The Philadelphia Eagles have been a life-spring of prolific fantasy players since the days of getting stats from the box score in the morning newspaper, but this era of offensive excellence might be coming to a close.
It began with stalwart quarterback Donovan McNabb and included some sensational cameo appearances by Jeff Garcia, AJ Feeley and Kevin Kolb along the path that has led up to the briefly phenomenal Michael Vick experiment. Every-down, pass-catching running backs from Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook and now LeSean McCoy have reaped the benefits and were weekly must-starts. No-name wide receivers like James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, Reggie Brown, and Kevin Curtis were well known only by fantasy owners but bigger names like Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin have produced at high levels (even if it was perhaps never quite as much as fans thought possible). Tight ends Chad Lewis and LJ Smith paved the way for Brent Celek, while kicker David Akers (and Alex Henery to a much lesser extent) obviously got plenty of prime opportunities as well. There is arguably not a single NFL team that can boast such a long and consistent history of fantasy relevancy at every position across the board like the Eagles can.
Long-tenured head coach and offensive architect Andy Reid made this all possible and has earned the permanent fixture of his poorly groomed mustache on the hearts of dynasty owners everywhere and probably even a bronzed statue to adorn Lincoln Financial Field someday, too. However, in light of his imminent departure, dynasty owners will be forced to face some tough decisions in regards to how to deal with their cornerstone players. The housecleaning within the organization has already commenced, beginning with the firing of fish-out-of-water defensive coordinator Juan Castillo after a Week 6 loss to the Detroit Lions and most recently exemplified by the team cutting Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin. My crystal ball is still in the shop for repairs, but as a long-time Eagles fan, I offer my hopefully somewhat insightful thoughts on the situation.
This is clearly the most important decision that team owner Jeffrey Lurie will need to make. The popular pick amongst the fans right now would be (and has been for a while) former Buccaneers/Raiders coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. Gruden makes a lot of sense because he’s proven the ability to win a Super Bowl (2002 with the Buccaneers), he’s familiar with the Eagles and their fans (he coached quarterbacks in Philly back in the mid-90’s, pre-Reid era), and he’s considered an offensive-minded coach, which seemingly would make for an easy transition. He’s the odds-on favorite for the job, but I tend to question the logic behind hiring a coach from the same basic coaching tree when a radical culture change is what the team needs most.
Another chic name being tossed around, mostly on internet fan websites, is current University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, who is well known for creating the aptly named “blur offense.” He has been quoted in the past as saying he won’t leave college for the NFL until he addresses some “unfinished business,” but with the Ducks’ repeated failed efforts to reach an NCAA title game, the Philadelphia job might just be enticing enough for him to bolt for the pros. He’s originally from the Northeast (New Hampshire to be specific), so maybe there’s some validity here. Seems like a long-shot to me, but it would be pretty amazing for fantasy football owners, right?
Tony Dungy’s name has come up in spit-balling sessions because of his close relationship with Vick, but that’s a pretty weak basis for speculation in my opinion. Current ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards has publicly been very defensive, almost uncomfortably so, of the Eagles organization this season, so there are rumors floating that he’s angling for the job. However, that’s also a pretty weak argument even when you consider that Edwards is very popular in Philadelphia because of his days as an Eagles defensive back and The Miracle at the Meadowlands.
The name being discussed not nearly enough is Bill Cowher. While he’s been a fan-nominated candidate for just about every vacant NFL job since the day he retired in early 2007, the truth is none of those jobs were nearly as lucrative as the current Eagles job is. Cowher’s short playing career was mostly as an Eagle and he reportedly recently bought a condo in Manhattan so he’s already living within a train commute. New York Jets fans have been going wild with the idea that he’ll succeed Rex Ryan this off-season, but playing second fiddle to the Giants doesn’t seem like the opportunity he’s likely been waiting for. He’s a defense and special teams minded coach and those are definitely the areas in which Philadelphia needs to improve. With the right offensive coordinator steering the offense, I think this would be the perfect fit.
The truth of the matter is whoever inherits the Eagles roster will be getting a gold mine of talent that simply needs strong leadership and a few minor tweaks in order to be a Super Bowl contender. The only truly major player personnel decision that needs to be sorted out is at quarterback and given the sensitive timing associated with that decision (see below), I think it’s likely that you’ll see a new head coach named as soon as December 31st of this year.
Michael Vick might be done as anything other than a ticket-selling attraction for a small market franchise. Or he might have a couple more years left in the tank and has simply been the scapegoat for bad play calling and the worst offensive line in the NFL.* I’m not sure which or if either is true, but I seem to oscillate on a week-to-week basis. In either case, the Eagles are going to be forced to make a decision by January 4th, 2013 – that’s the deadline for Philadelphia to cut bait and let him walk away with minimal salary cap hit or keep him for another three years at a price take of $45 million dollars. This will 100% be the decision of the future Head Coach so expect Vick to be back under center for at least a couple more games this season and consider it purely an audition for his future in the City of Brotherly Love.
Translation for Vick owners: You’re pretty much stuck with him on Fantasy Purgatory Island. He’s got very little dynasty trade value now or in the upcoming off-season due to his age and fairly ominous playing situation in conjunction with his recently erratic play to begin with. He’s still got too much upside to cut bait outright so you’re probably just going to have to play the waiting game with him on your bench until something/anything happens. The good news is that you should have an answer within about six weeks.
