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The Philadelphia Eagles are playing for another Super Bowl title because they weren’t afraid to make difficult decisions following a disastrous 2020 season.
Just three years after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history, the organization was at a crossroads following a 4-11-1 finish in the pandemic-altered season. Philadelphia had gone from winning it all to winning one playoff game to losing in the wild-card round to last place.
Coach Doug Pederson and the front office didn’t see eye-to-eye. Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz was debating his future after being benched for a terrible performance in the first season of a lucrative contract extension he’d received two years earlier.
Pederson was fired and Wentz was traded three years after finishing third in NFL MVP voting and helping put the Eagles in position to win that Super Bowl by going 11-2 before he was injured.
Those moves laid the foundation for a rebuild that only ended up being a quick retool.
Pederson was an excellent coach in Philadelphia, turning Chip Kelly’s mess into a championship team in just two years. He led the Eagles to a pair of division titles and three playoff appearances in five seasons.
He took his aggressive coaching style, strong leadership skills and sharp mind to Jacksonville this season and transformed the Jaguars from doormat to AFC South champions.
But Pederson had to go in Philadelphia because he disagreed with management on some issues, including his assistant coaches. His loyalty ended up costing him his job.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman were criticized for meddling and interfering with game plans and play-calling.
Nick Sirianni came to Philadelphia with no fanfare after three seasons as an offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. The perception in Philly was Lurie and Roseman wanted a young coach they could mold and compel to follow their plans.
If that was the case, it’s hard to argue with their success.
After a rough start in 2021, Sirianni led the Eagles to a playoff berth in his first season with Jalen Hurts as the starting quarterback.
Hurts and the rest of the team took a giant leap this season and here they are at 16-3, one win away from another parade on Broad Street.
“This is not a time for reflection,” Hurts said after the Eagles dominated the 49ers in the NFC championship game. “It’s really hard for me to do that. I try to enjoy the moment, but my joy comes in winning. I know the job isn’t done. I never knew how far we would come, I never knew how far we’d go, but I never said it couldn’t be done.”
The first step for management was deciding to make tough decisions. Trading Wentz meant absorbing a $33.8 million cap hit. Their next moves had to pay off for it to work out.
Hurts came to Philly as a surprise second-round pick to provide insurance for the oft-injured Wentz and play a utility role somewhat similar to New Orleans' Taysom Hill. Now, he’s a finalist for AP MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
“He is a great young leader. He is a terrific young quarterback,” Lurie said. “When we drafted him it was the upside we were banking on. We thought he had a huge upside. It takes a couple years. And somebody so dedicated as Jalen and such a great teammate. Inevitably he is going to maximize everything he has and that’s what he’s done. And he’s got great teammates and great coaches.
“I can’t understate it takes everybody. Talk about the owner, talk about the head coach, talk about the quarterback, talk about the GM. We’re only as good as the staff that we have and in a way that is the secret sauce — the culture, and the staff.”
During Lurie’s 29 years as owner, the Eagles have reached the playoffs 17 times, advanced to the NFC title game seven times and are 1-1 in the Super Bowl going into next Sunday’s game against former coach Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lurie once proclaimed he wanted the Eagles to be the “gold standard” for NFL teams. His hometown New England Patriots filled that role for two decades with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Silver isn’t bad, though, especially in the form of a Lombardi.
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL