By Dave Spadaro
Breaking up is hard to do. Tears flow, emotions are intense, and the sense of remorse can be, at times, overwhelming. We’ve all been through it. Sorry to say this in the days following Valentine’s Day, but we’re going to experience some of the toughest goodbyes in Philadelphia sports history in a matter of weeks when the NFL’s free-agency period opens and some of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles of all time move on.
This is the nature of the business in the NFL, and it stinks for those who love lifetime affiliations. We want our heroes to stay in our city and play for our team and live happily ever after. But that’s not the way it works. Free agency offers players a chance — during their limited window of time in the league — to earn paychecks, take care of their families and do what’s right for their long-term financial picture.
It just hurts us, that’s all.
So what’s going to happen, if the reality of it hasn’t hit you already, is that the Eagles are going to say goodbye to some of our all-time greats when free agency opens on March 13 at 4 p.m. This time, it’s going to sting.
Quarterback Nick Foles, the Most Valuable Player from Super Bowl LII, is almost certainly going to be traded or will sign with another team as an unrestricted free agent as the Eagles rearrange the deck at the quarterback position. Carson Wentz, who has gone from league MVP candidate in 2017 to a quarterback largely overlooked among the national media now, is the franchise for now and the future. Foles? He’ll start somewhere in the NFL in 2019, but not in Philadelphia. Of all of the players who will leave in the next month, he’ll be the one missed the most. But he won’t be alone.
Defensive end Brandon Graham, whose strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady late in Super Bowl LII helped clinch the win, is heading toward free agency and looking for one final big paycheck in his career. Graham, an Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2010, never made the Pro Bowl, but he played with energy, passion and a smile every day. He is a player who embraced Philadelphia, felt the love back, and now reluctantly moves toward the next step in his career.
Running back Darren Sproles made the Eagles his third NFL stop — he played for six seasons in San Diego and three in New Orleans previously — and in the five seasons he’s been here, Sproles made the first three Pro Bowls of his career, endeared himself to the fans as a physical marvel who, at 5 feet 6, 190 pounds, outran a league full of bigger, stronger men, and brought Eagles fans to the edge of their seats with his open-field runs and kick returns that turned games around.
There are others who are likely to leave, including middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety Chris Maragos, maybe cornerback Ronald Darby. The Eagles have to clean up their salary-cap picture, so casualties could very well include the likes of left tackle Jason Peters or defensive tackle Tim Jernigan or others.
The point is this: The sports heroes of yesterday don’t have a guaranteed tomorrow in the NFL. And we’re going to be facing a heavy dose of emotions not too long from now when players who brought the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia move on in the name of business. Pass the tissues, please. This one won’t be easy for Eagles fans. ••