PHILADELPHIA — The sobering reality that the Eagles’ season is over hit the players Monday when they showed up at the NovaCare Complex to find large, green trash bags at their lockers.
A 26-24 loss to New Orleans on Saturday night ended their playoff run after just one game. Instead of preparing for a divisional-round game at Carolina, they were resigned to taking exit physicals, turning in playbooks and fitness monitors, and stuffing their belongings into those bags.
“Nobody expected us to get as far as we did, especially after we started 3-5,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “But we never stopped believing in ourselves, and we know we could have even gone farther (in the playoffs). That’s what’s so disappointing. We were so close.”
They surpassed expectations under first-year coach Chip Kelly, bouncing back from last season’s 4-12 debacle under Andy Reid with a 10-6 record that was good enough to win the NFC East and reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
Typically, Kelly credited the players Monday for making his transition from the University of Oregon to the Eagles so smooth and for buying into his system both on and off the field.
“The big unknown for me coming in was how receptive guys would be,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, this is a players league, and it should be that way. Our goal was to create an environment that would put them in position to succeed and I think we did that. I think the chemistry of this team is probably what excites me the most. This an exciting group to be around. There’s an energy about these guys and hopefully we can build upon it.”
The chemistry could be affected during the offseason, however.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson made it clear Monday while cleaning out his locker that he wants the front office to restructure the five-year, $48.25 million contract he signed in March 2012.
Jackson earned $6.75 million this season and is scheduled to make $10.25 next season and $9.75 million in both 2015 and 2016. His salaries for the next three seasons are not guaranteed, however.
“I think this year was a big statement for my team and for myself and the things we were able to accomplish and do,” Jackson said. “I definitely feel (a restructuring) is deserving, and hopefully we can get it worked out so that I all have to worry about is staying out of trouble, keeping my nose clean, working on my craft and playing football.”
Jackson, the Eagles’ second-round draft pick in 2008, enjoyed an outstanding season in 2013. He set career highs for receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,332) with nine touchdowns during the regular season.
He overcame a slow start in Saturday’s playoff game — he had no catches for most of the first three quarters — to grab three passes from Nick Foles for 53 yards and draw a 40-yard pass interference penalty that led to a touchdown.
“I think what I’m able to do on the field definitely speaks for itself,” Jackson said. “Hopefully, we can work something out that’s fair to both of us and not have to worry about anything out of the ordinary. We’ll see how it goes.”
Count linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham among the disgruntled players.
Their gripes aren’t about money as much as playing time and a concern about how they fit into defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme. Cole and Graham both began their NFL careers as defensive ends in a 4-3 system before being switched to linebackers in Davis’ 3-4 alignment.
Cole led the Eagles with eight sacks this season and added another against the Saints but was visibly frustrated after the game that he wasn’t on the field more often. He played 50 of 72 defensive snaps Saturday.
Graham, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick in 2010, played just 22 defensive snaps and was Cole’s backup the entire season. He recorded three sacks.
“My biggest thing is I want to be a starter, and I want to play,” Graham said. “I’m not saying I want to go anywhere, but I want to be a starter, and I want to play defensive end. I feel like I’ve earned that. At the end of the day, I’m a pass rusher. That’s what I was drafted to do.”
A day of departures
Some players were emptying their lockers for the final time.
Quarterback Michael Vick, punter Donnie Jones, wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and safeties Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman are among the Eagles who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month.
Not all of them will return.
Maclin, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2009, ahead of running back LeSean McCoy, sat out the entire season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during training camp. In his absence, Cooper became one of Foles’ favorite targets. Cooper overcame a preseason controversy — he was caught on video using a racist slur during a Kenny Chesney concert — to notch 47 receptions for 835 yards and eight TDs. On Saturday, he caught a game-high six passes for 68 yards and a TD.
“It was frustrating (not being able to play),” Maclin said. “But at the same time, I was very happy for my fellow receivers and the things they were able to accomplish.
“I’d like to come back. My heart is in Philly. You never want to leave the place that took a chance on you. But I also understand that this is a business, and I have to be prepared for anything. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and I’m sure things will work out for the best.”
Cooper and Jones, who enjoyed an outstanding season, were among the players who expressed their desire to come back to the Eagles. Coleman and Vick (see related story) were more guarded about their futures.
Coleman, who was a seventh-round draft pick in 2010, started a combined 27 games in 2011 and 2012 for the Eagles but was relegated to special teams this season.
“I’m not going to close any doors, but I know whatever door I go through will be a good one,” Coleman said. “I want a shot to be a starter, whether it’s here or somewhere else. I know I can play at this level, and I know I can start. I know what I’m capable of doing, and I want a shot to prove it.”
Those who will be back are eager to build on what they were able to achieve this season.
And so is Kelly.
“If I were to grade myself, I’d give myself a 58.8,” Kelly said. “That’s because we won 10 out of 17 games. It was disappointing (to lose to the Saints), but I’m all about moving forward. You’ve never arrived in this league. You can always get better, and we will leave no stone unturned while trying to that.”
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