Before the NFC championship game, Eagles captain Malcolm Jenkins brought his teammates together and made sure they realized that "this is the last time this team … will ever play on this field together." He noted that the 53-man roster for the Eagles, the one that has taken the franchise on a storybook march to the Super Bowl, won't ever be the same, in a video the Eagles released online.
Change is inevitable in the NFL; the Eagles have 23 players on their Super Bowl roster who were not with the organization last year. There will be plenty of time after the Super Bowl to analyze the decisions the Eagles have in front of them, including potential salary-cap causalities along with trade and retirement candidates.
But for 13 Eagles with expiring contracts, Sunday could be their final time wearing an Eagles uniform. That group includes one starter — linebacker Nigel Bradham — along with tight end Trey Burton and defensive tackle Beau Allen, key reserves who have been with the Eagles for four seasons. (Most of the players with expiring contracts signed one-year deals.)
"There's nothing in place, so I have to look at it like this is my last time playing in an Eagles uniform with these guys," said Burton, who caught a career-high five touchdowns passes this season. "It's the business of it. I don't think too much of it more than that. I understand the way things go. There's nothing in place, so there's no other way to think about that. I'm kind of a realist-type of guy, so I'm not going to hypothetically think I'll be back. There's nothing in place, so right now, I won't be back."
Burton will represent an interesting decision for the Eagles. He's an ascending player who has developed into an offensive contributor, but he doesn't project to be a No. 1 tight end with Zach Ertz on the team. Super Bowl teams often make it this far because of deep rosters, and reserves have the chance to become starters elsewhere on the open market.
Bradham is the highest-profile free-agent-to-be who will play for the Eagles on Sunday. The stage has helped other pending free agents sign lucrative contracts in recent years. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gambled on himself in a contract year, led the 2012 Ravens to the Super Bowl title, and became the highest-paid quarterback at the time. Past Super Bowl MVPs such as Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown and Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson cashed in after breakout performances in front of a worldwide audience. So a standout game could lead to a bigger payday for a player such as Bradham.
"Some people might think about that," Bradham said. "Me personally, I'm just trying to get the 'W.' Because I know what type of task we have. I feel like all the other stuff, it has time to work itself out. When you use that to your advantage, there's time for that. But I feel it's our time to focus on the Super Bowl. But it's definitely, obviously, everything is magnified in the Super Bowl … good or bad."
The Eagles and Bradham have been an ideal match, although that decision will most likely come down to price. In Allen's case, the Eagles don't have a starting spot to offer because of Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan. The Eagles are expected to move on from kicker Caleb Sturgis, who is a free agent after three years with the organization and spending most of this year on injured reserve. Najee Goode, who has been with the Eagles for five seasons, has been playing on one-year deals and is viewed as a special teams contributor.
No matter a player's contract status, he's going to savor this week. Considering the nine months of work to reach this point and how rare it is to experience it, those players will appreciate the moment whether they're signed through 2022, like Cox, or for one more game, like Allen. But Allen said now is not the time to think about his career in Philadelphia or what comes next, even though that time is quickly approaching.
"You think about the journey and stuff like that when the journey's over," Allen said. "Not when the journey's still going on."
Player, consecutive years with Eagles