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March 10, 2023

Eagles' departures will hammer home how brutal the Super Bowl loss was

The Eagles are likely to lose a huge part of their defensive nucleus this offseason. A step back in 2023 will only make the team's Super Bowl LVII loss sting more.

The post-Super Bowl drain has occurred with the Eagles' coaching staff and it won't be long until free agency saps the team further of star power.

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon have bolted for heading coaching positions. I'm bullish on the promotion of former quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson and the hire of new DC Sean Desai, but turnover is always going to cause a bump in the road. That's just the nature of moving parts and the ensuing trickle-down effect. 

It appears that the Eagles' defense, the one that was the top pass D in the league in 2022, will look markedly different in 2023. By the day, it seems more likely that All-Pro corner James Bradberry, NFL interception leader C.J. Gardner-Johnson, elite interior pass rusher Javon Hargrave and even Pro Bowler Darius Slay will be playing elsewhere come the fall. 

Those are four guys in various stages of their respective primes who had game-changing moments during the Eagles' ride to the Super Bowl. Note that I called it the ride to the Super Bowl. It was not a ride to a Super Bowl win nor a parade down Broad Street. 

The Eagles, if you've been living under a rock for the last month, lost Super Bowl LVII to the Chiefs 38-35. That includes a blown 10-point halftime lead that will sting this fan base and this city until the day that Jalen Hurts himself lifts the Lombardi Trophy, if that day ever comes. 

That's what hurts the most for Eagles fans. Nearly reaching the pinnacle of the sport and not bringing home the hardware is painful in its own right, but the climb up that mountain top is only more grueling after coming so, so close. 

Eagles fans believe the team can get back to the Super Bowl. Sure, they certainly can, but assuming it's an inevitability is wrong. The NFC is weak, yes. If Derek Carr is the No. 3 quarterback in the conference, the Eagles are going to have every opportunity to be in the big game in the near future. It's not that simple though. 

The Eagles had all 22 Week 1 starters available for the Super Bowl. That's unfathomable injury luck. Odds are that it won't be the same again this upcoming season. The Birds had the most valuable contract in the entire NFL in 2022, an MVP runner-up quarterback on not just a rookie contract, but on a Day 2 rookie contract. Hurts had a cap hit of $1.6 million this past year. He had four total touchdowns in the Super Bowl. That type of value hadn't been seen since Russell Wilson, another intangible leader at QB on a Day 2 rookie-scale deal, won Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seahawks. 

And, wouldn't you know it, once Wilson's contract extension kicked in, it was infinitely harder for Seattle to get back to that peak. 2013 was the lone championship for the franchise and it was perhaps the best team of the entire 2000s.

Hurts' payday, which will be much deserved, is coming. It'll likely pay him upwards of $50 million per year. That's the nature of having an elite QB in the NFL. The Eagles have a franchise guy and not paying him would be a horrific decision. Even so, it'll make getting a stacked roster around him way more difficult. Patrick Mahomes won his second Super Bowl, the first one on his $450 million contract, but I'm not sure anyone in the history of the league is as talented as Mahomes. That's not a knock on Hurts, who I truly could see donning a gold jacket in Canton one day. It's the reality of the situation. 

Regression will come, particularly on defense. The Eagles had the second-most sacks in NFL history in 2022 with 70. That was 15 more than the No. 2 squad, coincidentally, the Chiefs. Brandon Graham is back coming off a career-best 11 sacks. Shoulda/coulda/woulda potential Defensive Player of the Year Haason Reddick will once again be causing nightmares for opposing offensive coordinators. Josh Sweat is improving annually. Having a consistently elite defense, however, is nearly impossible with the ebbs and flows of football, particularly with such a focus on offensive fireworks to appease fans, advertisers and gamblers. They could be losing four out of five of their starting defensive backs and with no veterans on the way in the form of reinforcements. 

The Eagles were so close. So close. It's enough to have fans spiraling. Getting back is just so damn hard. Just one team in the 21st century has won the Super Bowl following the year they lost it. The 2018 Patriots did so after losing in 2017 (to the Eagles by a score of 41-33 in case you forgot!). Nick Sirianni is one of the game's best coaches and you can tell already how highly I think of Hurts, but Sirianni is not Bill Belichick nor is Hurts the 🐐 himself.

So many things have to fall perfectly into place to get the Super Bowl, outside of winning the big game outright. Injury luck, as I said. They played Daniel Jones and a smörgåsbord of backup 49ers QBs in the playoffs at home! The stars aligned as well as they ever could. The offense was humming in the Super Bowl, scoring five touchdowns as Hurts nearly pulled off a pantheon-level Super Bowl QB performance. History is written by the victors, however. QB1 would certainly trade that performance for one akin to the likes of Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson if it meant he got a ring. 

Any Super Bowl loss is a mental hurdle for a team to overcome. This specific loss has to take things to another level though. They had a two-score lead at halftime! They might never be in that position again with this nucleus. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing. I thought the Eagles would reel off a couple more Super Bowls over the next decade after their Super Bowl LII triumph. Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz are long gone. That, obviously, did not come to fruition. 

If you want to believe and dream wholeheartedly, I won't stop any fan from doing that. That's the beauty of fandom, the highs and lows that make the eventual championship win oh-so sweet. I can't, however, shake the feeling that I just covered the best Eagles team of all time, they didn't get it done on the big stage and the path back there is as fierce as a trek to Mordor. 

Frodo and the gang, against all odds, did finish the job, so maybe this Eagles fellowship gets it done next February, but windows are always smaller than we want to believe. If this was this group's best shot at winning it all, the loss will hurt more as the years go on than the collective hangover that the Delaware Valley had on the morning of Feb. 13. 

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