John McMullen: Eagles must avoid first-place trap and sell their division dreams

An hour of football for Howie Roseman.

Sixty minutes for the Eagles’ general manager to decide so much about the 2020 season and his team.

Are the Eagles contenders, albeit in the worst division since motor vehicles, or a Chrissie Hynde-inspired “Pretender” living off the fumes of recent Super Bowl glory that has been slipping further off into the distance of the rear-view mirror?

To some, 60 minutes of football on a Thursday night in South Philadelphia wasn’t even needed. The sample size of 1-4-1 was already worthy of a decision when critiquing the Eagles. And what would a win over the 1-5 New York Giants really mean anyway? The Birds always beat Big Blue and they did it again on Thursday night for the eighth straight time, rallying from a 21-10 deficit with two touchdowns in the final five minutes.

Take away an Even Engram drop with Will Parks trailing and Rodney McLeod bearing down but arriving far too late, and the Eagles were going to be losers, heading into a 10-day mini-bye of misery.

In the end, however, the scoreboard read 22-21 Philadelphia when the 5,500-or-so fans filed out of Lincoln Financial Field, the result being an almost chicken-and-the-egg existential question. Did the Eagles win or did the Giants lose after Engram spoiled Joe Judge’s trip home?

“You know how tough it is in this league to win games and so for us to rally back, six minutes to go, luckily with the drop that Engram gave us, we took advantage of the opportunity, so I’m thankful for that,” defensive end Brandon Graham said.

My first instinct before talking with Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz on Zoom was to head to Twitter to find out if Donald Trump or Joe Biden offered up any plans to fix the NFC East at their debate that no doubt dwarfed the NFL’s television ratings. Heck, if the Chinese Communist Party or any of those Russian disinformation hackers have any ideas, they’re welcome to join the discussion as well.

Anything to improve the play in this historic malaise of once-proud rivals.

For what it’s worth the Eagles seemed giddy to be on top of the division at 2-4-1 even if they looked like an abject disaster for about 50 of the 60 minutes we’re talking about.

“It does a lot for our confidence, the way we’ve really fought to come back in the last couple ball games,” Wentz explained. “To actually do it and pull out a win is huge for our confidence and we know it’s a divisional game. So it’s huge for the NFC East, as well.”

“It just says a lot about this team,” added running back Boston Scott, who caught the game-winning TD pass from Wentz. “Like I said in past weeks, it’s never been a matter of ‘want to.’ It’s never been a matter of effort. It’s never been a matter of fight. It’s just the little things that have caused us to fall short. As long as we’re firing on all cylinders and dialed into the little things, I don’t think there’s many teams that can really stop us.”

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The fool’s gold of this potential division title and a home playoff game as an under .500 “champion” could do more harm than good when it comes to a Roseman self-scout in advance of the Nov. 3 trade deadline, however.

Already there have been dueling narratives around the league. Howie is going to buy like he always does according to some insiders thinking a run is there once the Eagles get healthy, or he’s going to sell per others cognizant of Philadelphia’s 2021 salary-cap situation and the disastrous decisions to bring back aging veterans like DeSean Jackson and Jason Peters.

Jackson returned against the Giants and was impactful early and carted off late — not that anyone would be interested in a 33-year-old speed receiver who’s played seven out of a potential 24 games since returning to Philadelphia, even if he had finished Thursday night unscathed.

Multiple executives around the NFL expected Roseman to deal Zach Ertz before the deadline, something complicated by the high-ankle sprain that sent the veteran to injured reserve earlier in the week. That has more to do with Ertz’s angst and the disrespect he believes the organization has shown toward him after he put his health and potential future aside to play against Seattle in the playoffs back in January despite a cracked rib and lacerated kidney.

Now, Ertz isn’t even eligible to play again until Nov. 22 in Cleveland, 19 days after another organization would have to make a decision on bringing him in.

From a big-picture standpoint, little changed on Thursday night other than the realization that Roseman might have nothing to sell including the narrative that winning the NFC East is meaningful.

As for any potential buying impulse, Roseman needs to take a page out of a Biden strategy and place a lid on that.


John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com.

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

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