The first rule of Tank Club is never talk about Tank Club.
The Eagles clearly and obviously took a dive on Sunday night against Washington, removing quarterback Jalen Hurts and inserting backup Nate Sudfeld in an obvious effort to lose the game against Washington and improve their draft stock from No. 9 to No. 6. But the Eagles can’t say that they did this; otherwise, they’d face the wrath of fans, media, and/or Roger Goodell.
And so coach Doug Pederson told reporters after the 20-14 lost to Washington, presumably with a straight face, that it was his decision to replace Hurts with Sudfeld, and that “I was coaching to win.”
No one is going to believe that Pederson was coaching to win. The trained eye believes that Pederson received an organization directive, from G.M. Howie Roseman or owner Jeffrey Lurie, to make the changes in order to secure the higher spot in the draft order.
It’s not unprecedented (more on that in a separate post). But the circumstances make it more glaring.
It was Sunday Night Football. Last game of the season. A win would have given the Eagles a boost into the offseason, and it would have provided a jolt of confidence for rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The loss, given the way it happened, likely will have the opposite effect — and perhaps then some. As one source with extensive NFL experience observed after the game, “It makes sense to do it, but there’s something that happens to your team when you do it. Something happens culturally.”
It’s a cultural phenomenon that Pederson will have to immediately address in the annual exit interviews with players. But what can he say? I was coaching to win? Because that’s what he already said.
The fact that it happened confirms that Pederson will be back in 2021 (unless he went rogue, which is unlikely). The fact that it kept Hurts from winning the game and enhancing his standing in the eyes of the media and fans will actually make it easier to reset the quarterback position, if that’s what the Eagles decide to do, and potentially re-embrace Carson Wentz.
Regardless, and setting aside whether and to what extent the league decides to investigate the situation as an affront to the integrity of the game, the Eagles lost a piece of their soul tonight. It won’t be easy to get it back.