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March 04, 2019

Angelo Cataldi: Eagles chose to keep one Super Bowl hero, lose another

The two players most responsible for the only Super Bowl the Eagles have ever won met with radically different fates last week. Sometimes winning a championship is not enough. Sometimes it is.

Folk hero Nick Foles was set free by the Eagles, despite his remarkable success in relief of Carson Wentz the past two seasons. He is already looking for a team in need of a veteran quarterback who has a knack for performing his best under the greatest pressure.

Meanwhile, Brandon Graham contradicted his own vow to test the free-agent market by signing a new three-year deal with the Eagles. If he hadn’t swatted the ball away from Tom Brady in Super Bowl 52 last year, there’s a very good chance the franchise would still be seeking its first NFL championship in the modern era.

The Foles decision, while no surprise, was still a poignant one because of the bond he had formed with the fans during his two tours of duty here, a connection so strong there are many who still believe he is a better option to run the Eagles offense than Carson Wentz.

Coach Doug Peterson added to that impression, unwittingly, last week when he said the team was “one play away” from . . . . he didn’t specify exactly what, but let me fill in the blank here.

Foles was one play away from winning another Super Bowl. That’s right. If the pass late in the New Orleans playoff loss didn’t bounce off the hands of Alshon Jeffrey, the Eagles would have won that game. Then they would have beaten a stagestruck Jared Goff and the Rams in the NFC championship game, before ousting Brady and the Patriots again.

Insane, you say? Not with Nick Foles making big play after big play in the biggest moments. Foles leaves behind spectacular memories that Wentz will be hard pressed to match, let alone exceed. Regardless of where he goes or how he fares, Foles will be a beloved figure here for the rest of his life.

Whether the Eagles are right to move forward without the best insurance policy in sports and hope Wentz finally figures out how to stay healthy is an issue that will haunt the young quarterback for years. How do you top a parade? Two parades? Good luck with that.

Just a few weeks ago, Foles figured to be a better bet to stay in Philadelphia than the other Super Bowl hero because Graham is past the magic number of 30 years old and he is coming off a so-so season. The fact that he invoked his family when he said he owed it to them to test the market seemed to be a goodbye message to the Eagles.

But no. Amid the hoopla over the signing of Bryce Harper, Graham quietly agreed to terms on a three-year extension last weekend, the first-round bust who defied the odds and became a star. Graham is more than an accomplished pass rusher; he is a big part of the personality of the team, a fan-friendly spokesman in good times and bad. He deserved every nickel of the $40-million contract he received.

There are already reports that Foles is headed to Jacksonville, where he will finally be on top of the depth chart. Having just turned 30 — not nearly as worrisome an age for a quarterback — he’s still got years to prove the past two seasons were no fluke.

If all goes according to plan, Nick Foles will look across the line some day and see his old friend Brandon Graham — two heroes chasing an encore to the magical 2018 season.

And finally . . .

• Robert Kraft’s arrest last week for soliciting prostitution in a Jupiter, Fla., massage parlor was easily the most bizarre sports story of the year so far. The man is a 77-year-old billionaire with a gorgeous 39-year-old girlfriend, he is the most powerful owner in sports right now, the reigning champ, and he’s allegedly paying $79 for a happy ending? Really? Wait until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell launches his investigation. After his botched Patriots crises in Spygate and Deflategate, something tells me there will be no happy ending this time.

• Wayne Simmonds’ eight-year tenure with the Flyers ended last week when he was traded to Nashville for rugged winger Ryan Hartman and a fourth-round draft pick. Or did it? Simmonds will be a free agent after the season, and the outpouring of appreciation for him served as an early pitch for his return. It’s not every day that a teammate says, on mic, what Claude Giroux told Simmonds during the outdoor game last week. “I love you,” the captain said. Giroux was speaking for a majority of Flyers fans.

• Has any team in Philadelphia history been less reliable with health information than the Sixers are right now? Joel Embiid hasn’t played in 14 days because of a sore knee, an injury that the team implied was minor. Originally, the Sixers said Embiid would be reevaluated in a week. Then he missed the next five games, including Oklahoma City and Golden State. Now it’s two full weeks, and still no word on when the franchise player will be back. Why is everything such a big secret with this team?

• The Jason Witten experiment ended after one humiliating season on ESPN. The former and future Dallas tight end returned to the Cowboys last week after stumbling through a year in the broadcast booth that called into question his judgment and that of the network. Did Witten get the job because his ex-teammate Tony Romo made such a smooth transition? Had it reached a point where all a person needed to get a broadcast job was a star on his helmet? Well, the good news is, we might not need the mute button next season for Monday Night Football.

• Pro Football Focus, a website blindly dedicated to statistical analysis, honored Alshon Jeffrey with the title of most improved Eagle last week. Hmmm. Who wants to break the news to them that Jeffrey’s horrific drop in the division playoff game against New Orleans cost the Eagles a chance to repeat as champions? Anybody?