We always hear that the NFL is a copycat league, which is both real and ongoing.

We saw the Philadelphia Eagles go from one of the most efficient and effective offenses in recent memory to one that seemed to be missing something in just a single season. By the end of their 2023 campaign, there wasn’t much gas left. Coaches adjusted with an entire season of film at the palm of their hand — the Eagles suffered mightily.

But with new coordinators and an offensive scheme that needs to be reworked rather than replicated like was the case last season, that should be the least of Philadelphia’s issues. In reality, their roster construction might be what needs to change. The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs might be just the place to look.

Preaching Youth & Cap Space

The Chiefs had the second-best defense in the NFL last season in points against per game (just 17.3), but they also had one of the youngest. Other than veteran defensive tackle Chris Jones, their entire defense was different from the last time they faced the San Francisco 49ers back in 2019, and they filled it out with youth. Their oldest defensive starter is Jones himself at age 29, with players such as George Karlaftis and Trent McDuffie both being under the age of 24 yet pretty important pieces for them.

While the Chiefs didn’t have to let go of too many elite stars on the defense, losing veterans like Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark hurt. It wasn’t absolutely gutwrenching, but the former was a first-team All-Pro in his last two seasons in Kansas City, while the former had three Pro Bowl nods. And, getting to the offense, they also lost Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins before the 2022 season. To build around quarterback Patrick Mahomes, they had to free up as much money as possible. Since they said goodbye to Mathieu and Hill after losing in the AFC Championship in 2021, they have won two Super Bowls. Yes, they’ve gotten better after getting rid of stars — ironic, isn’t it?

Photo: Adam Schultz

Now, the Chiefs might be better off with these players, but their young core has made up for them admirably. McDuffie was in the Hill trade, and they likely don’t win a championship without him — he was a first-team All-Pro last season. 23-year-old Rashee Rice also too some massive strides at wide receiver in 2023 and was pretty much the only player at his position that Mahomes could look at consistently.

The best part of all this? Those players are making next to nothing. The salary cap is a real thing in the NFL, and eventually, restructuring deals comes back to bite teams. But not the Chiefs. They parted ways with superstars and simply drafted new ones. Judging from what they’ve done, that cycle will repeat in the near future. For now, they will ride out their rookie contracts and get impactful play out of youngsters. With the extra money, they will continue to pay the veterans they cannot function without.

To win as consistently as the Chiefs have, a balance has to be met.

What This Means for the Eagles

With all of that being said, that doesn’t mean the Eagles should just trade everyone on their roster. But it also doesn’t mean they should hand out extensions like they’re candy, either. Yes, they’re going to have to make some tough decisions and part ways with some key players, one potentially being 29-year-old Haason Reddick, who had a little bit of drama recently. That’s not even an opinion, either. At some point, the Eagles will have to rid of some of their elite talent. If they do it soon, it will help out their cap situation for years to come and allow them to build around quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Photo: Philadelphia Sports Nation on X.

Now that Hurts is making a lot of money, the Eagles are going to have to cheap out elsewhere. A championship roster is harder to construct with glaring holes throughout it. Nowadays, Super Bowl champions are largely built through drafting young players. The Eagles have this formula down to an extent, but it will be time soon to pay these players who don’t have a big deal. Instead of restructuring deals every season and hitting a wall like they did in 2020 when they went 4-11-1 (although injuries and the regression of star quarterback Carson Wentz played a role), it would be wise to extend their window. If Hurts is the real deal, they have to maximize his contention era instead of shortening it.

For a while, the narrative was that teams shouldn’t pay their quarterbacks because teams paying them a lot of money didn’t win was prevalent. Well, Mahomes has proved that wrong twice now. What’s important to take away from that is that, sometimes, other parts of the roster will suffer. If Hurts is a truly elite quarterback, he will need to have a massive role in that. It is essentially impossible under the current landscape of the league to have what the 49ers do, for example, and a highly-paid quarterback on top of that. Having a cheap quarterback like San Francisco has allowed them to splurge on elite talent such as Christian McCaffrey and not feel the hurt. Since Hurts is being paid, the Eagles are not so lucky.

But it must be reiterated that Hurts making money isn’t a bad thing. If he’s a great quarterback, he will be able to overcome these obstacles. He doesn’t have to be generational, but some improvement from last season will be needed. If he can return to his 2022 form, the Eagles can afford to cheap out at some places on their roster. Whether it be on offense or defense, something or someone will have to give. Trading an elite player will never be popular, but it will allow the Eagles flexibility in the future. Hurts is only 25, and the rest of the team is fairly young, aside from a few stars. This is not the team to go all in with.

In the NFL, many teams are the hare. The Eagles should consider being the tortoise.

The Importance of the Draft

The only reason why the Chiefs have been able to survive the on-paper regression they’ve had from 2021 to now is because of their drafting. There has to be some sort of plan to find replacements because winning a championship then would be almost hopeless. At some point or another, the day that all those restructured deals and backloaded contracts come. If Hurts was still a good quarterback at that point, that would be eliminating a season of his, if not multiple. That process is repeated every time a team goes “all in.”

It’s fine to restructure deals and hand out extensions, but not to every single player. After losing in the Super Bowl in 2022, the Eagles did a relatively good job of this. They had to let go of Javon Hargrave, C.J Gardner-Johnson, T.J. Edwards, Kyzir White, and Marcus Epps — all pretty important players. But those were free agents, and the Eagles never adequately replaced them. Unable to trade them and draft their replacements, new areas of the field became liabilities that were not the season prior.

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Trading is always tricky in the NFL, as stars are traded for essentially nothing all the time. Sometimes, though, nothing is really something. A player like Reddick, although immensely valuable to the Eagles, likely won’t be at his best for the next three or so seasons — a possible length of the extension he will be eligible for next season. If the idea is that he is elite early on and then becomes a cap liability later on, that will limit Philadelphia’s upside. If the Eagles could theoretically get a third- or fourth-round pick for him instead of paying top dollar, they might have to at least consider, especially if they fancy themselves as long-term contenders.

It’s not pretty, and you’d hope it’d be more, but it saves money that championship teams need. Philadelphia is already seeing the repercussions of extending veterans with the miserable campaign James Bradberry had in 2023. When in doubt, preach cap space and draft picks. If they aren’t sure that a player will play up to their contract for its entirety, they probably shouldn’t be signing it.

With this logic, that would mean that not even DeVonta Smith is safe. But getting to an earlier point, some players are too important to let go. Maybe Reddick falls in that category; maybe he doesn’t. General manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles will have to figure out who those athletes are. For those that aren’t, trades for draft picks will be in their future.

If those draft picks are used well, it could be the difference between becoming a dynasty and a one-year wonder.
Kansas City has gone for the former. The Eagles can do the same.

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