Hurts and Co. ready to take wing

This offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles remade their team on both sides of the ball. The result is a dangerous squad with plenty to prove.

The Philadelphia Eagles know the truth.

Last season was fun, but it was also somewhat fraudulent.

Philadelphia went 9-8 and earned the NFC’s final wild card berth, largely because of a favorable schedule. The Eagles didn’t beat a single playoff team and when they reached the postseason it showed, being blown out 31-15 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the opening weekend.

The following weeks for general manager Howie Roseman and his team produced reflection and an undeniable truth: major upgrades were needed across the board. Without them, it would also make evaluating third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts problematic.

And for the long-term picture, nothing is more important than figuring out whether Hurts is the answer or a stopgap.

To this end, Roseman got busy.

It’s arguable no team did more to improve this offseason, starting with free agency and continuing through the spring. Yet it began late in 2021, with the extensions of left tackle Jordan Mailata, corner Avonte Maddox, tight end Dallas Goedert and then in February, a new deal for edge rusher Josh Sweat. The timing of these moves was intentional, giving Philadelphia cost certainty for the upcoming offseason while providing a base of under-30 talent.

In free agency, Philadelphia targeted a local product in edge rusher Haason Reddick, a former Temple star who came home for three years and $45 million. Reddick, one of the most underrated pass-rushers of the last few seasons, notched 23.5 sacks in that span. His addition was critical for an Eagles team that uncharacteristically had just 29 sacks last year, better than only the Atlanta Falcons.

Then, in April, the offseason’s headliner in Philadelphia. The acquisition of star receiver AJ Brown from the Tennessee Titans on the 2022 NFL Draft’s opening night.

Of course, the deal for Brown didn’t start then. It began years prior.

The Eagles loved brown dating back to his pre-draft process in 2019, when he eventually went to the Titans with the 51st-overall pick. Now, with the Titans unwilling to extend Brown on a deal he’d accept, Roseman and Co. knew he was available. The notion was furthered by the relationship between Hurts and Brown, with the two being good friends dating back to when Hurts existing attempted to recruit Brown for Alabama.

Yet despite Philadelphia’s interest, a deal initially proved difficult. The Titans knew the Eagles’ intrigue and engaged earlier in April, but nothing came from the talks. Then, a week before the draft, serious conversation ensued.

Finally, during the first round, a deal. The Eagles sent a ’22 first and ’23 third-round pick for Brown. Concurrently, Brown signed a four-year, $100 million deal with $57 million guaranteed, making him the richest receiver in franchise history.

But to understand the addition of Brown, you need to understand the Eagles’ love of basketball. For Philadelphia, building a receivers room is akin to building an NBA lineup, with the front office and head coach Nick Sirianni wanting diverse skill sets and route trees.

The Eagles view Brown as the power forward they’ve been missing, an Anquan Boldin-type in the slot who presents like a more explosive Alshon Jeffery when lined up outside. Second-year man Devonta Smith is the deep threat in the mold of a star wing, while Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor are seen as guards who can slash and turn upfield. In the newly-signed Zach Pascal, Philadelphia sees a gritty glue guy, doing the dirty work.

Last season, Philadelphia had the league’s top-ranked rushing offense — largely due to Hurts’ team-high 784 ground yards — but checked in 15th with 200.2 passing yards per game. Between adding Brown and getting the benefits of added experience from Hurts and Smith, the Eagles believe their aerial attack should be substantially improved.

And said improvement is needed more than the middling ranking indicates.

After having a pair of 300-yard games through four weeks of the 2021 season, Hurts failed to eclipse that threshold again, only topping 250 yards once (Week 16 vs. WSH). He also saw his yards per attempt drop as the year progressed. In those first four games, Hurts averaged at least 8.0 YPA three times, but only managed to do so thrice more afterwards.

Entering his second season with Sirianni, Hurts should be far more comfortable in the offensive scheme. In OTAs, the head coach noted a significant difference in Hurts, from accurate to proper mechanics. If the improvement translates come autumn, the Eagles will have succeeded in building what they believe is a team with vast potential.

Still, for Philadelphia to truly make a push in the NFC, Hurts’ maturation isn’t the only matter at hand. The defense also needs to elevate after finishing 22nd against the pass despite feasting on a buffet of hideous quarterbacks last season.

To that end, the Eagles turned to youth after signing Reddick.

In the draft, Philadelphia stayed true to its core holdings by investing in its front. The Eagles took 335-pound defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who will rotate with and line up alongside veterans Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Between the pre-existing roster, and the additions of Reddick and Davis, Philadelphia can now roll its preferred eight-deep unit on the line.

Then, in the third round, a potential heist.

After watching Davis’ college teammate, off-ball linebacker Nakobe Dean fall from likely top-20 pick into the latter portion of Day 2, the Eagles were flummoxed.

Prior to the draft, Philadelphia’s front office met with its medical staff and kept Dean on its board, valuing him as a second-rounder. But when the second round came, the pick was Nebraska center Cam Jurgens, the heir apparent to Jason Kelce, with the Eagles continuing to prioritize the trenches.

As Philadelphia’s third-round pick of No. 83 overall approached, Roseman and his team grew perplexed as to why Dean remained available. They initially believed his positional value had him falling, but now medical rumors were circulating. Once within 10 picks of their choice, the Eagles conferred again around Dean’s medicals. Again, they consider him fit.

Minutes later, Philadelphia came on the clock. Dean was still there. The Eagles took him, after almost doing the same one round earlier.

With the draft complete, Roseman and his staff rested. For 18 days.

In early May, the New York Giants released veteran corner James Bradberry amidst a cap crunch. Bradberry, 28, had a down season in 2021 but was a Pro Bowler the year prior.

Despite interest from a variety of clubs, Bradberry decided to stay within the NFC East, signing a one-year deal worth $7.5 million with incentives. The addition of Bradberry gives Philadelphia an elite corner tandem with Darius Slay on the other side, bolstering an intriguing secondary.

Still, the Eagles don’t see this as going all-in for 2022. It’s a long build, one that has gotten its foundation in the past 18 months. It would be foolish to see Philadelphia on a level with powerhouses such as the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills or Kansas City Chiefs, but ground has been gained.

Ultimately, the expectation is to be good now, great soon.

This is partially why Philadelphia made a trade in March with the New Orleans Saints, netting ’23 first-round and ’24 second round picks at the price of a first-rounder this past April. The move was largely lauded for its value, and it gives the Eagles balance in their assets moving forward.

It also sets Philadelphia up in a quarterback-rich draft, in case Hurts doesn’t continue improving. All this is buoyed by the league-wide expectation of the salary cap jumping next year with $220 million being a conservative figure, before exploding in ’24.

For Roseman, his staff and the Eagles, the road ahead is more hill than straightaway. Philadelphia is young with overflowing with assets, and yet to presence of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford still loom large.

But for the Eagles, there’s reason to believe now and into the future.

A future that continually looks brighter after the NFL’s best offseason.

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