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The Philadelphia Eagles, owners of the NFL's best offseason, are coming to steal the Cowboys' NFC East crown

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t content with a Wild Card bid.

The Eagles pushed the clock forward on what looked to be an arduous rebuild by making it to the postseason last fall. Philadelphia had absorbed a then-record $63.7 million in dead salary cap space just to rid itself of Carson Wentz before the 2021 season. Then, led by a young roster and facing a weak schedule, the team took care of business. Nine wins and a playoff spot later, the Eagles declared themselves a potential problem for the rest of the NFC.

But Philadelphia was a dismissible evil, as its not-especially-close one-and-done postseason loss to the Buccaneers proved. General manager Howie Roseman wasn’t going to let that stand through the 2022 offseason. He’s made splashy acquisitions to wrap up winter and welcome spring. In the process, he’s taken his franchise from a +450 early underdog to unseat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East to a worthy +175 contender to Dak Prescott’s throne, per Tipico.

In the span of three months, here’s what he’s done to add firepower to his playoff armada:

  • re-signed Jason Kelce so he can end his career in Philadelphia while drafting his replacement, Cam Jurgens
  • signed Haason Reddick and re-signed Derek Barnett to bring stability to an inconsistent pass rush
  • replaced Alex Singleton (12.7 percent missed tackle rate, 111.4 passer rating allowed in coverage) with Kyzir White (5.3 percent missed tackle rate, 88.1 rating allowed) at linebacker
  • traded one of his three 2022 first round picks to the Saints for a smattering of valuable selections that sets Philly up for another draft with multiple Day 1 selections in 2023
  • traded another 2022 first round pick to the Tennessee Titans to acquire AJ Brown, who then signed a four year, $100 million extension to stay in town
  • traded up in the first round to draft Jordan Davis, a 341-pound defensive lineman capable of beefing up an aging group in the trenches and also the fastest big man in Combine history
  • drafted Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, an expected first round pick, in the third round after injury concerns caused Dean’s stock to plummet
  • signed James Bradberry, a 2020 Pro Bowler, to beef up his aging secondary after the Giants released him earlier this offseason.

These are all very good things. The Eagles bring back everyone from a top five offensive line. A pass rush that ranked 31st in the league in sacks got reinforcements along the edge and the kind of pocket-crumpling, gap-shooting interior line help to make their lives easier.

Opposing quarterbacks crushed Philadelphia with short-range targets, completing nearly 70 percent of their passes thanks to the league’s lowest target depth (6.4 yards downfield — 31st-ranked Buffalo clocked in at 7.0). Upgrading from Singleton to White helps that cause. So will Dean whenever he’s available to step into the lineup.

Bringing Bradberry into the fold adds another capable defender to the secondary. That group was a deterrent that kept opponents from taking shots downfield thanks to the outstanding play of Darius Slay and Anthony Harris. Both those guys will be 31 years old this season. Adding a younger option to help carry the load should be a rising tide for the Eagles’ ships.

Finally there’s Brown, who football scholars will note is very good at this. The 24-year-old wideout combines all the individual strengths of Philadelphia’s existing wideouts and rolls them into a single player who commands double coverage.

He can chop up cornerbacks near the line of scrimmage and explode for big gains after the catch like Jalen Reagor was expected to, as evidenced by his 972 yards-after-catch in 2019 and 2020. He can be the deep threat DeVonta Smith proved to be as a rookie — his 11.3 yards before catch in ’19 matches up nicely with Smith’s 10.9 last fall. He has the big body to break tackles and scoot upfield like Dallas Goedert, as shown in his 13 broken tackles in 14 games in 2020.

That will be vital for the development of Jalen Hurts (or, if you want to be difficult, Gardner Minshew, though Hurts is absolutely the Eagles’ top option). Hurts’ third season as a pro will likely determine his fate. He’s a viable mobile quarterback, but isn’t yet a franchise cornerstone thanks to a passing game that has yet to match the efficiency of his legs.

Hurts ranked 16th out of 31 qualified starting quarterbacks last season in expected points added per play. His Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE), which measures throw quality by measuring the throws an average NFL quarterback is reasonably expected to make vs. his actual completions (using the league’s Next Gen Stats framework), paints him as 2021’s 18th-best quarterback. His CPOE of minus-0.2 significantly trailed league leader Joe Burrow’s 6.0.

from RSBDM.com/stats

Even if he’s just an average passer it’s a step up from the small sample size of his rookie 2020. Hurts’ CPOE that season was a rough minus-3.4 as he was outperformed by non-stars like Drew Lock, Joe Flacco, and Nick Foles. Between 2020 and 2021 he upped his completion rate from 52 percent to 61.3 percent while keeping his average pass distance roughly the same. That’s a function of an upgraded receiving corps led by Smith and Goedert, but it’s also a testament to the young quarterback’s growth.

Roseman is counting on another season of improvement and has gone out of his way to ply him with the quarterback’s equivalent of protein powder. Adding Brown to the receiving mix means Hurts will have viable options for at every level on any given down. Most importantly, his rising wideout corps gives him the opportunity to hone the deep ball issues that have held him back early in his career; per Sports Information Solutions, he ranked 24th among qualified quarterbacks last season after completing only 22 of his 57 attempts (38.6 percent) of throws that traveled 20+ yards downfield.

The Eagles made it to the playoffs in 2021 but beat zero of the 13 other teams that joined them in the postseason. They had one win over a franchise with a winning record and it was the Trevor Siemian-led Saints. It was easy to surmise last year’s unexpected competence wasn’t the end of Philadelphia’s brief trek through a rebuilding desert but just an oasis.

But rather run that well dry, Roseman invested in the land, drilled down in hopes of finding more water, and turned it into a resort. The Eagles understood their strengths and weaknesses and played to each in the kind of offseason that can inform the next decade of wins and losses.

The very real question of whether they have the quarterback play to usurp the Cowboys in the NFC East remains. If Jalen Hurts can’t do it, it won’t be blamed on the executive team behind him.

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