As the NFL turns its attention to the draft and free agency, Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer, Washington Redskins reporter John Keim, Philadelphia Eagles reporter Tim McManus and New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan look to the 2018 season with a series of questions this week.
Monday’s question: Are the Eagles prepared to run the East like they did under Andy Reid?
Archer: It certainly looks that way, with a relatively young roster, Carson Wentz, who was potentially the MVP before his knee injury, returning and a defense that is excellent. The Eagles won the NFC East from 2001 to 2004 under Andy Reid and six times overall in his tenure, making it to four conference championships and one Super Bowl with Donovan McNabb and a strong defense. They were the class of the division for a long time. The Eagles deserve all the credit they are getting for this Super Bowl run under Doug Pederson. He did a phenomenal job of managing a team that lost its starting quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker and versatile running back. Other than the New England Patriots, it is difficult for teams to maintain success. Players lose drive. Players want to get paid more. Coaches leave. The dynamic changes. The only NFC team with back-to-back playoff appearances in 2016 and ’17 was the Atlanta Falcons. The NFC East has not had a team repeat as division champs since Reid’s 2003-04 Eagles, so history is not on Philly’s side.
Keim: It’s hard to imagine any team in this division winning four straight NFC East titles as Reid did from 2001-04. However, no team is better positioned to be a consistent contender -- and this Eagles team of course already did something Reid’s could not. You don’t win a Super Bowl after your MVP quarterback gets hurt unless you have a complete team. So they’re certainly in the best shape moving forward, and it’s hard to know who will be a consistent threat. Dallas won 13 games two years ago, but will it fix the defense and can Dak Prescott improve? The Redskins have changed quarterbacks but must improve their defense and add another playmaker or two on offense. New York has a new coach and an old quarterback. Even if another team rises next season -- it’s possible -- the Eagles are the team to watch over the next five. My big worry involves the salary cap. Though they have 20 of 22 starters under contract, they’re approximately $9 million over the 2018 cap and rank at or near the bottom in cap space in ’19 and ’20 as well. They’d better draft well or that stay at the top won’t last as long as they’d like.
McManus: Pretty crazy that no team has repeated as NFC East champs since those Reid squads rattled off four straight from 2001 to 2004. There have only been two constants within the division over the last decade-plus: parity and Eli Manning. If any team is going disrupt that trend, it’s this group. Wentz is 25 years old and has all the makings of an elite quarterback. No one was playing the position better than Wentz before he tore his ACL in Week 14 against the Rams. While injury concerns will surround him until he logs some miles on that reconstructed left knee, he’s the type of franchise QB who can lead a team on a run of sustained dominance. Coaching is the other key ingredient, and Pederson proved to be an innovative playcaller and intuitive leader during the 2017 Super Bowl run. As the Eagles showed when Wentz went down, this is a well-constructed team that runs deep. All but two starters are under contract for 2018, and most of the core is locked up long-term. Things will get trickier when Wentz is no longer on his rookie deal -- he’s eligible for a new contract after the ’18 season. Already up against the salary cap, the Eagles will eventually need to go lighter in some areas to account for what promises to be a monster commitment to their QB. But executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office have proven adept at finding ways to make the puzzle pieces fit together and should have this team in position to contend for the NFC East crown for the foreseeable future.
Raanan: Be scared, NFC East. Be very scared. The Eagles will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Just think, they were good enough to win the Super Bowl without the MVP of the league before he was injured. As long as Wentz is healthy, he will have Philadelphia in contention just about every year, just as Donovan McNabb did with the early-2000s Eagles. The rest of the NFC East should be worried. It’s not like the Eagles don’t have good players around Wentz either. They undoubtedly do. They have the ultimate recipe for success in today’s NFL -- a stud quarterback and a disruptive front four. That’s not going to change for a while. The only thing that could derail this Eagles team from becoming a perennial contender is Wentz’s recklessness and health. It’s never a good idea for a quarterback to take on NFL linebackers head-to-head. Eventually, it doesn’t end well for the quarterback.