Nick Foles saw his star fade pretty quickly over the past few weeks. I also happen to be a University of Arizona fan/alumnus so I can say unequivocally that his propensity towards throwing pick-sixes and getting stripped of the ball because he waits too long for plays to develop is just as much his signature as his Tom Petty-esque locks. On the bright side, he’s definitely capable of putting up huge numbers which should make fantasy owners smile. The downside is that those recurring turnovers do not a starting NFL quarterback make. If I’m willing to potentially give Vick a pass because of a porous offensive line, I suppose it’s only logical to offer that same justification for Foles but I’m slightly more hesitant because it just seems like the same old song and dance he had in college.
Translation for Foles owners: He might have a decent amount of trade value in your league but if you’re itching to flip him (and you still can), you’ll get the best net return for him if you wait until after he has a decent game or the Eagles decide to officially end the Vick era, whichever comes first. I envision a productive but short career for Foles, so interpret that however you’d like.
In a deep league, Trent Edwards has some short-term value for contending teams as a QB4 option in superflex leagues, but zero value for everybody else.
*I say “worst” with respect to the fact that they’ve lost four of the five starters to injury this season and I don’t think the average fan fully appreciates how big of deal that is for an offense. When the young backups are thrust into action much sooner than anticipated and all at the same time, it’s basically just a disaster waiting to happen. And for the Eagles this year, it did. Tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremens have been shelved with injuries all year. Center Jason Kelce and his glorious facial hair have been out almost the whole year as well. All three of those guys are Pro Bowl caliber players so to disregard the negative impact of losing them (and positive impact of getting them back next season, conversely) would be very foolish.
LeSean McCoy is young and will remain in the top tier of running backs for years to come. He has been equally affected by the Eagles’ patchwork offensive line this season, so immediately banish any doubts or thoughts of his demise that might be creeping into your head. My gut feeling is that this “concussion” he’s out with right now is actually just the organization’s way of protecting its most valuable asset from any further wear and tear in this lost season.
Translation for McCoy owners: I can count on one hand the number of players I’d trade away McCoy for straight up and it’s certain that none of those owners would be interested right now, so take a few deep breaths and prepare yourself for a long, cold winter.
The other name to consider here is Bryce Brown, the undrafted rookie who was once the number one college recruit in the country coming out of high school. The 19 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns including four receptions for 11 yards that he produced in his first start last night against the Carolina Panthers looks, ostensibly, like a potentially developing timeshare in the Eagles backfield. However, all Brown has really proven is his ability to shred up one of the league’s worst run defenses and that he’s a capable backup to McCoy. Try to avoid overreacting.
Translation for Brown owners: Enjoy the ride while it lasts, which might be for the rest of this season. I think this is going to be much less of a time-share situation than you might think and that Brown is ultimately going to challenge for the Ben Tate Most Valuable Handcuff Award for the foreseeable future. If you can trade him for something that instantly helps your team in the off-season, I’d highly recommend going that route.
The value of backups Dion Lewis and Chris Polk remains largely unchanged as they are both barely rosterable except in very deep leagues. Between the two, I’d rather own the rookie Polk.
The most recent news out of Philadelphia is that DeSean Jackson has been placed on season-ending injured reserve so like Vick and McCoy, Jackson owners are just going to have to hold him on their bench and hope for the best. That incapable offensive line I keep mentioning severely mitigated Jackson’s ability to run his patented deep routes so without those he basically became a glorified slot receiver, a position he’s clearly ill-suited to play.
Translation for Jackson owners: I just hope you don’t own Vick and McCoy as well because you’re just going to have to wait this one out, too. He’s worth the flier if you can get him on the cheap, perhaps in exchange for a prospect and/or a mid-round draft pick.
Jeremy Maclin should enjoy a lion’s share of targets in this depleted Eagles offense. He’s got a ton of value over the final few weeks of the season and should definitely perform as a top-tier WR3 or better. He might be the only Eagles starter who has seen an increase in dynasty value after everything that has recently transpired.
Translation for Maclin owners: Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Rookie Damaris Johnson owns the NCAA record for all-purpose yardage and he can really play football. He’s not amazingly fast, but if he’s available on waivers, he’s well worth a flier for a wide receiver needy team. Keep an eye on Greg Salas whose football career seems to following an eerily similar path as Macaulay Culkin’s acting career; next thing you know he’ll be 32 years old and we’ll just look back and not be able to pinpoint a single decent reason that he didn’t become a huge star. Some people will blame his parents, some will blame drugs and the rest will blame Mila Kunis. Maybe you want him on your bench, but then again maybe you don’t but somebody else surely will. Riley Cooper and Jason Avant will get a few more targets in the short term, but neither gains any dynasty value. Practice squad rookie Marvin McNutt is worth a spot on your watch list because he could be a solid possession receiver someday if he improves his route-running.
Brent Celek essentially acted as a sixth offensive lineman on the field this season. I’m not too worried about the butterfingers he seems to have developed because sometimes it’s just hard to catch the ball when your chances are so few and far between. I will mention Clay Harbor should be rostered in all mid-sized and larger leagues because he gets a lot of targets with Foles at the helm. He could be a sneaky pickup for some fantasy playoff production if you’re in a pinch.
Translation for Celek owners: Got a little patience in ya?
Follow Jeff Beran on Twitter @jefeberan