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A look at Eagles throughout history who've tried to replace a legend

A look at Eagles throughout history who've tried to replace a legend originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Cam Jurgens is the heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Jason Kelce, and Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis are the successors to possible Hall of Famer Fletcher Cox.

The Eagles used the draft to prepare for the retirements of both Kelce and Cox after the 2023 season, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to handle the job.

It’s not easy following a legend, and although Jurgens was hand-picked by Kelce as his replacement and played well at right guard last year and Carter and Davis have both shown signs of dominance at times, it remains to be seen whether they are the long-term answers replacing two all-time Eagles in the middle of the offensive and defensive lines.

With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look at how the Eagles have fared over the years replacing their biggest stars. Some big-time success stories here and some disasters. Let’s take a look:

Steve Van Buren [final year with Eagles 1951]Not only was Steve Van Buren the leading rusher in NFL history when he retired, he had 1,700 more yards than anybody else. And his 69 rushing TDs were almost twice the next-most in history – Dutch Clark had 36. How do you replace that? You don’t. The Eagles’ leading rusher in 1952 was an undrafted 23-year-old Marine from Hershey named John Huzvar, who ran for 349 yards and a 3.3 average in his one year in Philly, and the Eagles had a different leading rusher every year from 1951 through 1957 as they tried to figure the position out. They finally got somewhat settled with Billy Ray Barnes, a 1957 2nd-round pick from Wake Forest who made Pro Bowls in each of his first three seasons. But can you believe that after Van Buren in 1949, the Eagles didn’t have another 1,000-yard rusher until Wilbert Montgomery in 1978?

Chuck Bednarik [final year with Eagles 1962]The legendary Bednarik retired at 37 after eight Pro Bowls and six 1st-team all-pro honors. Bednarik was one of the greatest linebackers in history and a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer, but the Eagles did OK with Dave Lloyd, who they acquired soon after Bednarik played his final game. The Eagles traded a 4th-round pick to the Lions for Lloyd, who was 27 and had been a backup with the Browns and Lions. But he became a fixture here on some really bad Eagles teams for the next eight years, starting 98 games for the Eagles, picking up 14 interceptions and recording 23 unofficial sacks and finally making a Pro Bowl in 1969 at 33 years old.

Eric Allen [final year with Eagles 1994]E.A., a Hall of Fame finalist this year, made five Pro Bowls as an Eagle, including each of his last four years in Philadelphia before he left for New Orleans as a free agent as part of the Norman Braman-inspired Great Exodus of 1992 through 1994. The Eagles had one incumbent starter in Mark McMillian – “Mighty Mouse” – but they needed a replacement for Allen, and the guy who got the first shot at the job was Derrick Frazier, a 3rd-round pick in 1993 who didn’t play at all as a rookie and almost exclusively on special teams his second year. Frazier started the first four games of the 1995 season, but it did not go well. He was inactive the rest of the year and was released after the season. He played six games with the Colts in 1996 and was out of the league at 26. With Frazier benched, the Eagles turned to rookie 2nd-round pick Bobby Taylor, who held it down the next nine years and made a Pro Bowl in 2002.

Mike Quick [final year with Eagles 1990]After five straight Pro Bowls from 1983 through 1987, the effect of the Veterans Stadium turf caught up with Quick, whose knees were shredded by the late 1980s. Quick played only 18 games the last three years of his career, from 1988 through 1990. The Eagles had already lost future Hall of Famer Cris Carter after the 1989 season, so they had a lot of work to do to replenish the roster. But they actually did a good job addressing wide receiver in the 1990  draft, when they took Mike Bellamy in the second round, Fred Barnett in the third and Calvin Williams in the fifth. Bellamy never caught an NFL pass, but Barnett had a couple 1,000-yard seasons, made a Pro Bowl and caught 28 touchdown passes, and Williams had some decent years and caught 34 TD passes as an Eagle. Both are still among the top 10 in Eagles history in touchdown receptions.

Reggie White [final year with Eagles 1992]When the future 1st-ballot Hall of Famer signed with the Packers after the 1992 season, the Eagles thought they found his replacement in free agent Tim Harris, who had 17 sacks for the 49ers in 1991 and had been a 1st-team all-pro in 1989, when he had 19 ½ sacks for the Packers, interestingly. But Harris was a complete failure. He only played in four games in an Eagles uniform and had no sacks and four tackles. His 17-sack decline from 1991 to 1992 was the largest in NFL history until Robert Quinn dropped from 18 ½ sacks with the Bears in 2021 to one with the Bears and Eagles in 2022. Harris was released after the season and finished his career with two more unproductive seasons back with the 49ers. The Eagles ultimately found White’s replacement a year later in free agent William Fuller, who made three Pro Bowls and had 35 ½ sacks with the Eagles from 1994 through 1996.

