The Eagles roster and injured reserve list for Sunday’s season-ending wild-card playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks included 28 players who earned Super Bowl LII rings -- 29 if you count Shelton Gibson, who returned for a one-week postseason cameo.
The SBLII veterans group includes most of the leadership corps of a team that, while showing a lot of character and grit in the two seasons since that amazing triumph, still couldn’t get past the divisional round last season and could not win a wild-card game this time. How different could the team and its leadership look when the Eagles reconvene in the spring?
General manager Howie Roseman will face a few questions along those lines when he meets with reporters later this week.
Monday, as oversize plastic garbage bags dotted the floor of the NovaCare locker room, the potential for significant change was on a lot of minds.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, the team’s social conscience and the leader of the defensive backfield, declared he will not return under the terms of his current contract, which has one year remaining, at $7.6 million.
“I won’t be back under the same deal. That won’t happen,” said Jenkins, 32, who made his desire for a new contract clear last spring. At various points there were reports that an accord might be imminent, but nothing ever came to fruition.
“I’ve reached a point where I’ve done what I can," he said. "At this point it’s up to my agent and management. I let my soul bleed every time I touch the field. I sacrifice myself. Do whatever I’m asked to do, so I’m content with doing my part. The rest will just fall where it does.”
Across the room, tight end and leading receiver Zach Ertz was sounding like someone who thought he might be traded, or at least was accounting for that possibility, with two years remaining on a contract he would like to see boosted and Dallas Goedert waiting in the wings.
“There’s a lot of questions, I feel like,” Ertz said. “There’s a lot of free agents on this football team. I can only speak for myself.
“The fact of the matter is that no one knows what’s going to happen, with me or with anyone. Probably the only one that knows for sure is Carson,” he said, referring to quarterback Carson Wentz and his $128 million contract.
Left tackle Jason Peters, whose contract is up, didn’t speak on clean-out day, but he was very clear Sunday that he plans to play somewhere next season. He turns 38 on Jan. 22, and the team drafted his presumed successor, Andre Dillard, in the first round last spring.
“I told them I wanted to play another year. I still can get it done,” said Peters, who was on the field for 75% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in 2019. “If I couldn’t get it done, I’d just walk away, but I can still go. I want to be here ... but the nature of this business, sometimes they move on. We’ll have to see.”
Peters has made nine career Pro Bowls, eight since arriving here in a 2009 trade with Buffalo.
Dillard said he planned to prepare in the offseason as if he is the starter, but if Peters stays, that’s fine, as well.
“I love the dude and I fully support what he wants to do,” Dillard said. “Regardless of what he chooses, I’m just going to do what I can to help the team, because that’s what I’m here for."
Peters is among 15 veteran Eagles who can become unrestricted free agents. With a 27-year-old franchise quarterback in Wentz and a 29-year-old perennial Pro Bowl defensive tackle in Fletcher Cox, among a number of other solid assets, the Eagles won’t be looking to tank the 2020 season and reset. But the league’s second-oldest roster spent its second season in a row performing below preseason expectations, and blaming those struggles largely on an avalanche of injuries.
The 2020 Eagles need to be younger, more explosive, and healthier, on offense and defense. They need to stop bringing back guys who get seriously injured, over and over again. And they need to make the necessary roster moves without destroying the character and cohesiveness that made them the NFC East champions this season over the much healthier Cowboys.
Jenkins played every Eagles defensive snap again this season, for the second year in a row. He has never played fewer than 92% of the snaps in six seasons since arriving as a free agent from New Orleans.
His role has changed as he has gotten older – Jenkins plays almost as a quasi-linebacker much of the time now – but he still makes game-changing plays. Sunday, he notched the Eagles’ only sack of Russell Wilson, and he led the team in hurries, with three.
"I think like anything else, you set your value on the market,” Jenkins said. “The market's good for safeties right now, and I consider myself to be in the top tier of that group. And I'd like to be compensated accordingly."
The top three safety contracts are for $14 million to $14.6 million a year. Asked how long he wants to play, Jenkins noted that he just finished his 11th NFL season.
“I told myself I would make it to 10, and go to year-to-year after that. As long as my body felt good, the money was what I wanted, and the team was a team I enjoy being on, I'd play for as long as I can,” he said. “Right now, I'm physically able. I still love the game. Would love to be here, but I understand this is a business."
Ertz played Sunday with broken ribs and didn’t get medical clearance from an accompanying kidney injury until Saturday.
“We dealt with a lot of stuff – you couldn’t make up the script that went on this year. … Nothing came easy. Guys just stuck together,” he said. “I just can’t wait to feel normal again. They said it’s probably going to take another month to feel back to myself after everything that went on.”
It seems inconceivable that Ertz, who left the training facility with Wentz on Monday, could be on the move this offseason. But sooner or later, he and Goedert are going to be in a position to take up a large chunk of salary-cap space, which rarely happens with a tight-end duo. If Roseman could trade Ertz for a top wide receiver or cornerback, he might have to consider it.
“It’s been an incredible seven years for me here. I want to be here forever,” said Ertz, whose 525 Eagles receptions rank second in franchise history only to Harold Carmichael’s 589. Ertz caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl and made the Pro Bowl the last three seasons.
“I hope I’m able to be here forever. Whatever they decide, they’re going to decide, but it’s been a heck of a run. I don’t ever want it to end. … I’ve grown so much here, my family has grown so much here.
“Obviously, it’s a business. I understand that. Philly is where my heart is. They know that. We’re going to do everything we can to get [a contract extension] done. ... I never want to play for any other team.
"The most important thing to me is winning championships for this city. The feeling you get playing here is second to none. … People say it’s tough playing here. I’m like, ‘It’s not tough. It’s amazing when you win, it’s a little harder when you lose, but when the season’s over, they’re proud, always, of their team.’
“No matter what goes on, as long as you show fight, grit, resilience, this city’s going to love you.”
Eagles’ pending unrestricted free agents:
DB: Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills
OL: Jason Peters, Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
LB: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nigel Bradham (though the team holds an option on Bradham).
QB: Nate Sudfeld, Josh McCown.
WR: Nelson Agholor
TE: Richard Rodgers
DL: Timmy Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Hassan Ridgeway.
RB: Jordan Howard (Corey Clement is a restricted free agent).