Philadelphia Eagles: When the ‘next man up’ philosophy becomes a crutch

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Last season the Philadelphia Eagles beat the odds and won a ton of games without their best players, but is that next man up mentality becoming a crutch?

The Philadelphia Eagles had a magical 2017 season.

Say what you will about the team’s construction, their seemingly bottomless depth thanks to Carson Wentz‘s rookie contract, or their now ubiquitous underdog mentality, but the fact that the team somehow weathered season-ending injuries to their best player at about half a dozen positions and not only survived but thrived wasn’t because of hard work.

It was a straight-up miracle.

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However, much like finding $100 on the street, you can’t in good conscience expect miracles to happen consistently, and trying to categorize exceptional luck as a winning formula is wishful thinking, to say the least.

While the next-man-up mentality Philly relied on last season was certainly effective, it only worked because the Eagles had the talent to back it up.

Think, if you will, back to the pre-Eagles Super Bowl-era, to another hungry, upstart team with a rookie quarterback and a shut-down defense, the Seattle Seahawks. After drafting an exceptional defense with a string of lucky late round picks and exceptionally selected undervalued veterans like current Eagle Michael Bennett, the team looked rife with enough potential to dethrone the New England Patriots as the NFL’s next great dynasty, but it simply wasn’t meant to be.

Sure, the team did make it to a second straight Super Bowl, losing on a play that still routinely gets made fun of to this day, but with each passing season the team watched more and more of their prominent players jump ship for big money contracts elsewhere, with only Earl Thomas remaining from the original Legion.

Why? Because the ‘Hawks simply couldn’t replace Pro Bowl talent with the next man up.

Last season, the Eagles added a bunch of players to the roster over the course of the season for one reason or another, one, Jay Ajayi, by trade, two, Nathan Gerry, and Nate Sudfeld from their practice squad and five off the street in Kenjon Barner, Taylor Hart, Dannell Ellerbe, Bryan Braman, and Will Beatty.

Of said players, only Ajayi really made an impact, leading the team in rushing over the course of the playoffs.

Why? Because he was the only legitimately top-tier talent the Eagles added to the roster mid-season.

But why is this relevant? Because it’s the exact same situation the Eagles are in now.

For those who haven’t been keeping track, the Eagles wide receiving corps has been absolutely atrocious thus far this season, failing to record at least 150 yards in both of the team’s first two games. And unfortunately, it’s a trend that doesn’t look like it’s coming to an end anytime soon.

Though the team obviously realized there was a problem after Week 1, as only two wide receivers, Nelson Agholor, and recently waived DeAndre Carter caught passes from then-starting quarterback Nick Foles, but instead of signing a player like Corey Coleman (Patriots), Breshad Perriman (Redskins), or Braxton Miller (practice squad) to fill Wheaton’s roster spot, the team opted instead to bring back 29-year-old Kamar Aiken, a player who couldn’t even make the initial 53-man roster after a rocky training camp.

Aiken’s Week 2 stats? Five catches on six targets for 39 yards and no touchdowns.


To make matters worse, the team then had a golden opportunity to secure an Ajayi-level talent for an Ajayi-sized price tag in Josh Gordon, only to watch the Patriots swoop in and give Tom Brady his best wide receiver in years.

The Eagles instead opted to waive Carter, the only receiver not named Nelson to catch a pass in Week 1, to promote Philly fan favorite Josh Adams for the team’s Week 3 bout against the Indianapolis Colts, a team that just so happens to be coached by another ex-member of the 2017 Eagles, Frank Reich.

While by all accounts the offense Philly runs is chiefly based on Doug Pederson‘s vision, it’s hard not to see at least a bit of regression under Mike Groh when compared to Reich’s finely tuned 2017 machine.

So, what’s next for the Eagles? Well, by all accounts, the team appears poised to resign Jordan Matthews, who was waived with an injury settlement by the Patriots earlier this summer. Though far from a scrub, Matthews lacks the elite traits that made Gordon so enticing, and while an obvious upgrade over Aiken, he provides little more than a familiar security blanket for Wentz in his first start back with the team under center.

At this point, the Eagles don’t need more security blankets: they need difference makers.

Coleman has playmaking potential, Miller has playmaking potential, and Gordon certainly has playmaking potential. Outside of Agholor, and eventually Alshon Jeffery, who on the Eagles has opposing defenses shaking in their boots? Zach Ertz?

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Though the Eagles’ 2017 offense was far from electrifying, it was incredibly solid, allowing Foles to pick apart opposing defenses with a short yardage RPO scheme. However, when there’s no one to catch these quick slants and no deep threat to take the top off of opposing defenses, the Eagles offense has and will continue to struggle to find potency. If Philly is going to get better, especially as the injuries continue to pile up, the team needs to find a way to replace difference makers with difference makers, not just the next man up.