It’s been two days since the start of the NFL new year. On that day, contract agreements made prior become official. This time is usually a celebrated, joyous time. For the Eagles, this signaled the final chapter for the team’s Core Four. The 2023 NFL season hasn’t even begun yet, but for Eagles, it already feels like the end.
The Core Four — consisting of Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham — have not only been the backbone for success accomplished by the franchise; they have been the heart of the locker room. They have been through everything together. They have spent their entire careers together. From Kelce’s bleached hair moment, to Graham’s strip-sack in the Super Bowl and a Philly Special Christmas; just know the clouds will be gray the day they decide to leave.
Three of the four were set to leave via free agency, but general manager Howie Roseman brought them back for one last hoorah. Graham was the first one to be brought back, signing a one-year, $6 million contract. Later, it brought joy to the heart of the city when Kelce announced via twitter that he was returning for one more season. He signed a one-year, $14.25 million deal. To cap it off, Cox signed a one-year $10 million deal. It’s easy to get caught up it the excitement of their return, but their deals all have one thing in common: they’re all for one year.
As the Core Four flips the page to their final chapter, a tribute is owed.
The memory of the Eagles winning the Super Bowl is forever in the minds of Philadelphia fans. But just four days later, that memory of clouded with a humorous one. At the celebration on Broad Street, Kelce stood on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum dressed as a mummer and gave a speech. In the speech, he went on about his love for the city and his love for the fans. His expressed passion showed fans that the team has one of the good ones.
Fast forward five year and Christmas time rolls around. The city of Philadelphia wakes up on December 25, 2022 to open gifts. No ordinary Christmas music is on in the background. It probably wasn’t Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” and it definitely wasn’t Michael Buble’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas.” It was probably Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata singing “White Christmas” on their new album. What can’t this guy do?
Kelce, the elite center and now turned podcaster, has been the engine of the Eagles offense since 2011. The team selected him out of Cincinnati with their sixth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Moreover, Kelce has been at the top of his position since entering the NFL and has collected many accolades. On top of winning the Super Bowl in 2018, Kelce is a five-time All-Pro (2017-2019, 2021, 2022) and a six-time pro bowler (2014, 2016, 2019-2022).
The longest-tenured player of the bunch, Graham has been with the Eagles since the team drafted him in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. While he wasn’t the most impactful player just starting out —like many — he eventually found his footing.
He quickly became a fan-favorite throughout a passionate Eagle fanbase. A part of it was because he was good at his job, but the other part was because he shared a common ground with them — he loved to talk trash.
When Graham decides to retire or go play football elsewhere, it will be a big hit to the defense. Graham has collected All-Pro (2016) and one Pro Bowl selection in 2020. His play has been overlooked for years now, but the Eagles know how important he is to the team. Without Graham, the Eagles don’t win the Super Bowl in 2018.
Cox has been one of the most dominant players in the NFL since entering the league. The Eagles selected Cox with the 12th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He, along with Kelce, has earned six Pro Bowl selections (2015-2020) and is a four-time All-Pro.
He veteran took a ‘hometown discount’ to stay with the Eagles for one more season. Though fans thought his time was up last year when reports abruptly took over twitter stating the Eagles released him. They did in fact, but they brought him back on a cheaper deal. Again, Cox took less money to stay with the Eagles. That gives you a glimpse into who he is. His loyalty will never be in question.
Finally, Johnson is conclusively the best right tackle in the NFL currently. And as good as he is at playing the position, he may be even better at bringing that southern-drawl to Christmas music. Nonetheless, at the age of 32, he continues to show unequivocal toughness. Take last season for example. Johnson suffered a torn groin on Christmas Eve against Dallas. Despite any pain he felt, he played through and then continued to play through it in the playoffs. He is the kind of person you want on your NFL team and in your locker room. He is undoubtedly going to be a tough one to replace when the time comes. Though he should be around a little longer, as he recently restructured his four-year, $72 million contract he signed in 2019. He is scheduled to hit free agency in 2026.
Moreover, the final chapter has yet to be read, so this is not yet a goodbye to the Core Four. I know Philadelphia fans are not ready to mutter those words with sadness. This is merely an appreciation and reflection on what they have done for the organization. For now, fans should appreciate their final season as a bunch and not think about the imminent future. But when that time comes, it will be hard to replace this group.
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