Facing uncertain future, Eagles must take advantage of opportunity now

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Facing uncertain future, Eagles must take advantage now originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

When the Eagles lost to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV a few decades ago, it was easy to think about next year.

Jaws was in his prime, Wilbert Montgomery was 26, Carl Hairston was 26, Dennis Harrison was 24, and Dick Vermeil was 44, one of the most successful young head coaches in the NFL. It looked like they’d be NFL elite for years.

The Eagles finished in last place in the NFC East in two years and didn’t win another playoff game until Rich Kotite was head coach.

When the Eagles lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, it was easy to think about next year. Donovan was in his prime, Brian Westbrook was 25, T.O. was signed for six more years, Dawk was a perennial all-pro and the defensive nucleus of Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, Derrick Burgess, Jeremiah Trotter, Corey Simon and Darwin Walker were all between 23 and 27.

The next year they went 6-10, finished last in the NFC East, T.O. got kicked out of the NovaCare Complex and they had to wait 13 years to reach another Super Bowl.

You never know what the future holds. You never know who’ll be gone next year. You never know what coaches will leave. You never know what veterans will lose their ability overnight or who’ll get hurt. You never know if a different roster will be able to replicate the culture and the vibe that made a special year special.

It’s so hard to have success in the NFL and it’s even harder to sustain it. That’s what made those early Andy Reid years so unique. Five straight 11-win seasons, four straight NFC Championship Games, three straight No. 1 seeds. That’s rare, although Big Red is doing it again in K.C., with seven straight division titles, five straight 12-win seasons and quite possibly five straight AFC Championship Games.

But even Big Red has only won the thing once.

The Eagles are rolling right now, and this has all the look of a team that’s not going away any time soon.

They just finished a historic regular season, they’re two home wins from their second Super Bowl in six years, their 24-year-old quarterback is 17-1 in his last 18 regular-season starts, their 41-year-old head coach has won more than twice as many games as he’s lost and most importantly Howie Roseman has not only crafted a roster that’s not only jammed with superstars, it’s jammed with unselfish team-first leaders who believe in their coach and everything he says.

They’ve got a good thing going, and it's hard to imagine the Eagles being bad anytime soon, but it happens. And sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

That’s why when these opportunities come up, you have to pounce. You can’t depend on next year. You can’t rely on the future. You can’t assume just because you got a No. 1 seed and 1st-round bye this year it’ll happen next year or the year after. There’s a reason no team has repeated in the NFC East in 18 years.

It’s just hard to keep winning.

And even with Howie Roseman running the show, it’s going to be impossible to keep this team together.

You know the names.

Jason Kelce. Brandon Graham. Fletcher Cox. James Bradberry. T.J. Edwards. Kyzir White. Javon Hargrave. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Isaac Seumalo. Ndamukong Sue. Linval Joseph. Zach Pascal. Marcus Epps.

All unsigned after this year.

It’s possible Kelce, Graham and Cox, three of the greatest Eagles of all-time, will all be gone next year. Among others. This team will have a dramatically different look and different feel. With Jalen Hurts due for a mammoth contract, Roseman will have to continue drafting well, and kids like Zech McPhearson, Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis and Cam Jurgens will likely have to take on much more significant roles.

Will Hurts continue to grow and improve and develop into that all-time great Eagles quarterback he’s shown signs of? I think so. But I thought so also with Carson Wentz five years ago.

The Eagles have a chance to do some unforgettable things over the next few weeks.

To accomplish what’s sitting there in front of them, Darius Slay can’t drop interceptions. Hurts can’t throw the ball up for grabs. Miles Sanders can’t fumble inside the 25-yard-line. Quez Watkins can’t let opposing defensive backs out-muscle him for the football. The o-line can’t commit penalties that wipe out touchdowns. T.J. Edwards can’t whiff on a sack when he blitzes.

If the Eagles play the way they did the first few months of the season, they got this.

They still have the best mathematical odds of anybody to reach the Super Bowl, according to the 538.

It’s all right there in front of them. But nothing is promised. All going 14-3 this year means is you’re 14-3 this year.

They can’t let this slip through their fingers. Because you never know when you’ll get here again.

Or if you’ll get here again.