PHILADELPHIA -- Here's the good news first: The Philadelphia Eagles, despite their 1-4-1 start to the season, have a 41% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. That's the benefit of playing in the worst division in football, the NFC East, which has a collective winning percentage of .246.
The Eagles can bump those chances up further with a win against the New York Giants (1-5) on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox).
The bad news? The Eagles are projected to win six games total this season, are an injury train wreck once again and have a slightly better chance of securing a top-10 draft pick (42%) than they do of making the postseason.
General manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles brass are justified in moving in one of two directions given the numbers at hand: They can be aggressive at the NFL trade deadline (Nov. 3) and lean heavily on their veteran players in pursuit of their fourth straight playoff appearance, or they can hold tight to their future draft picks and showcase their young talent the rest of the way in the name of defining a path forward.
The second option is the right one. The Eagles cannot let false hope seduce them into putting this chase -- which will likely be after their own tail in the end -- over the longer-term health of the franchise.
There have been signs, though, that Roseman is teetering in the other direction. Such as a recent CBS report that "Howie is on the prowl already" for a trade-deadline acquisition (likely a linebacker) and is eager to make a deal. Or the decision to waive defensive end Casey Toohill -- a seventh-round pick out of Stanford who showed enough in camp to make the 53-man roster -- in advance of activating defensive end Vinny Curry, 32, and safety Will Parks from injured reserve. The Eagles were hoping to sneak Toohill back onto their practice squad, but he was instead claimed by the Washington Football Team. That's not the first time this season an Eagles developmental prospect was snatched away by another team as a result of a roster gamble gone wrong.
The Eagles need all the young talent they can get. They are projected to be $69 million over the salary cap in 2021, per Spotrac, the second-highest total behind the New Orleans Saints ($81 million). They'll need to shed veteran salary after this season -- a group that will likely include receivers Alshon Jeffery ($18.4 million) and DeSean Jackson ($11 million). Philadelphia will need to replenish at multiple positions, including receiver.
So why not use the rest of this season to see what the young skill position players bring to the table? There's no justification for taking Travis Fulgham (18 catches, 284 yards, three TDs in three games) off the field anytime soon, while wide receiver John Hightower has shown to be a raw talent who needs the reps. Stunting their growth to play Jackson and Jeffery, more polished as they may be, doesn't make much sense when looking at the big picture.
Draft capital should not be used to temporarily plug a hole in the defense -- one that was evident well before the season started -- but to infuse the roster with young players who are worth developing.
It's easy to look at the state of the NFC East, see the way the Eagles hung tough with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, and talk yourself into what this team is capable of when players such as Jackson, Dallas Goedert, Jalen Reagor and Miles Sanders -- and linemen such as Lane Johnson -- are back. But recent history tells us that a state of great health doesn't exist for the Eagles, who have been among the most snakebit teams for several years now. It might get better than it is now, but to imagine Philadelphia burgeoning into an NFL power is really just fantasy.
What the Eagles are -- really, what they have been for the past few seasons -- is a title team past its prime, one that scratches and claws and shows enough resilience to convince itself it is still a contender. It is not, though the Eagles might end up with a division title by default.
If an NFC East crown does come to pass, it should be in the spirit of discovery. Let the young players sink or swim, and don't give up future talent for a marginal short-term fix.
Because if you manage to win a lousy division with a sub-.500 record but do so at the expense of 2021 and beyond, what have you really accomplished?