Welcome to the debut of The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...
Dave Spadaro: The biggest question is really one that comes from the macro perspective. To borrow the words from Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie, how do the Eagles go from "good" to "great" after a pair of 10-6 seasons under head coach Chip Kelly? I hear fans all the time say that the Eagles have to rebuild the secondary or find that "quarterback of the future" as if it's easy to simply state intentions and magically find the players. This team has some work to do. I think we all agree with that. But for me, focusing on a couple of positions and not addressing every corner of the roster and not thinking outside the box to improve the roster doesn't get the Eagles to their ultimate goal.
Chris McPherson: Lurie noted that there are three areas where the Eagles need to improve heading into 2015 – turnovers, red zone offense and X-plays. No surprise to anyone who watched this team in 2014.
The question the Eagles must answer is how do you get better in those areas? Is it talent? Scheme? A combination of the two? The offense set a franchise record for fewest turnovers in 2013 only to do a complete 180 and lead the league in giveaways one year later with most of the same pieces in place.
Lurie also said that going into this offseason the specific positions that have to be addressed are much easier to identify than last year. Chip's been at the helm for two years now. He has a much better understanding of the NFL, his roster and what he wants in players. But I agree with the sentiment that just focusing on positions A, B and C while turning a blind eye to the rest will not be beneficial for this team.
Bo Wulf: I think you guys are skirting the question.
Yes, the team needs to do whatever it can to improve the roster as a whole. The journey from "good to great" isn't something that can be fast-tracked with some silver bullet. But if the question asks us to identify the sole, No. 1, most important question for the team to answer this offseason, I'll have to respond with my inner fanboy. It's the quarterback.
I believe in Nick Foles and I know his teammates do. We know that he's capable of protecting the football better than he did in 2014 and there's no reason to believe he can't at least approach his level of play from 2013. But, pause for original thought, quarterback is the most important position in sports, so naturally the identity of the Eagles' 2015 quarterback is the offseason's most important puzzle. If it's Foles, wonderful. How do the Eagles make him better next year? By beefing up the offensive line? Adding more weapons in the passing game? Tweaking the scheme? That's above my pay grade.
If it's not Foles, then who is it? I don't know who will be on the other end of Chip Kelly's headset next year, but I can't wait to find out.
DS: You've written Wulf's Den all season and you're accusing us of skirting the issue?!?!? Have it your way, Bo. I think the defense is the most important part of the offseason.
Quarterback is always an issue for every team, but to me Foles is here, he's going to be healthy and, barring something unforeseen, he's going to be the quarterback. The defense showed some good things in 2014 - namely good effort and physical play against the run and a pass rush that produced 49 sacks. End Fletcher Cox and linebackers Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks are three pillars in that front seven. But the back four is still in need of some answers. As C-Mac said, the X-plays were far too frequent as the Eagles missed the postseason.
Whether it's tweaking the scheme or adding personnel or a combination of the two, the Eagles must tighten up the big plays allowed. That said, there aren't a lot of great cornerbacks available. Free agency figures to be a bit scarce with the salary cap increasing and fewer players hitting the market. The draft? There are some names, but there is also a lot to work through between now and late April.
For the purposes of the original question, I will say the secondary is the first priority and, specifically, the play against the deep pass and the red zone success. How the Eagles do it, I don't know. Look at the eight teams that played this weekend in the playoffs and you see defenses that have been pretty solid all season and in the case of Seattle, downright great in the last couple of months. Even Dallas, which was pegged to have a historically bad defensive group prior to the season, shored things up against the pass to reach the postseason.
BW: Fair's fair, I can skirt with the best of them. There's no question that the Eagles must be better in defending X-plays next season, but that seems self-evident. We know that will be a focus of the defensive staff and the personnel department. We know that in some form or fashion, the secondary will be addressed.
To piggyback off the idea of looking at the eight teams that played this weekend, look at the 16 starting cornerbacks. How did they each come into the league? Three were first-round picks, one was a third-round pick, one was a fourth-round pick, a whopping five were fifth rounders, one was taken in the sixth and the last five went undrafted altogether. Meanwhile, just over half (nine of the 16) are playing with their original team.
The Patriots, by the way, started a pair of free-agent acquisitions in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. I think the Eagles will have plenty of chances to add talent to the secondary and, somehow, they will do just that.
I'm sure I'm telegraphing this, but a quick look at the quarterbacks reveals a different use of resources. Five of the eight quarterbacks who played this weekend were drafted in the first round, one in the third, one in the sixth and one was undrafted. Again, I believe that Nick Foles is well-suited to lead the Eagles back to the top of the NFC East and I think it's likely that he'll be the guy. But to be pedantic, we know the secondary will look different in 2015. We don't know whether the quarterback will change or not. That's why it's the biggest question of the offseason.