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January 27, 2023

Is this the last dance for Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Jason Kelce as Eagles?

Sunday's NFC Championship carries the possibility that it could be the last home game for the three long-time Eagles

Fletcher Cox has played alongside Brandon Graham for so long that he likens the two of them to being an old married couple. 

So when he, Graham, and Jason Kelce walked to midfield to meet with the Giants' captains for the coin toss ahead of last week's divisional round playoff game, Cox wasn't fazed at all once Graham immediately started trash talking Dexter Lawrence and Saquon Barkley.

He's been doing it for years. That's just BG. 

"It's just like one of them things," Cox said during his media availability down at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday. "I tell a lot of people I feel like me and BG have been married for 11 years now. Some of the things he does, it's just second nature."

Kelce knows the drill just as well too, even if he wasn't all that thrilled about Graham going after Lawrence, the nose tackle who was going to be Kelce's main blocking assignment that night. 

"Yeah, I wasn't happy about that," the veteran center said. "I told him 'Hey, man. You talk s*** to the tackle, okay? I'll handle this guy. I don't need him more revved up than he already is.'"

But again, he knows the drill. 

"It's just who he is," Kelce added. "It helps him get going and it's part of his process of being the monster that he's been for such a long time here. 

"BG, Fletch, [right tackle Lane Johnson], all four of us have been here for a very long time, a decade-plus – BG being the longest. He's a special person, a special teammate. He's one of those guys that brings the energy and he backs it up too. You have to. If you're gonna be that guy you have to back it up as well, otherwise guys aren't gonna like it. So he's a unique individual that makes other guys around him better just by being the person he is."

And you can argue all four do that. 

Graham, who arrived first in 2010, Kelce (2011), Cox (2012), and Johnson (2013) were all Eagles draft picks who went on to become pillars of the franchise for the past decade and counting. And they've been through it all together: Good teams, bad teams, injuries, fired coaches, different quarterbacks, new systems, whatever it was Chip Kelly was trying to do when he gained control of the front office, and even what was once thought impossible in 2017 when the underdog run just kept rolling all the way to the organization's first-ever Super Bowl title. 

They've been crucial to all of the Eagles' success over the years, to the point where Nick Sirianni knew he was in a great, and unique, position coming in as a rookie head coach last season, even when many others couldn't see it. 

"I've said this before too, when I first got the job here, I said I wasn't like other first-year head coaches," he said Wednesday.

"Why I said that was because I had these unbelievable players that have been to the mountaintop, that have played in this league for 10-plus years, two on the offensive line, two on the defensive line, that's a huge, huge advantage to have those leaders on your football team."

Now, five years later and as the only four remaining from that original championship run, they're here in a position that no other Philadelphia Eagle has been in before: Just two wins away from doing it all again. 

But the Eagles are a way different team now, and Graham (34), Cox (32), Kelce (35), and Johnson (32) are all getting up there in age. 

Graham was asked about that on Wednesday, and said "I'm just soaking it all up one day at a time." 

Opportunities like the one coming up Sunday against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game don't come around all that often, and he learned from former teammate and fan favorite Brent Celek that you have to cherish runs like these for however long they last. Focus on the task at hand, but take some time to appreciate the moment too. 

Cox and Kelce echoed similar sentiments on Thursday. They know the team is on the cusp of doing something special, but that there's a ton of work still to do. They said they're trying to stay focused and keep the week business as usual, not just for themselves, but to lead by example for a majority of players on the roster who have never made it this far before. 

Still – with the exception of Johnson – they each know in the back of their minds that there likely aren't many days left for them in midnight green, that even Sunday afternoon at the Linc could be their final home game. 

Graham made an incredible comeback from an Achilles tear suffered in Week 2 of last season to set a career-high 11 sacks, but he'll turn 35 in April, is playing in a reduced role, and is at the end of his current deal.

"I'm just more so trying to finish the deal with this season," Graham said on Wednesday. "Then we'll talk more as that goes."

Cox had been showing signs of slowing down the past couple of years but was able to take fewer snaps (713) once Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh entered the fold midseason. It gave him a second wind, one where he was able to rack up four of his seven sacks in 2022 throughout the back half of the schedule. 

But he's on an expiring deal too and will be a free agent this spring if the Eagles can't get him another contract. He briefly was one already last March.

"It's something I haven't thought about," Cox said. "I know I'm still playing at a high level, so that hasn't crossed my mind once, at all. I'm just enjoying the moment, seizing every moment that I'm here, appreciating my teammates. Again, after the season, it'll be the first time ever in my career that I'll be a free agent and get to make a choice.

"But at the end of the day, I think the most important part now is focusing on this game and not the future."

And Kelce, still one of the best centers in the NFL, who came back for this year but has been pondering retirement for the past several?

"It was maybe three years ago, I think it might've been [Doug Pederson's] last year, it was on my mind quite a bit," he said. "So I've learned now that I don't know when that last game's gonna come, so maybe I think about it a little bit less. 

"It's always a chance that that's gonna be the situation, but you just try to think about the game and focus on taking in the moment and being 100 percent there. It's hard enough doing it that way. It's gonna be a lot harder if you're not focused."

The moment is Sunday against the 49ers, in what will undoubtedly be an electric Lincoln Financial Field behind 69,000-strong, with the Eagles just a good 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl, and with it being a possible on-field send-off for the longtime core that made it all possible in the first place. 

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