The Philadelphia Eagles face a daunting challenge in replacing key players

The 2023 Philadelphia Eagles will look nothing like the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles.

Just one month after the Eagles fell short in their pursuit of a championship in a 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia faces a major overhaul of its defensive unit for next season.

As of this writing, at least four defensive starters from last season’s squad will be replaced, with a cap of The Eagles’ surprising decision to release five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay. The decision to move on from Slay so quickly is surprising considering it was just days before Philadelphia granted the 32-year-old cornerback permission to seek a trade.

It’s also surprising considering Slay is coming off an efficient season in which he achieved a fifth Pro Bowl campaign while helping lead Philadelphia to the league’s top pass defensive unit. In addition to his production, the sudden release of one of their players is a shock considering the dead cap hit associated with his release. The Eagles will pay Slay $22 million (over two seasons) due to his release, while receiving nothing in return.

Via Zach Segars of Mile High Sports:

“This is WILD,” Segars said. “The Eagles are eating $22 million in dead cap space to free up $26 million in dead cap space. From a cap perspective, they are practically paying $22 million (potentially spread over two years) to NOT play for them. For very little profit. Is there something we don’t know? I thought he was great!”

Along with Slay, the Eagles will also replace their front seven soldiers in defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebacker TJ Edwards and safety Marcus Epps. In addition to the aforementioned departures, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and safety CJ Gardner-Johnson remain free agents. That’s not even mentioning the potential departure of running back Miles Sanders after the Eagles signed Rashaad Penny to a contract that only pays him $600,000 guaranteed.

The chain of events since the start of free agency isn’t exactly a surprise. We knew the Eagles would be missing a lot of key players from last season’s Super Bowl team given their cost and considering Philadelphia wasn’t at their best to begin with. After factoring in their top 51 paid players, the Eagles have about $8.5 million in available cap space. It ranks 23rd among all teams.

But here begins the real challenge for a Philadelphia team that was so dominant last season. Not only did the Eagles outscore their NFC competition in the playoffs — outscoring their two playoff opponents 69-14 — they only lost one game with Hurts at quarterback. If Hurts hadn’t lost two games late in the season, one could argue that Philadelphia would have only lost one game the entire season.

Not only will the Eagles be forced to replace multiple key starters — along with rebounding from a Super Bowl loss — they will likely sign quarterback Jalen Hurts to a contract extension that pays him $50 million annually.

Can the Eagles remain a Super Bowl contender when Hurts no longer has a new contract giving him second-round money? Hurts made $1.6 million last season and is set to make $4.2 million in 2023.

We’ve seen many teams over the years decline after signing their young recruits to big deals. It happened to the Baltimore Ravens after their Super Bowl XLVII victory when they signed Joe Flacco to a — then — $120.6 million deal. After the signing, the Ravens never made it past the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Something similar happened after the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII with Russell Wilson. A winning culture built around defensive dominance quickly declined after Wilson was signed to an $87.6 million deal — making him the second-highest paid player in the NFL — during the 2015 offseason. After advancing to two consecutive Super Bowl before the deal, the Seahawks have yet to advance to another Super Bowl since then.

Despite massive roster turnover, it’s unlikely the Eagles will fall off a cliff. The NFC remains a weak conference and Philadelphia remains the team to beat. Additionally, the NFC could very well be weaker than it was last season.

With Tom Brady gone, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no longer a threat. Additionally, the Green Bay Packers remain in trade talks with the New York Jets to potentially trade quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The San Francisco 49ers remain a threat, but face uncertainty at the quarterback position with their top two players — Trey Lance and Brock Purdy — coming off serious season-ending injuries.

The Eagles’ biggest test heading into 2023 will come from their own division, with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants bolstering key acquisitions early in free agency with big trades. The Cowboys acquired former Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore, while the Giants traded for Darren Waller, who will serve as a valuable safety net for quarterback Daniel Jones.

Despite their roster overhaul, Philadelphia will have no problem staying in contention for next season. But their dominance from last season will be hard to replicate.

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