One of the cruel sides of football is when a long-time fan favorite is near the end of their career.
Players might not believe it’s over — and they are addicted to the huge salary — but the team thinks so. The team’s opinion is the one that counts. The team is ready to move on.
As the Eagles close in on their season opener Sept. 11, some players might be staring at their final camp in Philly.
Football is the ultimate in transactional relationships. If the player has value to the team, the team wants him and pays him.
If there is a drop-off in a player’s production, a team’s interest wanes. The player will seem less effective and have less impact and influence on the team.
By then, the team already is looking ahead, doubling their scouting efforts for that position. Maybe even drafting the replacement.
It’s a cruel business, folks. And that’s the point: The NFL is a business. It’s sports and it’s fun but more than anything, to the team, it is a business.
The NFL, except quarterbacks and kickers, is for the young and strong. The average age of an NFL player is 26.
DIFFICULT FOR PLAYERS, FANS
Players who have been in your living room every Sunday for years no longer will be there. Fans wear their jerseys, cheer for their success, pray for their good health and rapid recovery from their injuries.
And boo them when necessary.
The aging players either will retire or try to latch onto another team looking for veteran leadership.
More than a year ago, the Eagles did not re-sign 39-year-old Jason Peters. Many thought his Hall of Fame career was done.
But the left tackle, who played for the Eagles for 11 years, started 15 games for the Bears last season. He currently is a free agent. He recently said on Sirius XM NFL Radio that he is working out and waiting for his next opportunity.
THE ‘SENIOR’ CLASS
Five Eagles players are at least 31 years old. Based on mythical NFL actuarial charts, my guess is that two of them won’t be Eagles in 2023.
Two of them still have plenty of tread on the tires — cornerback Darius Slay (31) and offensive tackle Lane Johnson (32).
Johnson is a cornerstone right tackle, a three-time Pro Bowler. Coach Nick Sirianni recently called Johnson the “best right tackle in the world.”
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox will turn 32 during the season. With all of the double-teams he has endured, all the pounding he has taken and given, he might be an old 32.
Cox is coming off a down season. The Eagles drafted his potential replacement this year in Jordan Davis, of Georgia.
I think Cox will play fewer snaps this season and will enjoy a revitalized, bounce-back season and extend his career.
But, it’s possible this could be his final year in Philly.
FINAL SEASON FOR SOME?
Several popular, Super Bowl-champion Eagles could move on after this season.
Center Jason Kelce turns 35 in November. He made noise about retiring in March but was signed a day later to a one-year, $14 million extension.
He recently underwent a “clean-out” elbow surgery. The Eagles hope he will return for the season opener.
Kelce is the leader of the all-important offensive line that helped the Eagles roster lead the league in rushing last year. He is a four-time All-Pro first-teamer and a five-time Pro Bowler. Experts consider him a likely Hall of Famer.
KELCE’S AMAZING SPEECH
Of course, Kelce cemented his place in Philly lore on Feb. 8, 2018. The Eagles’ Super Bowl parade had twisted its way through Center City and speeches were underway at the Art Museum.
Kelce, dressed in a gaudy Mummers outfit, stepped onto the stage and gave a rousing, mesmerizing speech.
Part of the speech was Kelce addressing alleged criticisms he had heard of his teammates.
Here’s a snippet:
- “Corey Clement’s too slow. LeGarrette Blount ain’t got it anymore. Jay Ajayi can’t stay healthy. Torrey Smith can’t catch.
- “Nelson Agholor can’t catch. Zach Ertz can’t block. Brent Celek’s too old.
- “Brandon Graham was drafted too high. Vinny Curry ain’t got it.”
Of the nine players Kelce mentioned, only one remains with the Eagles — Graham.
Football is a business.
Philadelphia will be a sadder place the day Kelce retires — because of his on-field heroics and off-field bravado.
WHAT ABOUT GRAHAM?
Defensive end Graham is 34 and coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered in Week 2 last year.
Graham at a glance:
- First-round draft pick in 2010
- 13th overall pick from Michigan
- Played all 12 years with Eagles
- 59 sacks
- 416 tackles
- Team leader
- Beloved by the fans
Graham made the most memorable defensive play in Super Bowl 52, when he knocked the ball out of Tom Brady’s sainted right hand late in the fourth quarter. Derek Barnett recovered the fumble and the Eagles tacked on a field goal in their historic win over the Patriots.
Graham wants to finish his career in Philly but his contract expires after Eagles 2022 season and if he is not invited back, he might look to play elsewhere next season.
Such is the life of an NFL veteran — fan favorite or not.