The minutes kept passing, long after the red and yellow confetti settled on the field in Glendale, Arizona. Super Bowl LVII had been over for more than an hour before the first Eagles players began to trickle into their postgame media sessions. Many of the victorious Chiefs players had already come and gone before they did, despite having lingered on the field for the trophy presentation. But the Eagles lingered in their losing locker room, spending some additional moments together as a team before heading into an offseason that will inevitably see new faces come and others go.
“[General manager] Howie Roseman has a lot of work this offseason,” center Jason Kelce said. “There’s a lot of free agents and a lot of guys coming up. That’s one of the things that’s frustrating. Obviously, we knew as a team it was going to look very different next year, and there are a lot of guys that have been here for a long time. We’ll see how that unfolds over the offseason.”
“How that unfolds” will involve decisions on 18 pending free agents, including eight starters or key role players on defense. It will involve high-profile draft picks, including two in the first round and four in the top 100 this April. It will involve replacing key members of the coaching staff, including potentially both coordinators; offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is expected to become head coach in Indianapolis, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is among the finalists for the Cardinals coaching job. And it will involve making a franchise-altering decision on when and how to pay quarterback Jalen Hurts—who is coming off a record-breaking 374-yard, four-touchdown Super Bowl performance—that will impact just about everything else they do.
Hurts is the good news. He is the main reason the Eagles can emerge from a Super Bowl loss facing major roster-building questions and still feel a sense of optimism going into next year and beyond. Hurts was a legitimate MVP candidate in his third season and was answering questions about his abilities as a pure passer right through the Super Bowl, after which there should be none left.
“To me, Jalen played the best game I’ve seen him play in the two years that we’ve been together,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.
Sirianni went on to say that he still doesn’t think the Eagles know what Hurts’s ceiling is as a player because he’s still getting better. They’re set to find out, though, as Hurts is now part of the team’s long-term vision, and is in line for a contract extension that could easily be worth more than $45 million per year. The price Philadelphia pays for not drafting Hurts in the first round is that his rookie contract does not include a fifth-year option, meaning the 24-year-old is entering the fourth and final year of his deal. He is in line to go from making just over $1 million and ranking as the 47th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL to being one of the league’s top-paid players. The trickle-down from that decision is massive, especially for a team currently ranking 18th in the NFL in 2023 cap space, at $1.3 million over the cap, according to Spotrac.
Hurts is well worth it though, and paying a quarterback of his caliber is a problem any NFL team would want to have. The salary cap is rising more than $16 million—to $225 million—and Philadelphia can add cost-controlled talent through the draft, using the two first-round picks that a year ago looked like ammunition to get a quarterback if Hurts didn’t prove himself. There are questions going forward, but in the years to come, the Eagles offense can pretty much count on looking similar to the unit that was one of the NFL’s best this year. Losing Steichen would be a major hit to the coaching staff and would leave Sirianni with a decision on whether to pick play-calling duties back up, but quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is a good in-house replacement for the OC gig. Johnson has been a hot name for offensive coordinator jobs this coaching cycle, but with that promotion open in Philadelphia, it seems like the Eagles have the inside track to keeping him. The three most important pass catchers—DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert—are under contract, and the offensive line should stay mostly intact, especially if Kelce does not retire (a decision he said he wasn’t ready to make Sunday night).
Defensively, there are bigger questions, regardless of whether Gannon departs. Defensive linemen Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Javon Hargrave; linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White; cornerback James Bradberry; and safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps are all slated for free agency. It won’t be possible for the Eagles to bring them all back, particularly once Hurts gets his payday.
Even more fundamentally, the Super Bowl showed that the team has some soul-searching to do about what kind of defensive unit they want to have going forward if their goal is to be able to stop the best quarterbacks in the league. The Eagles were the more talented team and certainly had the more talented defense in the game, but Gannon’s strategy of selling out to stop the pass allowed the Chiefs to run for 158 yards at 6.1 yards per carry and allowed Mahomes to rack up a 78-percent completion rate, mostly on short, easy throws that kept Kansas City in positive downs and distances and mitigated Philadelphia’s pass rush.
One of the most interesting pieces of news in the lead-up to the Super Bowl was that the Eagles had brought in defensive guru Vic Fangio on a two-week contract to help design their game plan. Before the game, it seemed like a master stroke. In hindsight, it does raise the question of whether Sirianni believes his defensive staff needs a fresh voice in the room.
Roseman will be the chief architect of these offseason moves. It’s a fascinating situation for one of the NFL’s most successful and experienced general managers, who will get another chance to build a roster capable of the kind of sustained dominance that has eluded him in the past. Roseman’s best success stories as a general manager have largely been of two kinds: building stacked rosters around rookie contract quarterbacks and making high-upside moves, like drafting Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata in the seventh round and coaching him up to be a franchise tackle. What Roseman hasn’t always done is hit on his top draft picks, a necessary component of staying competitive while paying a quarterback at market rate. He’s got two more chances coming up in the first round, though, and he has a strong core to add to.
“I know we have some free agents. There will be time to discuss that. There will be time to talk through all of that, but I know we’ve got a good nucleus of guys back to continue to build on,” Sirianni said. “There was a lot of good football this year. We did a lot of good things. As a team, this one stings. This one hurts. We will no doubt get better from it. We’ve got a good, young quarterback that’s played a phenomenal year, a good offensive line, good defense. Just all accounts. We know we have the right people in place.”
The other thing the Eagles go into this offseason with is the lesson of failure. As Hurts, Sirianni, and the rest of the team huddled in the other room, Patrick Mahomes was speaking from the MVP podium about how losing the Super Bowl two years ago helped the Chiefs win it this time.
“The failure of losing a Super Bowl and losing the AFC championship game gives you a greater appreciation to be standing here as a champion,” Mahomes said.
That quote reminded me of something Tom Brady said when he was interviewed for part of the NFL 100 All-Time Team programming in 2019. Having gone to and won the Super Bowl in three of his first four NFL seasons, Brady said that it wasn’t until he was nearly a decade into his NFL career, when the Patriots had lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants and were in a postseason rut, that he realized how hard it was to win that game.
The Eagles know how hard it was now. They understand how hard it was to leave the locker room knowing that the season was over and they’d come just short. Before they exited, Hurts apologized to his teammates for fumbling in the second quarter, despite being the best player they had on the field during the game. Although Hurts is normally stoic, when that play was mentioned to him during his postgame riser, tears welled in his eyes.
“I think the beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different pains; everyone experiences different agonies of life, but you decide if you want to learn from it,” Hurts said. “You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment. I know I do.”
That feeling won’t add a dollar to the salary cap or nail a single draft pick. But as the Eagles make their way forward, it’s got to count for something.