EAGLES HOPE TO AVOID SUPER BOWL RUNNER-UP BLUES
Life hasn’t been particularly kind to Super Bowl runnersup in the salary cap era.
Since 1994, 11 of 27 Super Bowl losers (40.7%) have missed the playoffs the following year.
Twelve more lost in the wild card or divisional rounds. Three others fell in the conference championship game.
Just one – the 2018 Patriots, who lost to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII – managed to make it back to The Big Game the year after losing. The year after they lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, the Eagles crashed and burned, finishing 6-10 in 2005, thanks in large part to an injury to quarterback Donovan McNabb and the insubordination of Terrell Owens. So, don’t think the Eagles are going to be able to just snap their fingers and make it back to the Super Bowl next season. General manager Howie Roseman and head coach Nick Sirianni are facing a number of significant offseason challenges that are going to make that difficult.
Those challenges include 19 unrestricted free agents, including seven defensive starters and three other key defensive contributors, two starters from what was the league’s best offensive line last season, almost an entirely new defensive coaching staff, and a tight cap that is going to get even tighter after the Eagles sget around to signing quarterback Jalen Hurts to a contract extension. Roseman already has acknowledged that the Eagles won’t be able to re-sign the vast majority of their free agents, which actually could benefit the organization in the long-term since they are likely to receive a slew of compensatory picks in the 2024 draft for the players they are going to lose. They already have eight picks in next year’s draft, including two second-rounders, and could wind up with as many as five or six more depending on how many free agents they lose. “We obviously have a large number of free agents,’’ Roseman said. “We’re going in with the understanding that it’s going to be impossible to keep everybody. “We have a bunch of high picks this year (Nos. 10 and 30 in the first round) and then next year, just by the sheer number of free agents we have, we’re going to have a tremendous amount of (compensatory) picks. Even if we sign a bunch of guys, we are going to have (several) comp picks next year.’’
Hurts is expected to sign an extension in the $50 million-a-year neighborhood that will make him one of the highest paid players in the league.
His cap number likely will stay fairly low in 2023 and possibly even 2024, but then it’s going to skyrocket. The fact that the league’s salary cap is expected to jump as much as $100 million over the next four years will help. But Roseman knows he needs to fortify the team’s foundation with young players on rookie contracts. Which is why he’s so excited about all of the draft picks he’s going to have next year. As for 2023, the defense, which finished second in yards allowed and had a league-high 70 sacks, almost certainly is going to take a big hit in free agency. They are expected to prioritize a couple of their defensive free agents – possibly defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who had a career-high 11 sacks, and 25-year-old safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. But a good many of the rest, including six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and cornerback James Bradberry, probably won’t be back. Under Roseman, the Eagles always have built from the inside out, prioritizing their offensive and defensive lines. Even with a new defensive coordinator. That’s not going to change. They have one of the top edge-rushing tandems in the league in Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, who combined for 27 sacks last season, and traded up in the first round last year to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis. But with Cox not expected to return and 34-year-old Brandon Graham also a free agent, they’ll be looking to add depth to their d-line in the draft or free agency.
A bigger priority, however, if they don’t re-sign Bradberry, will be cornerback. Their other corner, Darius Slay, is 32 and did not play as well last season as he did in 2021. Avonte Maddox is one of the league’s better slot corners, but at 5-9, is too small to play on the outside. There’s a good possibility the Eagles will use the first of their two first-round picks on a corner. Their two starting linebackers – Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards – both are free agents. Nakobe Dean, their 2022 draft pick out of Georgia who was used almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie, will replace one of them, probably White. The Eagles would like to keep Edwards, a former undrafted free agent who is coming off a Pro Bowl-calibre season. But he’s expected to test the market and find out his worth. In all likelihood, it’s going to end up being more than the Eagles can afford. If the Eagles are going to make it back to the Super Bowl in 2023, their offense likely will have to carry them. They finished second in total offense and third in scoring last season. They could lose some key players on offense, but not as many as they will on defense. Running back Miles Sanders and right guard Isaac Seumalo both are free agents and probably aren’t going to be re-signed. Most significantly, Jason Kelce, their five-time All-Pro center, is considering retirement. But the Eagles are in pretty good shape as far as replacements for the three. Kenny Gainwell, who had 236 yards from scrimmage in the Eagles’ three playoff games, is a more decisive runner than Sanders and brings more to the passing game. Center-guard Cam Jurgens, their 2022 second-round pick out of Nebraska, is going to start somewhere next season. If Kelce retires, he’ll replace the future Hall-of-Famer at center. If he doesn’t, then Jurgens likely will replace Seumalo at right guard. The Eagles also have to start thinking about an eventual replacement for All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, who will turn 33 in May. The Eagles might be in the market for a No. 3 wide receiver. A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith combined for nearly 2,700 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. But Quez Watkins was inconsistent and averaged just 10.7 yards per catch, 4.3 fewer than the year. Zac Pascal is an outstanding blocker, but had just 15 receptions. They also need to add a bigger running back to complement the 5-8 ½, 201-pound Gainwell. Last, but definitely not least, the Eagles need to find a backup quarterback. Gardner Minshew is a free agent and isn’t expected to be back. The Eagles likely will sign a veteran with a skill-set similar to Hurts. Marcus Mariota has been mentioned. There’s a good possibility they’ll also either draft one or sign one as a priority free agent. *