Let’s take a look at the greatest Eagles of the last 30 years.
Reggie. Dawk. Donovan. Seth. Clyde. Andre. Wes. Trott. Eric Allen. Keith Jackson. Lito. Sheldon. Tra. Runyan. Shady. DeSean. Jeremy Maclin. Trent Cole. David Akers. Asante Samuel. Brian Westbrook. Bobby Taylor. Corey Simon. Irving Fryar, William Fuller.
They all have one thing in common.
Not one finished his career in Philadelphia. Not one.
It’s really been a constant since the inception of free agency 25 years ago. The best players, the most popular players, the most successful players, either had no desire to stay here when their contracts expired (thanks, Rich Kotite) or were unwanted and disposed of, left to finish their careers in anonymity in Cleveland, Jacksonville or Detroit.
The last Pro Bowl Eagle to play his entire career with the Eagles? You have to go back to Mike Quick, and who knows what would have happened had the Veterans Stadium turf not ravaged his knees so badly he had to retire prematurely.
It’s really been an ugly blotch on this franchise for years.
Now, some of the veterans the Eagles have let go were really at the end of the line and didn’t deserve the big contracts they wanted. Andy Reid and Joe Banner generally had a keen sense of when a player had reached his peak and was on the downside of his career.
But Reggie? Dawk?
Two of the greatest defensive players in NFL history were both allowed to leave Philly in the prime of their careers. Reggie and Dawk, who were never teammates but did become very close friends before Reggie passed so tragically in 2004, left for Green Bay in 1993 and Denver in 2009, respectively, under different circumstances. But these were incredibly embarrassing and foolish decisions by the Eagles.
Reggie led a parade of all-pro Eagles who bailed out on the franchise in the early 1990s because Norman Braman, then the team’s owner, didn’t believe in paying fair market value in the early days of free agency and frankly because they didn’t want to play for Kotite.
Dawk left after 2008 — the last time the Eagles won a playoff game — because the Eagles simply didn't want to pay one of the greatest safeties in NFL history what he was worth.
More recent departures, such as Jackson, Maclin and Shady, fall squarely on the disastrous general manager leadership of Chip Kelly.
But whatever the reason, whoever was responsible, the common denominator for three decades now has been great players either don’t want to be here or aren’t wanted here.
Now, in Eagles history, there are four players who’ve been named to seven or more Pro Bowls.
Chuck Bednarik played long before free agency and spent his entire 14-year career here. The other three are Reggie, Dawk and Jason Peters.
Peters is a future Hall of Famer, a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven of those nine with the Eagles. He is without question one of the greatest Eagles of all time, and like so many before him, he wants to finish his career here.
Unlike so many before him, he will.
Peters, who turned 35 soon after last season ended, signed a contract extension on Wednesday that goes a long way toward assuring that he’ll finish his career here.
This is a strange business. You never know what will happen down the line. But Peters got the commitment from the Eagles he wanted so badly. In NFL parlance, guaranteed money equals a commitment, and Peters now has $15.5 million guaranteed through 2019.
That will be his 16th NFL season and 11th with the Eagles.
It's impossible to measure how damaging it was for the Eagles to allow Reggie and Dawk to leave 16 years apart. Those moves alienated the fan base for years. They made the remaining players question the team's commitment to winning. They cast a pall over the entire organization.
Keeping Peters has the exact opposite effect.
It proves a commitment to winning on the part of owner Jeff Lurie, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson. It tells players around the league this is a destination they might want to consider when they reach free agency. It tells the young guys who are Peters' current teammates that if they excel, they too have a chance to be richly rewarded.
The other day, when Lane Johnson stood at his locker and declared himself a top-10 tackle in the NFL, he was asked about Peters, and he said, "Oh, he's on a whole other level."
No, Peters is not the player he was before the Achilles injuries that cost him the 2012 season. But he's close. He's very close.
And for a team with a young, promising quarterback, a monster left tackle protecting his blind side is just about the most important thing you can have.
You can talk all you want about wanting to win championships. But keeping your best players proves you really mean it.