The Eagles had one of the most popular and beloved traditions in American sports when it came to Super Bowls. Winning the big game had become something of a mantra for the team. They’d been to four straight Super Bowls and won three of them. In 2014, they were appearing in their fifth Super Bowl and fans couldn’t wait to see what would happen this time around.
When the Eagles lost to the Steelers 23-20 in Super Bowl XLVIII, it ended an incredible run of success for the team. Sure, they had won another Super Bowl the year before but that was against all odds. It was the first time the team had lost a game in which it played all its starters. It was a devastating blow to the locker room and to the fans who’d been chanting “Four more years!” for so long.
Would the Eagles go through another rough patch before finding their way back to the postseason and more importantly, to win the big game again? Or would they be able to build on their 2014 success and go all the way this time?
Eagles Roster Changes
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how much someone won on the Eagles, let’s take a look at some of the changes that this year’s roster will have to face. Hopefully, this will shed some light on the players who will contribute the most and who will have the biggest impact on the upcoming season.
1. Gone But Not Forgotten
As we’ve seen time and time again, when the Eagles have missed the playoffs for multiple years in a row, they’ve had to let some of their key contributors move on. This year will be no different. Last year, four starters from the Super Bowl XLVIII team moved on. Wide receiver Torrey Smith signed with the Bills, tight end Jason Witten joined the Cowboys and linebacker DeMeco Ryans ended up with the Steelers.
All four of those players were starters in the game. Smith had 13 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Witten had 10 receptions for 103 yards. Ryans had 12 total tackles, including one for a loss, while DeMarco Murray rushed for 98 yards on 16 carries. Those are incredible numbers. If the Eagles are going to make a championship run again, they’re going to have to replace a lot of that production.
2. The Golden Ticket To The Playoffs
There will be several key players returning for the Eagles this year including defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Nate Allen. Those three players made up the heart of the Eagles’ defense a year ago.
If the secondary is set to be the strength of the team once again, that could mean big things for the quarterback Carson Wentz. The team drafted Wentz with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and he looked extremely promising during his rookie season. He was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year for his performance while playing in only ten games. In those ten games, he completed 157 of 234 passes for 1,892 yards, 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Those are incredible numbers!
Not only did Wentz have a good rookie season, he continued to improve as the season went on. In the Eagles’ final seven games, Wentz had only one interception in 382 attempts for 3,063 yards, 22 touchdowns and a 100% completion rate. The numbers don’t lie!
3. Two Times Two Are Four
There were some ups and downs last year for the Eagles’ defense. They went from being the worst defense in the league in yardage allowed to being one of the best. The team finished sixth in yards allowed.
For a while it looked like the defense had gotten worse, giving up 39 or more points in five of its last seven games. The secondary had a rough go of it, especially with Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Jenkins leaving the team in free agency. The Eagles addressed those issues in the draft, bringing in cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Joshua Garnett, safety Andre Jenkins and defensive end Derek Barnett. This year’s draft class looks even better with the addition of edge rushers Cody Barton and Elijah Campbell as well as offensive tackle Andre Dillard.
Those seven new players combined for 24 total sacks, 111 tackles and 11 pass defenses on their way to winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. When the dust settled and the voting was done, Jones was the clearcut choice for the award. He recorded a team-high 10 pass break-ups and finished the season with 61 total tackles (41 solo) and four interceptions. The team’s defense looked much, much better during the second half of the season and it showed in the final standings. The Eagles finished second in yards allowed, first in points allowed (17.7 per game) and first in scoring defense (19.0 points per game).
This year’s draft class is deep and talented at defensive end, with Barton, Campbell and Dillard all going in the first round. The secondary is also incredibly young, boasting three first-year players (Jones, Garnett and safety Avon Brown) and a second-year player (Jenkins).
4. The Long Road To Rehab
Last year, the Eagles’ offense had a chance to show some improvement in all areas but one. After a rough patch where they couldn’t score any points, the offense began to click a little bit more. They finished sixth in yards and eighth in points.
If they want to get back to the postseason and be seen as a contender, the Eagles are going to have to work hard in the off-season to get back to where they were a year ago. The most notable addition to the offense is wide receiver Golden Tate. He’ll provide a good outside receiver complement to whoever is throwing him the ball. He had five touchdowns last season for the Lions. He’s also played for the Browns and the 49ers, so he has experience in a variety of different offensive systems.
Trent Cole, the Eagles’ biggest free agent acquisition last year, ended up missing the entire season due to injury. The team opted to not pick up his option for this year, so he’ll be on the cheap. It’s still surprising that a team that went all-in for a playoff run ended up having to spend big money to keep their starters. Safety Malcolm Jenkins signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract. Linebacker Jordan Hicks signed a four-year, $30 million contract and Michael Bennett was the biggest get, signing a five-year, $31.25 million contract. The Eagles were also in the middle of a significant spending spree last year, buying out the contracts of Derek Barnett, Jay Ajayi and Vinny Curry. Even though it’s only March, we already know that Jenkins is set to miss the entire season due to injury. This year’s free agent class is lacking in impactful signings. The Eagles have several key restricted free agents including Bennett, Cole, and Jenkins. The team has yet to negotiate a contract with any of those players, so we’ll have to see how it plays out.
5. Building A Championship Squad
With all those new faces and a healthy Carson Wentz, the defensive players are looking forward to hitting the field and proving that last year was no fluke. At least, not entirely. The team brought back the same general manager John Lynch and head coach Doug Pederson who were responsible for orchestrating the team’s remarkable turnaround a year ago. If they want to get back to the postseason and be seen as a championship team, the Eagles are going to have to show a lot of improvement this upcoming season.
There are a number of challenges ahead for the Eagles. Those challenges will hopefully make for an interesting story. Whether or not they are able to overcome them remains to be seen. The key for now is to take it one game at a time and continue to develop and grow as a team. If they can do that, anything is possible.