The Philadelphia Eagles entered Super Bowl LVII as slight favorites. They dominated the first half, surged to a 10-point lead and saw Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes re-injure his ankle late in the second quarter. It appeared the Eagles would cruise to an easy victory and take home the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in five seasons.
Mahomes and Chiefs coach Andy Reid had other plans.
Mahomes played an MVP-worthy second half, and he and his supporting cast were unstoppable as they rendered the Eagles’ second-ranked defense ineffective. They did not sack Mahomes after amassing 70 during the regular season, made no takeaways after coming up with 39 in 17 games and had two major coverage busts resulting in touchdowns. The Chiefs scored on all four of their second-half drives (three TDs and the winning field goal).
Credit a great performance from Mahomes, his offensive line, the Chiefs’ skill-position players, and an outstanding coaching job by Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But also question an Eagles defense that seemed to wear down at all levels.
In the second half, Kansas City had 119 yards rushing, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, while Mahomes completed 13 of 14 passes for 93 yards and two TDs.
So, perhaps we also should question Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and his defensive staff for their role in the downfall.
It was a surprising turn of events, and Philadelphia’s offense, led by outstanding quarterback Jalen Hurts, played well. They put 35 points on the board, including a clutch, game-tying drive just before Mahomes marched the Chiefs down the field to secure the last-second win.
Many Eagles fans likely came away from the game asking the same question: what do the Eagles need to do to get back to the Super Bowl next year in Las Vegas and finish the job?
Sirianni must first get his coaching staff solidified with a new offensive coordinator after Shane Steichen was hired as Colts head coach and a new defensive coordinator with Jonathan Gannon leaving for the Cardinals’ head job.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman also has a lot of work to do. Maintaining such a high talent level on the roster won’t be easy. The team is reportedly $1.3 million over the salary cap and has 10 starters due to become unrestricted free agents on March 15.
Roseman has done a masterful job of managing the cap through contract restructures and the use of voidable years on contracts. He’ll have to decide how many key players he’ll try to retain through those means and who will be let go.
The offense is in good shape with Hurts. First-team All-Pro center Jason Kelce is likely to re-sign. So it’s possible guard Isaac Seumalo could be the only departure on an excellent offensive line.
Roseman should save cap room by not franchising or re-signing lead rusher Miles Sanders, even after his 1,269-yard rushing season. Kenneth Gainwell, who outgained Sanders 41-16 in the Super Bowl, is a quality backup on his rookie deal, and he’s capable of stepping into the starting spot. The Eagles should draft a running back with either their late first-round pick (No. 30 overall) or in the second round and re-sign another low-cost backup in Boston Scott.
Defense is where it will be challenging for Roseman.
Of the seven defensive starters headed to free agency, Roseman should let three of them leave — cornerback James Bradberry and defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Linval Joseph. It’s an easy call on the 34-year-old Joseph, who played only 10 snaps against the Chiefs, but tougher with a team leader in Cox. He’s too expensive at last year’s $14 million salary with a $10 million cap hit, and he had only one tackle and no QB pressures in the Super Bowl. Last year’s first-round pick Jordan Davis likely can step into Cox’s starting spot, and if Cox stays, it would have to be at a big pay cut.
Despite his critical holding penalty that allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock in the Super Bowl, Bradberry had a fine season, but he turns 30 this year and made $7.25 million in 2022. He’ll likely find a better deal elsewhere. Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay will stay with a restructure or extension to get his $26 million cap number significantly lowered, and there’s a good chance the Eagles will pick a corner from a good draft crop with the No. 10 overall pick.
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It won’t be easy, but Roseman should find a way to re-sign these defensive free agents: DT Javon Hargrave (11 sacks and 60 tackles), linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, and safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (67 tackles and six interceptions) and possibly Marcus Epps (94 tackles). They should pursue a deal with Epps only if they can get him for reasonably cheap. They could seek his replacement in the draft or elevate second-year man Reed Blankenship, who started four games.
These moves on defense should be part of an effort to get younger. It was obvious that older players like Cox and Ndamukong Suh (36 years old, no tackles and one QB hit vs. Chiefs) were worn down in the second half by the Chiefs’ underrated offensive line.
Brandon Graham is 34, but he had 11 sacks as a rotational defensive end before an unproductive Super Bowl — no sacks or tackles despite playing 33 percent of the snaps. He likely will stay in 2023 since he has an $18 million dead-money hit if he’s cut, but a replacement for him — likely in 2024 — needs to be drafted and groomed.
Another high priority for Roseman and the Eagles after the cap is brought under relative control will be an extension for Hurts, who is coming off an outstanding season in which he finished second to Mahomes in the MVP vote. Hurts played great in the Super Bowl (304 passing yards, one TD pass, 70 rushing yards and three rushing TDs along with the game-tying two-point conversion). His only hiccup this postseason was the lost fumble the Chiefs’ Nick Bolton returned for a touchdown.
Hurts’ extension likely will cost the Eagles about $45 million per year, but with a big signing bonus, the cap hits in the first two years will be very manageable.
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Sirianni and his coaching staff must closely analyze what transpired on defense in the second half with the 24 points allowed, no sacks and two huge coverage busts. Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore were wide open for touchdowns after they started in motion and came back to their original side with nobody picking them up.
Was the moment too big? Were Sirianni and Gannon outcoached in this game by Reid and Bieniemy? Can Roseman effectively manage the salary cap again to keep the majority of his core players while he and his scouting staff add talent with their four picks in the first three rounds and six picks overall?
And can the Eagles continue to find quality free agents at a reasonable cost, as was the case with top pass rusher Haason Reddick, and steals via the trade market as Roseman did in acquiring Slay and Gardner-Johnson?
If Roseman, Sirianni and their support staff can answer all these questions in the affirmative, they’ll have an excellent chance to rebound from Sunday’s defeat and again represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVIII. Then, if their defense stands up better at crunch time while the offense produces under Hurts’ guidance, the Eagles can win their second Super Bowl in team history.
And I’d like their chances even better if they don’t have to face Patrick Mahomes.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.