The exodus of starters from the Eagles 2022 NFC Championship team has begun.
We knew it was coming, all these solid-to-great players being peeled off the roster one by one, moving on to greener pastures while leaving numerous holes for general manager Howie Roseman to fill in their wake.
Knowing the exodus was coming hasn’t made it any easier to watch.
The 2023 Eagles are going to look much different than the squad that went to the Super Bowl, especially on defense, and it’s frustrating to watch other teams with way more cap space than Philadelphia fill in their gaps with our good players.
You can argue Roseman should have risked locker room vibes by signing some of these players to in-season extensions, but in the end, the team reached the Super Bowl, so it’s hard to argue with the decision. Regardless, it’s possible that, by the time the draft rolls around, the Eagles will have lost two starting defensive tackles, a starting offensive lineman, their two starting linebackers, two starting safeties and two starting cornerbacks.
It’s not likely, but it’s possible.
The Birds will probably restructure Darius Slay and sign him to an extension, giving them some cap relief. Lane Johnson’s deal will get restructured, too. However, that doesn’t solve all the Eagles’ cap problems, or even most of them. Kicking the can down the road has resulted in $54.7 million in dead cap money for this year. That, coupled with the much deserved mega contract soon to be signed by quarterback Jalen Hurts, will make the team’s economics even tighter over the next few seasons.
As for free agency, the Eagles have been quiet, and likely will be for the next few days.
But don’t panic yet. There is a long way to go before September rolls around.
Remember where we go a year ago. The Eagles signed Haason Reddick to a mega deal right out of the gate, a huge move that dramatically improved the pass rush. The rest of the month, Roseman added Anthony Harris at safety, re-signed Fletcher Cox (to an insane deal) and Boston Scott, agreed to terms with Zach Pascal, re-signed Derek Barnett and inked linebacker Kyzir White.
Outside of Reddick, it wasn’t terribly inspiring.
Heading into the April draft, it looked like the 2022 Eagles were going to look a lot like the ‘21 version. We were staring at Quez Watkins as the No. 2 wideout and Zach Pascal as the No. 3, with Jalen Reagor still skulking around the building. Zech McPherson was being talked up as their No. 3 corner, while Harris was the de facto free safety, with an unproven Marcus Epps lined on the stron side.
It was not an optimistic time.
Then, everything changed. With two first round picks at their disposal, the Eagles used one of them to draft Jordan Davis at No. 13, then traded their other first rounder to the Titans for wideout A.J. Brown. The addition of Brown was seismic, giving them a true, bona-fide playmaker to pair with DeVonta Smith. It totally transformed the offense and gave Hurts another badly needed weapon on the outside.
We also didn’t have any clue how much better Hurts was going to be.
Even after the draft and the selections of Cam Jurgens and Nakobe Dean, there were still holes on the defensive side of the ball. But in May, the Giants released James Bradberry, allowing Roseman to scoop him up on a one year deal to play opposite Darius Slay, an absolute perfect fit for what they needed.
Only one position of concern remained heading into training camp, at safety, and it looked like the Eagles would go into the regular season with Epps and Harris as the starters. Heck, not every team can have every position locked and loaded, right? Fast forward to roster cut day and Roseman’s trade with the Saints for C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the last piece of a championship-caliber puzzle that took the entire off-season to put together.
Certainly, the Eagles benefitted from New York’s financial situation in snagging Bradberry, and they took advantage of New Orleans’ refusal to pay CJGJ. With Hurts still on his rookie deal, they could afford to pay those vets big money on one-year deals, hoping it would be enough to take them on a run to the Super Bowl.
It all worked out perfectly, and it’s unlikely to happen that perfectly again.
Still, as hard as it is to watch good players walk out the door, leaving gaping holes in a defense with a new coordinator coming into the fold, it’s important to remember that Roseman doesn’t need to have all the answers now.
With the return of Jason Kelce, the offense will largely be exactly what it was last year. The defense is an unquestioned work in progress and, if we’re honest, probably won’t be as good. That being said, Roseman will plug the holes and the 2022 and ‘23 draft picks will have to give them the same kind of production Kansas City’s rookies game them during their Super Bowl run.
So as we watch the great exodus from Philadelphia, remember that it is a very long off-season. The path back to the Super Bowl will not be a straight one, but it certainly won’t be uninteresting, either.