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NFC East Notebook: A new head coach in Philly, hires in Washington and free agent buzz in Dallas

Here are the headlines from around the division this past week

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - Bears at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It took just 10 days but the Philadelphia Eagles found a replacement for Doug Pederson and he appears to be exactly what team owner Jeffrey Lurie is looking for.

The Eagles have named former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni their next head coach.

Lurie has said recently in an interview that he wants someone who is “constantly curious of where the league is headed.” At just 39 years old, Lurie will take over for the 52-year-old Pederson.

Sirianni’s NFL career began in 2008 when he was an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was there for four seasons before spending another five with the Chargers. Sirianni served as the quarterbacks coach in 2014 and 2015 with the Chargers.

The dismissal of Pederson illustrated the sense of urgency amongst Eagles ownership following an abysmal 4-11-1 season - a responsibility that is now on Sirianni’s shoulders. Pederson led the Eagles to three straight playoff appearances, including one Super Bowl title, in his five-year tenure. The Eagles’ last-place finish in the NFC East in 2020 was an anomaly. In the last 20 years, the Eagles have recorded just four wins in a season twice.

The immediate change is therefore about more than just the record.

The problems, of course, begin at quarterback. Carson Wentz did not start the final four games of the season and he still led the league in interceptions and sacks. Wentz expressed that he has no interest in playing backup to Jalen Hurts, or anyone, and the Eagles seem to be sticking with the signal caller for now. Sirianni’s past experience will be particularly helpful here as he was the quarterbacks coach with the Chargers and he navigated a rotating cast of QB’s in Indy over the past few seasons in Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. The Colts fielded a top-10 offense despite the changes under center and the Eagles are hoping Sirianni can help Wentz find whatever confidence he lost in 2020.

The problems for the Eagles run deeper though. For example, Philly drafted three wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft and swapped sixth-round picks with the San Francisco 49ers to acquire the speedy Marquise Goodwin. Despite these changes, the Eagles still finished ranked fifth-worst in the league in passing yards. This is both a reflection of Wentz’s woes and the injuries that plagued the wide receiving corps. But wide receiver was supposed to be a position of strength for Philly in 2020 and it proved to be the opposite. Instead, the Eagles ranked No. 9 in the league overall in rushing yards.

These are just some of the concerns for Sirianni on the offensive side of the ball. As a whole, Philly looks far removed from the team that won the Super Bowl three years ago.

Perhaps the first-time head coach will be able to turn things around.

Washington Football Team

Washington was also busy making numerous front office changes this week. On Friday, the team announced that it has named Martin Mayhew as general manager and Marty Hurney as executive vice president of football/player personnel.

Mayhew comes to Washington with 20 seasons of NFL experience as an executive, including eight seasons as the general manager of the Detroit Lions. His return is a homecoming of sorts as Mayhew played cornerback for Washington from 1989-92 and was a member of the Super Bowl XXVI team.

Most recently, Mayhew spent the past four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers as the team’s vice president of player personnel. He played an important role in the team’s 2019 Super Bowl appearance. Mayhew also has New York ties as he spent the 2016 season as the director of football operations/special projects with the Giants.

Keeping consistent with their coach-centric approach, Mayhew will report directly to Rivera.

Hurney will do the same. He comes to Washington with 28 seasons of NFL experience. Hurney had two stints with the Carolina Panthers in his career. He was named the GM of the team in 2002 and held the position until 2012. He therefore oversaw the hiring of Rivera. Hurney returned to Carolina in 2017 as the club’s interim general manager. During his tenure, he led the Panthers to four postseason appearances, including two NFC South titles, two trips to the NFC Championship game and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

As Washington made important front office moves, it also announced another historical hire. According to ESPN, the Football Team will promote Jennifer Kind to a full-time offensive assistant, making her the first Black woman to be a full-time coach in the NFL. King spent the past season working as a full-time intern.

Washington has come a long way in just one year and these hiring changes only seem to increase their potential.

Dallas Cowboys

By comparison, things were quieter in Dallas this past week. After hiring former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn as the team’s new defensive coordinator, the Cowboys have not made any major changes.

Focus therefore shifts to the players themselves, many of whom on the Cowboys are now free agents. ESPN published a story earlier this week detailing the top NFL free agents this year and three Cowboys made the list.

In total, the Cowboys have about 20 free agents of their own heading into this 2021 offseason. It’s probably easy to guess who the Cowboys’ top free agent is, but it might be surprising to learn that he is viewed as the top overall free agent on the market in 2021. Yes, I’m talking about Dak Prescott. He would be a big prize if he does in fact hit the market.

Here is what ESPN had to say about the signal-caller:

To this point, there has been no reason to project long-term health implications from Prescott’s season-ending ankle injury. Assuming that remains the case, Prescott remains what every quarterback-needy team dreams of: a signal-caller who is highly productive, under 30 years old and universally respected as a leader. And if anything, he elevated those credentials in five games this season, averaging a career-high 371 passing yards per game. He also produced a Total QBR of 78.4, which would have been among the top five in the league if he had enough plays to qualify. But through another franchise tag or via a longer-term deal, it’s difficult to imagine the Cowboys letting him depart.

Of course, the Cowboys have already made clear that they want to keep Prescott around. It’s just a matter of whether the Cowboys will be able to sign him to a long-term deal or have to spend more money than they can reasonably afford on another franchise tag.

Philadelphia Eagles

With the head coaching question answered in Philly, attention shifts to Carson Wentz, as I noted above. Sirianni’s past experience with quarterbacks suggests that he might be able to get Wentz back on track but one of our colleagues at Bleeding Green Nation made an important point earlier this week:

Wentz is not fixable if he does not believe he needs fixing.

Last weekend, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a report that revealed some unflattering details about Wentz. The report said that Wentz “rebuffed advice” and “defied criticism,” that when Carson made mistakes he made “irrelevant excuses,” and that Wentz often defied Pederson with “bizarre [play] kills that made no sense and effectively was going rogue.”

These are scathing critiques of the supposed franchise QB. They demonstrate a selfishness and lack of accountability that are not appropriate in a team player, much less a leader.

As noted earlier, Sirianni is just 39 years old. Of course, Sirianni is older than the 28-year-old Wentz, but young by NFL head coaching standards. If Wentz was disrespecting Pederson, who is known for being humble and inclusive, then it is hard to imagine how we would act around someone new who may or may not believe in him.

It’s unclear if Sirianni would be able to fix Wentz. But he won’t make any progress if Wentz does not take responsibility for his performance in 2020.