PHILADELPHIA — Wearing a gold sweatshirt with the hood up, Eagles receiver A.J. Brown had his back to the large media contingent gathered at his locker stall early last week as he slowly collected all the items that had built up over the long season — opponents’ jerseys, cleats, gloves, swag — and placed them in an oversized trash bag.
Hanging over his chair separate from the rest of his belongings was his game jersey from Super Bowl LVII, the decal of the Lombardi Trophy resting between the red Arizona mountains facing outwards — a reminder of what had just been within fingertip’s reach.
When Brown had much of his stall cleaned out, he turned to face the media crowd, looking drained. He was asked if he was worried about not being able to get back to the dance.
“I mean, you have to,” Brown said in a hushed tone. “This is a tough league. You don’t know how tomorrow looks, let alone a year from now.”
The challenge in front of the Eagles is a sizable one following their 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the title game.
Of the 56 previous teams that lost the Super Bowl, eight of them made it back to the game the following season. Only three of those teams won it — the most recent being the 2018 New England Patriots. The last NFC team to lose the Super Bowl and make it back to the game the following year was the 1974 Minnesota Vikings.
Philadelphia has plenty of things going for it, most notably an ascending quarterback in 24-year-old Jalen Hurts and a strong nucleus of young playmakers that will be by his side for the foreseeable future, including Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert.
But the Eagles have a slew of notable free agents and won’t be able to keep many of them, especially with Hurts due a sizable payday in the not-too-distant future. Two of their top coaches, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, have taken head coaching jobs elsewhere, leaving holes to fill in Nick Sirianni’s staff as well.
With an MVP-level QB and an imaginative front office leading the way, there’s hope the Eagles can defy the odds and capture that Lombardi Trophy next season. But they’ve got some work to do, so let’s take a look at some burning questions.
Who could they lose in free agency?
The following players are slated to be unrestricted free agents:
DT Fletcher Cox
RB Boston Scott
LB T.J. Edwards
WR Zach Pascal
DE Robert Quinn
LB Kyzir White
With Bradberry looking for a large payday and cornerback Darius Slay due to make $17 million in 2023, it will be tough to re-sign Bradberry. Sanders is coming off a career year and wants to stay in Philly, but investing big dollars into the running back position isn’t typically how this front office operates. When it comes to members of the old guard, like Graham and Cox, it could come down to whether Philly can re-sign them at reasonable numbers. The same could be said for Joseph and Suh if they decide to continue playing. Minshew, Dillard, White, Quinn and Kern will probably be elsewhere.
Who will they prioritize keeping?
The Eagles build from the inside-out, and Seumalo and Hargrave have been keys to the success on their respective lines. Seumalo is credited with helping to shape the game plan each week up front along with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and Kelce, who will be welcomed back with open arms if he decides to hold off retirement for another year.
Hargrave posted a career-high 11 sacks this past season. The Eagles would have to pony up to get Seumalo and Hargrave back under contract but it could be worth it in their eyes.
Gardner-Johnson could also be a priority given the versatility and playmaking ability he demonstrated during his one season in Philly. Keeping Edwards and Epps would be a win as well. The Eagles currently have just over $7 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.
How will Sirianni pivot after losing both of his coordinators?
Quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is expected to be elevated to offensive coordinator. As the man working closest with Hurts, he deserves a good chunk of credit for Hurts’ rapid growth this season. Hurts and Johnson have known each other since Hurts was very young — Johnson played for Hurts’ father, Averion, in high school — so the trust is clearly there. Plenty of teams were interested in hiring Johnson, 36, to be their offensive coordinator at year’s end. Philadelphia is fortunate to have a strong in-house option, allowing for continuity.
Passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson is also highly touted and could be elevated to the role of defensive coordinator. He had plenty of talent to work with in the back end, but the way he had the defensive backs playing in unison was impressive, helping the Eagles finish first in pass defense. Their promotions would allow others to rise up the ranks. Assistant quarterbacks coach Alex Tanney, defensive assistant Tyler Scudder and assistant defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald have been identified as up-and-comers internally.
What needs could they address with the 2023 NFL draft?
Offensive and defensive line is always a good bet, especially with veterans like Lane Johnson, Kelce, Cox and Graham heading into the twilight of their careers. They could also target the running back position with Sanders potentially leaving in free agency. They currently hold six picks in the upcoming draft including a pair of first rounders — Nos. 10 and 30 overall.
How does a Hurts extension factor in?
The benefit of having a quarterback on a rookie contract is about to expire. Hurts is eligible for an extension and CEO Jeffrey Lurie recently signaled that Hurts is the type of leader and player they are comfortable committing to. Given recent deals that have been handed out to upper-level quarterbacks, he’s likely going to command north of $45 million per season.
The Eagles are very creative when it comes to contract structure and will find a way to make it as manageable as possible, but there’s only so much manipulating you can do with a contract that size. It falls to Hurts to continue his elite level of play, and to general manager Howie Roseman and company to keep the roster around him from falling off significantly, if they want another chance at the title in 2023.