It’s difficult – make that nearly impossible – to claim that the NFL’s two best teams aren’t in this Super Bowl. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs went 14-3 in the regular season, are packed with strong, deep rosters, and feature superb coaching.
Yes, they have the look that can lead to becoming an NFL dynasty. Indeed, many people in the football world will consider the Chiefs in that category should they win Sunday. Of course, that viewpoint depends on what observers regard as a true dynasty; only the Patriots in this century have reached that level. But Kansas City is closing in.
Philadelphia has the means to reach that realm, too.
They also have this in common: The Eagles and Chiefs will face mammoth free-agency challenges heading toward next season, even with the salary cap increasing by $16.6 million. How they address them could determine if they remain dominant deep into this decade.
The 33rd Team takes a look at what each team might and, in many cases, should do about offering new contracts for their unrestricted free agents or letting them walk. Taking into account that the salary cap will increase significantly for the next few seasons, who are the key people to retain, and who somewhat easily can be replaced?
After letting Andy Reid go as coach 10 years ago, which was followed by front-office turmoil, Philadelphia got back on track under general manager Howie Roseman and Reid disciple Doug Pederson as coach, winning the 2017 title. That Eagles team wasn’t as solidly built as this one, as the inconsistent performances of the next few seasons displayed.
Now? While a lucrative long-term deal with quarterback Jalen Hurts is coming – it’s not required yet, but the sooner the better for the emerging star at the sport’s most important position – Philadelphia must answer some immediate free-agency questions.
>> READ: Inside Hurts, Eagles Negotiations
On defense, it seems a no-brainer to find the money to retain cornerback James Bradberry, a second-team All-Pro who has been as much a shutdown defender as his counterpart on the other side, Darius Slay. The team also acquired safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson for 2022, and he had the best season of his four-year career. So retaining the NFL co-leader in interceptions (six despite missing five games) is critical.
It’s also correct to point out that the Eagles’ overpowering pass rush has been a major factor in such strong coverage. Re-signing DT Javon Hargrave, also coming off his best pro season with career highs in sacks (11) and tackles for a loss (10), makes as much sense as ordering a cheesesteak in Philly.
That leaves some serious questions regarding the rest of a defense that is so responsible for getting the Eagles this far. What about Fletcher Cox, a stalwart on the defensive line and team leader for a decade? Brandon Graham, too?
And linebackers Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards? And “rentals” Robert Quinn, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph? Finding the money for them will be difficult – only Edwards and White, both 26, are near their prime. With a Super Bowl ring on their resume, Edwards and White would have upgraded value on the market.
Former NFL executive Joe Banner notes that the dangerous defense, featuring sack-master Haason Reddick, was as accountable as any group for where the Eagles are. And can remain.
“Reddick was one of the best signings in years, and was actually in a couple of places mentioned in the MVP conversation,” Banner said. “Plus, they paid Cox $15 million to come back for one last year, and added others. I can tell you if you asked the Eagles whether signing Reddick and Cox or trading for (wide receiver) A.J. Brown is more responsible for them being in the Super Bowl, they would say the D linemen and improving that entire group.”
On offense, aside from Hurts, the Eagles have the best offensive line in football, led by five-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce. While Kelce isn’t quite a free agent yet, he returned for 2022 under what’s essentially a one-year deal, with the rest of the cap-friendly contract to be voided this offseason. Yes, Kelce is 35 and has spent a dozen seasons in the trenches. But if he opts to continue playing, it’s unthinkable it won’t be in Philly.
The Eagles also could lose left guard Isaac Seumalo in free agency. The dynamic running game features Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Sanders should be a priority, but how often are running backs a main objective to retain these days?
At 29 and coming off his best season, Seumalo figures to be a more immediate focal point on offense.
Backups such as tackle Andre Dillard, safety Marcus Epps, receiver Zach Pascal, tight end Tyree Jackson and quarterback Gardner Minshew likely wouldn’t be too expensive to keep. But they’re also not necessary to hold onto unless it’s at the team’s price.
What owner Jeff Lurie, Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni must recognize is the potential of this talent-laden team featuring so many players in or near their primes. That includes the essential pieces at quarterback, on both lines, in the secondary and in the receiving corps. There also is no other NFC club that can match that array.
Future Outlook: Philly could dominate NFC for a long time.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City doesn’t appear to face as many crucial decisions as Philadelphia, but don’t fool yourself: The Chiefs, who have Patrick Mahomes locked up through the 2031 season, have a few players they need to re-sign to remain superior.
Let’s start at wide receiver, a spot that could have been a weakness after dealing Tyreek Hill to Miami last offseason. Bringing in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, then the midseason addition of Kadarius Toney, offset some of the deficiencies – particularly when Mahomes became more comfortable with them.
After the Super Bowl, Smith-Schuster and holdover Mecole Hardman, who was placed on injured reserve Monday, become free agents. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach should make keeping Smith-Schuster a priority because of his versatility and dependability, though he has been plagued at times by injuries.
Also helping Mahomes’ offense purr this season was running back Jerick McKinnon, though he seems expendable with the emergence of rookie Isiah Pacheco. Besides, the Chiefs are looking at two starting tackles walking: LT Orlando Brown and RT Andrew Wylie. Finding money for one or both is more important. As magical as Mahomes is, protecting him remains imperative.
Kansas City made a huge leap defensively this season, and several of the contributors to that improvement also have expiring deals. Safeties Juan Thornhill and Deon Bush could be attractive commodities, particularly Thornhill. Two 34-year-old linemen who had specific roles that helped Chris Jones become an All-Pro also could leave: Carlos Dunlap and Brandon Williams. Just as with Philadelphia, keeping them would need to be at the Chiefs’ number. It’s likely Derrick Nnadi would be more of a priority in the trenches, where a contender requires a deep collection of talent.
Of the other UFAs – QB Chad Henne, RB Ronald Jones II, FB Michael Burton, TE Blake Bell, WR Justin Watson and DL Khalen Saunders – there likely is no strong attachment.
One player the Chiefs probably will be doling out a new deal to is punter Tommy Townsend. A restricted free agent, all he did in 2022 was become an All-Pro.
Unlike the Eagles, the Chiefs appear to have more formidable opposition for their conference’s top spot in Cincinnati and Buffalo and more tread on the tires.
However, Kansas City also has the recent track record, an organization that is the envy of many and even some financial flexibility – something few perennial contenders can claim.
Future Outlook: Chiefs have potential for a dynasty.