Seth Joyner [final year with Eagles 1993]The Great Exodus cost the Eagles virtually every good player on the roster. Joyner left after the 1993 season after eight years, 17 interceptions, 37 sacks and 21 forced fumbles. The Eagles had already drafted William Thomas in 1991, so they were set at one outside linebacker spot, and they still had Byron Evans in the middle. But there really wasn’t a succession plan for Joyner. The Eagles signed free agent Bill Romanowski, who gave the Eagles adequate but largely disinterested linebacker play for two years, but it really wasn’t until they drafted Jeremiah Trotter in 1998 – five years after Joyner left  - that the Eagles finally drafted a linebacker who could play.

Randall Cunningham [final year with Eagles 1995]After 11 years, the Eagles declined to sign Cunningham after his disastrous 1995 season, and he wound up spending the 1996 season out of football. He opened a marble business in Las Vegas before returning to the NFL with Brian Billick and the Vikings in 1997 and then having an all-pro season in 1998. Rodney Peete, a 30-year-old journeyman who had led the Eagles to a 58-37 wild-card win over the Lions in 1995, got the first crack at replacing Cunningham, but he got hurt after starting 1996 3-2, and the 1996, 1997 and 1998 seasons featured a rotating cast of Peete (6-6), Koy Detmer (1-4), Ty Detmer (9-9) and Bobby Hoying (3-9-1) and even Mark Rypien in a 1996 playoff game. It wasn’t until 1999 with Donovan McNabb that the Eagles finally found a legit replacement for 12.

Brian Dawkins [final year with Eagles 2008]: Dawk signed with the Broncos after the 2008 season, and his replacement was Victor “Macho” Harris, a rookie 5th-round pick. This was not a good idea. Harris started eight games in 2009, completely overmatched, and was benched for veteran Sean Jones. Harris was released after training camp the next year and played three games in 2010 with Washington before they cut him. He spent some time in camp the next summer with the Steelers before getting cut. He then spent five years in the CFL and in 2015 while playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders had three interceptions (two off Jonathan Crompton, one off Rakeem Cato) including a pick-6 in a win over the Montreal Alouettes. The Eagles didn’t find another elite safety until they signed Malcolm Jenkins in 2014.

Donovan McNabb [final year with Eagles 2009]McNabb was the Eagles’ opening-day quarterback every year from 2000 through 2009. The Eagles traded him to Washington in April 2010 and turned the quarterback position over to Kevin Kolb, their 2nd-round pick in 2007. Kolb had a couple 300-yard games in place of McNabb in 2009, but he didn’t even make it to halftime of his opening-day start in 2010 before suffering a concussion and being replaced by Michael Vick. Kolb did start a handful more games as an injury replacement in 2009 and 2010, but he never regained the starting job on any sort of permanent basis. Kolb finished his Eagles career with a 3-4 record and 73.2 passer rating before playing two years in Arizona. Kolb won nine of 21 career starts with the Eagles and Cards. McNabb was 6-13 with Washington and the Vikings after leaving the Eagles.

DeSean Jackson [final year with Eagles 2013]Chip Kelly cut Jackson on March 28, 2014, after his monster 1,332-yard, nine-touchdown season, and a few weeks later the Eagles drafted Jordan Matthews in the second round out of Vanderbilt. Matthews wasn’t the big-play threat that Jackson was, but he did get off to a very good start to his career. From 2014 through 2016, Matthews had only 29 fewer yards than D-Jack had with Washington – and had more touchdowns – but his career stalled after that while Jackson continued to produce in Tampa. Matthews wasn’t a disaster like some of these replacements, but he was definitely a step down from D-Jack. Matthews and Jackson both returned to the Eagles late in their career and were actually teammates briefly in 2019. Bottom line is that Jackson had about 2,000 more yards after leaving the Eagles than Matthews had in his entire career.

LeSean McCoy [final year with Eagles 2014]Chip Kelly’s ridiculous decision to trade Shady to the Bills for Kiko Alonso and replace him with DeMarco Murray backfired horribly. Murray had led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014, but he was a disaster in Kelly’s offense, rushing for 633 yards and five touchdowns with a 3.5 average in 14 games before Kelly was fired. Murray had his best game in an Eagles uniform on the final day of the season with Pat Shurmur serving as interim coach, rushing 12 times for 69 yards and a TD. The Eagles got great production out of LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in 2017, but the first Eagles running back with 800 rushing yards in a season after McCoy in 2014 was Miles Sanders in 2019.

Jason Peters [final year first stint with Eagles 2019]J.P. was 37 when the Eagles used the 22nd pick in the 2019 draft to select Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard. The Eagles let Peters go after the 2019 season with the plan of replacing the nine-time Pro Bowler with Dillard. But they re-signed Peters to play right guard when Brandon Brooks was lost for the season with an Achilles injury, then moved Peters back to left tackle once Dillard was lost for the season a few weeks later with a torn biceps. Once Peters got hurt, Jordan Mailata got a shot at left tackle, and he’s been there ever since. But Dillard, who was supposed to be the heir apparent, started just nine games in an Eagles uniform before the Eagles moved on after the 2022 season. He started 10 games for the Titans last year and is currently with the Packers.

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