The closer the Philadelphia Eagles got to the finish line, the more players were heard reminding one another that this team, in this exact form, would last only as long as its playoff run did. It was a source of motivation to extend the season as far as it could go.
Constant change is an accepted reality in this league, but this group had a unique chemistry it wanted to protect and invest in. And so it did, through injury and adversity and all the way to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles kept the party going as long as they could, complete with a parade down Broad Street, but with the NFL calendar about to flip, the inevitable roster turnover has begun. The first notable departure came Friday, with the news that wide receiver Torrey Smith was being traded to the Carolina Panthers for cornerback Daryl Worley.
Smith penned a goodbye letter and posted it on social media.
It was a necessary move. The Eagles are over the salary cap and need to get their finances in order by the start of the league year March 14. Smith's $5 million cap figure was too much to keep on the books, all things considered. It's also a positive sign that the front office is not going to allow sentimentality to cloud its judgment. Given that this collection of men delivered the Eagles their first-ever Lombardi trophy, it would be understandable if their natural inclination was to hold on tight. Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, though, stated matter-of-factly at the NFL combine last week that the organization was going to resist any such urges.
"If we say, ‘Hey we’re going to bring everything back and do everything the same,’ we’re going to get our ass kicked,” Roseman said.
More difficult departures are on the way. The Eagles have a number of pending free agents, including linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Patrick Robinson, running backs LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, defensive tackle Beau Allen and thrower of the "Philly Special," tight end Trey Burton. It's likely most are not retained. With Bennett in the fold, defensive end Vinny Curry is probably on the move. A defensive back could be traded. And the Eagles have a tough call to make on revered tight end Brent Celek, who wants to continue his career but carries a $5 million cap number.
The front office knows that Carson Wentz's megadeal will be at hand before long, and the Eagles have to set themselves up to be in a position to contend not just now, but in the future. In order to keep most of the core together, they're going to have to let others walk. There's no getting around that.
It's also true that every player that does leave is part of the fabric of a championship club, and it's tough to know how their departures will impact the delicate locker room balance.
Roseman and vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas did a fine job of building a team of unselfish workers who, as center Jason Kelce would tell you, possessed an underdog mentality that was reflective of the city's personality. They're charged with replacing those who exit with players cut from a similar cloth, all in the pursuit of fielding another group that never wants the ride to end.