Believing now? You should … Eagles are in Super Bowl

Believing now? You should … Eagles are in Super Bowl

Corey Clement stood in his locker unable to put a coherent thought together.

"It feels fake right now," the rookie running back from Glassboro, New Jersey, said. "It's surreal. Is this even really happening? This is unbelievable."

Then he looked over at Alshon Jeffery in the next locker.

"Hey, Alshon," Clement said. "Alshon, man. I don't even know what to say. Are we really going to the Super Bowl?"

They really are going to the Super Bowl.

Imagine that.

The Eagles demolished the Vikings, 38-7, Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game and will face Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the hated Patriots in Super Bowl LII Feb. 4 in Minneapolis (see Roob's observations).

Surreal is a pretty good word.

They're in the Super Bowl because Nick Foles is rediscovering his 2013 magic (see story), they're in the Super Bowl because this defense is legitimately the best in the NFL, they're in the Super Bowl because Doug Pederson is proving to be nothing less than a brilliant play-caller (see story), and they're in the Super Bowl because 53 guys that very few outsiders believed in never stopped believing in themselves.

“It’s something we said it yesterday, we all got a story here, man," Rodney McLeod said. "Every one of us. Late-round picks. Guys other teams gave up on. Guys nobody wanted. And you know what? Put that all together and you get this group.

"This is a group of guys that grind each and every day. Good work ethic. Come and play their butts off all the time no matter what. Unselfish guys. Just do their job. And that’s what you’ve got to love and that’s what it takes to win a championship."

The Eagles haven't won an NFL Championship since 1960, but don't bet against this team.

There's something special going on here, and if you don't see it, you're just not looking closely enough.

"It's mind-boggling to me," Brandon Graham said. "We went out there, and we did what we said we were going to do."

On offense? Foles was masterful, becoming the second quarterback in NFL history to complete 75 percent of his passes in back-to-back postseason games. The other is Joe Montana.

On defense? The Eagles spotted the Vikings seven points five minutes into the game, then overwhelmed them the rest of the way. They're the 13th team in NFL history to shut out back-to-back opponents in the second half of postseason games.

This was as dominating a performance as you'll ever see in the postseason (see breakdown).

The 31-point margin of victory is the largest in Eagles postseason history and fourth-largest ever in an NFC Championship Game.

"To win like that? It's just surreal," McLeod said. "We were the better team today. In every phase of the game.

"Started off rough. They come out and score on the opening drive, that doesn’t happen often on our defense. Just told the guys, 'Take a breath, relax, get back to basics.'

"Patrick Robinson gets a big pick-six and we start rolling (see story). I looked up at the scoreboard and it was like 31-7 and I was just like, 'Wow. Really?'"

So it's Eagles-Patriots for the second time in 14 years.

"It's going to be crazy," said Zach Ertz, who caught eight passes for 93 yards. "The Super Bowl is a huge stage and a huge opportunity, and it's going to be a lot of fun. It's something you dream about growing up as a kid, and now we're here.

"No one thought we were going to be here after Carson (Wentz) went down, but it's the resilience of this team and how much we love paying for one another. I hope you guys can see it out there each and every game."

Pederson's only previous head coaching experience was at a high school in Louisiana.

Now he's one win from delivering the first championship in 57 years to Philadelphia.

"I love coaching this football team," he said. "I love coaching those players in there. It's a tremendous feeling, quite honestly.

"And the thing about this team is all the adversity and negativity and everything that surrounds this team, these guys don't listen to that. I don't listen to that. They come to work and practice hard every day and they love being around each other.

"[I wanted] that type of culture in the building where people enjoyed coming to work, and our players and coaches really enjoy that. Now we've got to build again.

"When we started way back in OTAs, you kind of know you might have at least a good team that could compete for the NFC East. As the season goes, you start losing some of your top players to injury. You just kind of see the fight in the guys and the resilience in the guys. Then you lose your quarterback here at the end.

"But the guys just kept battling. For us to believe in one another and now to be in this spot? I'm just so happy for these guys."

There have been more talented Eagles teams. But it's hard to imagine an Eagles team that was close off the field, that was this unselfish, that had such a kinship with its coach.

"I can remember this team showing up in April and talking about being in this place, talking about our dreams, aspirations, and focusing on the grind," Malcolm Jenkins said.

"Guys being unselfish, adding guys along the way that added to the team and continuing to push.

"And every time we won and had some success — and we even had some adversity — the team believed more and more. It's been awesome to be a part of."

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

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6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

The Eagles are coming off a thrilling season but there's a lot of work to be done. 

The NFL's new league year begins on March 14 and the Eagles must be under the salary cap by then. The problem is that based on projections, the Eagles are set to be more than $9 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap. So it's time for some maneuvering. 

The good news is that Howie Roseman's specialty has always been finding unique ways to get the Eagles out of cap trouble. There are ways for him to do it again.

Cut Torrey Smith 
Probably the easiest one. Smith was a great teammate and a solid addition to the Eagles' locker room, and he really stepped up his game in the playoffs, but it's probably not enough to bring him back. He just wasn't good enough last season, and cutting him would save the Eagles $5 million in cap room with no dead money. The Birds still have Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, while Mack Hollins is entering Year 2. 

