Everything is going the Eagles’ way, or seems to be. They are 8-1 on merit, yet it’s difficult to ignore how favorable certain circumstances have been to them. Consider the games they have already played. Against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 1, the Eagles enjoyed, for all intents and purposes, a home-field advantage 3,000 miles from Lincoln Financial Field. Their victory against the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 12 turned in their favor when linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers’ best defensive player, left in the first half because of a concussion. Oh, and they played the Giants in Week 3.
Now, consider the seven games the Eagles have yet to play. That Dec. 3 game in Seattle appeared to be a probable loss, but Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tore his Achilles tendon Thursday night and will miss the rest of the season. Sherman is a marvelous player, and no one should celebrate so damaging an injury to any athlete, but the cold truth is that the Seahawks are a lesser team for his absence, and the Eagles’ chances of winning that game have increased. Next weekend’s game in Arlington against the Cowboys still has a clash-of-the-titans feel to it, but Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension begins this week, and he will miss the next six games. Elliott is a marvelous player, and no one should celebrate ... OK, not even a writer who prides himself on impartiality can type that line with a straight face. But the fact remains: The Eagles have a better chance of winning that game now.
Oh, and they play the Giants in Week 15.
These, though, are some of only the most obvious instances of the Eagles’ good fortune. There have been subtler examples, too, but they have been no less beneficial — not merely for this season but for the team’s future. Thursday provided another example, when the Eagles announced that they had signed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to a four-year contract extension that reportedly could end up being worth $48 million.
When the Eagles traded the No. 74 pick in this year’s draft to the Baltimore Ravens for Jernigan and the 99th pick, it was part of an offseason in which Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ vice president of football operations, made the kinds of moves that, not long ago, he had suggested he would not make. In January, he said that “Band-Aids” — plugging vacant positions or trying to upgrade positions with short-term acquisitions — would get a team only so far. Then, in addition to trading for Jernigan, who had just one year left on his rookie contract, Roseman signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount, and Patrick Robinson to deals that were one year long either in actuality or practicality.
A popular sentiment at the time was that Roseman was smart to make those moves because the Eagles had nothing to lose with any of them. For instance, if Jeffery caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns, it was all to the good of the Eagles. They’d benefit from his terrific season, then either re-sign him or let him test free agency again if they decided his asking price was too high. If he had a lousy year, they could just let him walk.
But the nothing-to-lose argument always ignored or undersold the potential costs of Roseman’s approach. Go back to Jeffery. A great season for him would likely mean that the Eagles would want to keep him. Which would likely mean that the Eagles would have to pay top-of-the-market money to keep him. Which would make it more difficult for them to address other needs while remaining under the salary cap. And if the Eagles determined that Jeffery wasn’t worth keeping, because he was either expensive or unproductive, they would have to start over at the position again by signing or drafting a receiver to replace him.
The fortunate part of this season for the Eagles, vis-à-vis Jeffery, Jernigan, and the other short-term acquisitions, is that, while all of them have contributed to the team’s excellence, none has been so spectacular that he has created a possible problem for Roseman in the future. That sounds odd and counterintuitive, but think about it: Jeffery is on pace to finish the season with 60 catches, 889 yards, and nine touchdowns. Those are good numbers, not great numbers, and not the kind of numbers that will necessarily make it cost-prohibitive for the Eagles to retain him.
The same is true of Jernigan. As part of the Eagles’ defensive-line rotation, he’s been very good. His eight tackles for losses are tied for the team lead. But if he were as dominant and versatile a player as, say, Fletcher Cox, he’d be on the field on third downs. He usually isn’t, which, in a way, helps the Eagles. It kept the average annual value of his new contract to $12 million — respectable money, but not exorbitant compared with the present and future market for defensive tackles. Now the Eagles have a 25-year-old, ascendant player locked up for four years, and Jernigan’s very-goodness/non-greatness made it happen.
Was that just good fortune? Was that just luck? Maybe, after all these years, the Eagles were due some. Roseman has made his share of mistakes as an executive, and it was fair to be skeptical of what he did in the offseason based on what he had done in previous offseasons. But this season feels different, and so far has been. What was it Branch Rickey said? Oh, yes. Luck is the residue of design.
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