A few hours before Jason Kelce stood on the Art Museum steps dressed as a Mummer and delivered an unforgettable sermon about the Super Bowl season, the Eagles' coaches and executives met at the team's South Philadelphia headquarters and started to plan what it would take to repeat in the 2018-19 season.
"If we say, 'Hey, we're going to bring everything back and do everything the same,'" top executive Howie Roseman said this offseason, "we're going to get our ass kicked."
The Eagles will open their Super Bowl defense on Thursday. They didn't overhaul the roster, but they did enough tinkering that noticeable new faces will be replacing departed contributors.
Vince Young wasn't here to label this the "Dream Team," but the Eagles took a win-now approach with offseason signings and trades – maybe more so than any other point in recent memory. Other than the rookie class, the Eagles didn't add anyone with guaranteed contractual obligations beyond the 2018 season.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace, defensive end Michael Bennett, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata highlight the newcomers. They are here to help the Eagles try to win another Lombardi Trophy before the window shuts on their current nucleus, but they don't inhibit the Eagles with salaries or contract terms that will cost them beyond this season.
"All three of us have played in the Super Bowl, all three of us have played in Pro Bowls," Wallace said. "We know what it takes … and we can help younger players develop and get better."
Roseman knew he needed to make changes. He also prepared for defections. One of the realities of winning is that players get paid elsewhere, as was the case with emerging tight end Trey Burton and reserve defensive tackle Beau Allen. Vinny Curry and Torrey Smith, both contributors last season, were becoming too expensive for the Eagles.
But when determining whom to add, Roseman needed to be careful. The Eagles weren't flush with cap space, and their biggest expenses this offseason included re-signing linebacker Nigel Bradham and restructuring Nick Foles' contract.
Roseman also wanted to preserve cap flexibility, knowing that the Eagles have a bevy of young, talented players who will soon be eligible for new deals. One is franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, and if the recent quarterback contracts are any indication, the cost is going to be steeper than anything Philadelphia has ever seen.
That was why the Eagles preferred one-year deals. Those can be termed "Band-Aids," but for the Eagles, those deals are a way of not tying down future years of the salary cap. The Eagles issued only one non-rookie contract longer than one season. That was to quarterback Joe Callahan – a deal without salary cap ramifications. Although Bennett is under contract through 2020, there is no guaranteed money after this season.
When identifying potential contributing players who would accept one-year deals in free agency, two types often emerge: aging veterans who've already earned big contracts and are extending their careers, or high-upside, underachieving players trying to reset their values. The Eagles have experimented with both types in the past. Wallace, Ngata, and Bennett – all from the first group – stood out in the market.
"A lot of times for a Super Bowl team…you come here on a little less than you'd make somewhere else, but you have the chance to win the Super Bowl," said NBC analyst Tony Dungy, a former Super Bowl-winning coach and member of the Hall of Fame.
"And you hope you get the right kind of guys. Now, it's still a matter of meshing together. Just because you have these parts, doesn't mean you're going to have a better car. It still has to come together. That's what you have to see. You hope you picked the right kind of guys, they fit in. You hope they do what for your team what they did for the past team. You hope they can play in different roles."
Dungy explained a few parts of what the Eagles did during the offseason. He's right about those types of players' interest in a team such as the Eagles. There's a reason the New England Patriots have attracted veterans during their reign.
Roseman studies franchises from other sports. He would notice that championship-caliber teams outside of football have followed a similar approach to what the Eagles did this offseason. The San Antonio Spurs, for instance, are well known for adding veteran players toward the end of their careers. They added a former all-star in his 30s in each of the previous three seasons.
"Guys don't usually want to play late in their career when they've made a ton of money, could be doing something else, if they're not playing for something like a big game late in the year," defensive end Chris Long said.
Before the Eagles-Browns preseason game, Long examined the Browns roster. He would have noticed only three players 30 or older. The Eagles had 11 at the time. This does not necessarily suggest a Super Bowl contender – the Oakland Raiders lead the NFL in players over 30 – but the Eagles locker room has become a welcome place for those born during the Reagan administration.
And that's where Dungy's point about "the right kind of guys" comes into play. The Eagles have tried to identify a certain personality fit for their locker room: highly competitive players who, as safety Malcolm Jenkins described, "usually have something to prove."
Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas have tried to use players, coaches, and executives in the building as resources when determining whether a player fits.
The Eagles have what they call a "cohabitation matrix," which connects anybody in the organization who has a history with a player the Eagles are interested in acquiring. They then tap that person for information. It was used for Wallace, Ngata, and Bennett.
"They're guys with some chips on their shoulders," Jenkins said. "They've played this game for a long while. They know what it takes to win this league. When you have those guys, especially as role players, they know the importance of specific roles. You don't have to worry about how they go about their business – similar to what we saw last year with LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, guys like that. … I think that's where the value comes."
The "role player" part of it is important, too. The Eagles aren't asking these players to carry their units like they did when they were Pro Bowlers. They'll look for Wallace to replace Smith. Bennett will take some of Curry's playing time. Ngata was signed to fill in for Allen.
"These older guys don't have to play 60 snaps like they would in their prime," NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said. "They're coming in to give you a little jolt. I totally get it. I totally understand what [the Eagles are] doing. …They might end up being stars … in their particular situations."
Coach Doug Pederson also pointed out that adding these veteran players allows younger Eagles to develop for a few seasons.
Wallace's presence means Shelton Gibson could grow at his own pace. Ngata and Bennett can chew up playing time that the deeper reserves have not yet earned. By re-signing Corey Graham to a one-year deal, the Eagles did not need to turn to an inexperienced safety in a key reserve role.
Before last season, the Eagles were sometimes guilty of using a younger player with a higher upside in those depth roles. Last year's team was a testament to the value of experienced role players. Roseman couldn't keep all of them, but it was a formula he tried to replicate. That's why his way of adhering to his offseason goal was to focus on a specific profile of player without crowding the team's long-term depth chart or salary cap outlook.