. On and on it went, right through the playoff game.
As you look ahead, don't fall in love with improving one or two positions. The challenge here is significant in that the Eagles – and, look, every team pretty much says the same thing – have to hit every corner of the roster in the offseason ahead. While there are plenty of building blocks and some position groups that are strong, every position needs more depth and youth and productivity.
5. What is the plan for free agency?
The Eagles haven't gotten into that part of the offseason plan, of course. They're going to spend the rest of this week evaluating the season that was. The coaching staff will take some time away. Free agency starts in March, so the evaluation of potential available players isn't going to be that far away.
Last offseason's approach was creative – trades to acquire Jackson from Tampa Bay and Howard from Chicago, for example – and extremely precise. The Eagles came ready to wheel and deal and they did just that. This year? Will they add so many older veterans on short-term deals? Will they look for younger players on longer contracts? What is the mix going to be? Just how involved in free agency will the Eagles be?
6. How do the Eagles crush it in the NFL Draft?
With seven draft picks of their own now, including the 21st overall, and another three potential compensatory draft picks – projected to be a third-round pick and two fourth-rounders – the Eagles have some very valuable draft capital. We're so far away from the first round on April 23 that it doesn't make sense to speculate, but the Eagles have some ammunition to work with to make this roster younger and more talented.
Another part of the equation here is developing the 2019 draft class. Sanders is clearly a special talent who is in line to take over the main ball-carrying duties next season. Otherwise, the '19 rookie draft picks are question marks. Is No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard ready to be a starting left tackle in this league? What can second-round draft pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside do in the offseason to improve his game and contribute at wide receiver next year? Where does defensive end Shareef Miller, who didn't play a single snap on defense, fit into the plans?
In the aftermath of the finality of Sunday's loss is the reality that it's now the offseason and, with that, a lot of work and tough decisions are ahead for the Eagles.