As the Eagles cleaned out their lockers at the NovaCare Complex the day after after Sunday’s season-ending 20-14 divisional loss at the New Orleans Saints, defensive end Brandon Graham wasn’t in a hurry to depart.
In fact, after every player cleared out, Graham stayed around to greet each media member as they exited the locker room. He is somebody who has clearly enjoyed his time, and openly said how much he hopes the relationship continues.
Graham is also a realist and understands the economics of the NFL. So do two other upcoming unrestricted free agents, linebacker Jordan Hicks and receiver Golden Tate.
Each talked on Monday about how much he loved the culture, his teammates and the city. But for as much affinity as they have for the organization, they realize it is a two-way street and the team has salary-cap concerns.
Graham, a first-round draft choice out of Michigan (13th overall) in 2010, just completed his ninth season with the Eagles. He just completed a four-year, $26 million contract.
Graham had his best season with the Eagles in 2017 when they won the Super Bowl. He had 9.5 sacks in the regular season, and his strip-sack of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of their 41-33 Super Bowl win over New England will go down as one of the most clutch plays in team history.
Coming off offseason ankle surgery, Graham didn’t have as productive a season in 2018 but still appeared in all 16 games and had four sacks. He will turn 31 on April 3 and is hoping that Sunday’s game wasn’t his final one in an Eagles uniform.
“Hopefully we can extend it a little more. I feel like I am not done yet," he said.
As much as he would like to stay, Graham realizes it isn’t entirely up to him.
“Right now things are up in the air, but I feel they will take care of themselves,” he said. “I feel I will enjoy the process. Nine years has been great and hopefully there will be 10, 11, or no matter how many to come, and we will find out soon.”
Hicks, a third-round pick out of Texas in 2015, just completed his rookie contract, four years and $3,518,000.
He has been a productive player for the Eagles, but there is also an injury history that includes missing eight games his rookie season with a torn pectoral injury, a season-ending torn Achilles in 2017 after seven games, and a calf injury this season that cost him four games.
“This place holds a special place in my heart and we will see what happens,” Hicks said. “There are no guarantees and it is part of the business.”
Hicks, 26, is entering free agency with open eyes and an open mind.
“You want to be somewhere you are wanted and you have to see the market and figure out what is to come,” Hicks said. “There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of different things can happen, but I love this place, love Philly, love the players here, love the guys on the team.”
Tate just completed his ninth season and played the final eight regular-season games and two playoff contests with the Eagles after being traded by the Detroit Lions.
He wasn’t utilized nearly as much as in Detroit. In the regular season for the Eagles, Tate had 30 receptions for 278 yards and a score. During the two playoff games, he had seven receptions for 64 yards and one touchdown (the game-winner in the 16-15 victory over the Chicago Bears).
“I really hope it is not coming to an end," said Tate, who turns 31 in August. "The short time period, I have had a bunch of great memories, whether being with my teammates out to dinner, celebrating a big win or going to a Sixers game or spending time here with my family.”
Tate just completed a five-year, $31 million contract he signed with Detroit in 2014. Even though he wasn’t utilized as much by the Eagles as he was by Detroit, Tate said that isn’t his top priority.
“I want to go back to going deep in the playoffs and winning Super Bowls,” said Tate, who has appeared in 11 career postseason games and won a Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013. “With me being in Year 9 going on 10, the stats are whatever.”
So while all three spoke highly of the Eagles, they all realize that the possibility exists that they might have to move on. And that is why Graham, especially, was in no hurry to depart the NovaCare Complex on getaway day.