Monday, July 18, 2016

The 2016 Eagles Outlook: Better While Worse

Doused Dumpster Fire
One of the things that we've started to see here in Eagles Nation as the calendar moves into distant early warnings for football - just two more weeks until the games are fake! - is how the roster is improved, even if only by subtraction. No more DeMarco Murray clogging up the works at RB1, preventing the actual best RB on the roster (Ryan Mathews) from getting carries. QB Sam Bradford might be on thin ice to keep the gig, but he's also 12 months further away from his career-threatening knee injuries, and might be less bound by rust, along with a deep desire to up his trade value and get the hell out of town. The team might not have done all that much to make the WR corps better, but if second-year possible criminal Nelson Agholor can step up, or likely frauds Josh Huff or Reuben Randle can give them something, that's got to be better than Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, who gave them nothing. The offensive line can't be as bad, what with talent imports in free agency and the draft, and the defense got a number of good players to fill gaps, and a likely massive leap up in terms of working conditions, since the offense isn't going to go 3 and out in world-shattering quickness any more. And so on.

All of which makes sense, and all of which bodes well for the future... but in the short term, I'm *very* pessimistic about how the next season will play out. For one very simple and damn near unprecedented reason: the division might not be its usual dumpster fire again this year. Everyone seems to be on the upswing towards competence, even if they won't go much further than that.

Let's start in DC, since they won this nothingness last year, and probably felt the least bad about their season. With QB Kirk Cousins still in the prove it to get paid mode, and franchise millstone Robert Griffin gone, things seem fine... but Cousins' WRs are name brands that aren't very good football players any more. WR DeSean Jackson is 29 now, and not getting any faster, more consistent, or less injury prone. He's also rarely ended the season well. WR Pierre Garcon has lost the step that made his suspect catch area and rate tolerable, and hasn't seemed special outside of premier Indy QB play all along. The best weapon on the team is TE Jordan Reed, but he's also rarely healthy, and teams that over-rely on TEs also tend to be teams with weak QBs and high INT totals. The defense isn't that much better, and the ownership tends to drag them down over time, too. I think they go worst to first to worst again, but they aren't going to be one of the worst teams in the league, the way they usually are.

Next up is Dallas, who still has a world-class offensive line, and one presumes, some good fortune due at some point when it comes to injuries to QB Tony Romo. If Romo can't go , this franchise has been all systems fail for years now, and it's not likely to change now. But if he can somehow stay upright, and if rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott is everything that's advertised, this club has to be better, if only because last year's team was so bad. Whether better translates to playoffs is another matter entirely, and the defense is still a mess, but doormat to .500 seems very possible.

Finally, New York. Blue is salivating over draft picks and free agent signings, broke the bank to get better on defense, and still have a multiple Super Bowl winning QB and what might be the game's best WR in the fold. That might be all you need now, especially if the running game is less awful this year, but the big money went on defense. (For the record, I'm not now and never have been sold on Eli Manning, but there's something to be said for a QB that plays every game.) I'm not sold on their signings, but they can't be worse than last year, and after three years in the wilderness, they might be due. Hell, a little actual effectiveness in the fourth quarter with a lead would have given them the division going away last year.

Add it all up, and I'm seeing a 3rd or 4th place finish and sub .500 for the local laundry, which isn't what anyone really wants to hear... but when you trade up to get the QB of the future, and he's not projected to play at all in this season, what you've got is a rebuilding year. Which is fine, especially after Nero's era. But you will forgive us for not feeling too thrilled about the prospect of a season without great hopes for the immediate present, especially in a division where two out of four teams are managed by egotist owners who do their teams no end of ill. The place is on an upswing this year, but in the long run, there's still no division you would rather be in.

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