Cut Brent Celek
This one will hurt, but Celek can take away the sting if he decides to walk away as a champion. He's set to have a cap number of $5 million. That's just way too much for what Celek provides these days. By cutting him, the Eagles would save $4 million in cap space. So just between Smith and Celek, the Eagles will almost get back to zero ... but there's other work to do. They'll still need money to sign free agents and draft picks. 

Extend Brandon Graham 
Graham is entering the final year of his contract with a cap number of $8 million. He wants a new contract and deserves one. Good news: An extension would work for both sides. Graham would get more money long-term and the Eagles could get his cap number down this season. 

Re-work/cut Vinny Curry
Curry is coming off of probably his best season in the NFL but will have an $11 million cap number. That's tough to swallow, especially with Derek Barnett waiting for his chance to start. It seems likely the Eagles will ask Curry to take a pay cut or re-work his deal. If not, cutting him would leave $6 million in dead money but would also save $5 million in cap room. 

Trade Mychal Kendricks
If you remember, Kendricks actually wanted a trade last offseason. Good thing that didn't happen. Kendricks ended up being a big part of the Eagles' success in 2017. Depending on what happens with Nigel Bradham in free agency and with Jordan Hicks' Achilles recovery, trading Kendricks might again be an option. A trade would save $4.4 million in cap space. 

Trade Nick Foles 
This is such a tough one -- we explore it more herehttp://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/stay-or-go-super-bowl-mvp-nick-foles. But basically, Foles is a pretty amazing insurance policy until we know when Carson Wentz is going to be ready. If the Eagles do trade Foles, it would save them $5.2 million that they could certainly use. The problem is that by the time they know Wentz's status, free agency will be long gone and that cap space won't help this year. But it could help in 2019.

Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

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Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Nathan Gerry
: Gerry, a fifth-round pick last year, seems to be a decent late-round linebacker prospect. He was a core special teamer — his 180 snaps were sixth-most on the team — on a roster where the linebackers are generally older guys (with the exception of oft-injured Jordan Hicks). A roster spot will be there for the taking if Gerry has a good training camp, especially with Trey Burton likely to leave and Corey Clement’s role on offense expected to grow.

Verdict: STAYS — as a special teamer

Dave: As a rookie, Gerry switched from safety to linebacker but didn't get a chance to play much on defense. He did find a role on special teams. He played in 10 regular-season games and every postseason game, including Super Bowl LII.

Verdict: STAYS

Shelton Gibson
: Gibson, a fifth-round pick last year, got only 17 snaps on offense and caught just two passes for 11 yards. He’ll be invited back to camp, but for once, the Eagles have depth at wide receiver, and young guys like Mack Hollins and Johnson are well ahead of Gibson in the Eagles' eyes. Even if Torrey Smith doesn't return, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Hollins have spots locked up. Gibson's lack of special teams value will play a role.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: After a mostly terrible training camp, Gibson was inactive for the first 10 games of the 2017 season before playing a small role on special teams down the stretch. He still hasn't shown his potential as a fifth-round speed receiver, but he'll get another chance. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
: Goode was one of those underrated players that every Super Bowl team seems to have but nobody talks about. He's a terrific special teamer — he was third behind Kamu Grugier-Hill and Burton with 294 special teams snaps — got 200 snaps at linebacker and held his own defensively. Goode is a free agent, and you can probably keep him at minimum wage.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Since 2013, Goode has appeared in 61 Eagles games. Not the best linebacker but a solid special teamer. Goode was on a one-year deal in 2017 so he's an unrestricted free agent-to-be. At 28, he isn't a viable option on defense, but I never thought he'd be here this long. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Graham
: Graham has another year left on his deal. He’s now one of the NFL's top outside pass rushers with a career-high 9½ sacks this year and his first Pro Bowl honors. But he turns 30 this spring, and Derek Barnett is under contract with modest cap figures through 2020. The team can't afford to keep both Graham and Vinny Curry. Graham is obviously the superior player, but how difficult will it be for the Eagles to keep him? I expect he’ll look for a long-term deal in the $12-13 million per year range. He'll get it. I'm just not sure where.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles didn't give Graham a new contract last offseason but they added some incentives to the last two years of his deal. As their most disruptive pass rusher, his strip-sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII was the biggest play of the game. The Eagles have to decide if they're going to break the bank but for now, he'll be a huge part of the 2018 season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Corey Graham
: Corey Graham is another one of those one-year contract veterans who made a big impact this season both on defense and special teams. He’ll turn 33 before camp opens but is in tremendous shape. He's played in 171 of a possible 176 games in his 11-year career and shows no sign of dropping off. Graham is also a terrific natural leader who was extremely vocal during the Super Bowl run. The Eagles don't really have any young safeties knocking on the door, so as long as Graham is willing to accept another cap-friendly contract, I don't see a reason not to re-sign him.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Signing Graham was one of the best moves Howie Roseman pulled off last summer. Having a quality third safety freed up Malcolm Jenkins to slide into the slot when needed and allowed the Eagles to use a smaller lineup in their dime package. Graham is a free agent and the Eagles might try to go younger, but they should think about bringing him back.

Verdict: STAYS