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How Eagles built a Super Bowl roster: Jalen Hurts decision, A.J. Brown trade turned Philly into contender

The Eagles are in the Super Bowl for the first time in five years and are looking to earn the second championship ring in franchise history.

Some familiar faces within the organization and on the field remain, but a lot has changed since their 41-33 win over Tom Brady and the Patriots.

In that game, Nick Foles started at quarterback in place of an injured Carson Wentz, while Doug Pederson roamed the sideline. Jay Ajayi was the team’s top running back while Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Zach Ertz comprised its receiving corps.

In 2023, none of them are a part of the organization.

MORE: Sporting News’ expert picks for Super Bowl 57

Indeed, the Eagles have undergone an overhaul under the guidance of long-term executive Howie Roseman. The 47-year-old has long been considered one of the NFL’s top talent evaluators, and he has put together a master class on team building en route to the 2023 Super Bowl. 

Roseman spent the better part of three years accruing depth and talent to build a quality roster. He hasn’t been afraid to make big moves; indeed, he has been one of the NFL’s most aggressive executives when it comes to making trades.

How, exactly, did the Eagles build their Super Bowl 57 roster? The Sporting News takes a look at the most important moves that Roseman and the team made to make it to the NFL’s biggest stage in 2023.

Darius Slay trade

One of Roseman’s first big trades as he built up the roster was to acquire Slay. Philadelphia was in need of a true No. 1 cornerback given Ronald Darby’s issues staying healthy. They got Slay for the relatively cheap price of third- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Slay has proven to be exactly what the Eagles needed at the position. He has logged seven interceptions in his three years with the team and has twice made the Pro Bowl. He has been a shutdown playmaker. He was the first, key building block in the secondary achieving success.

The Lions didn’t make out too badly in the trade. They packaged the selections to move up and select Pro Bowl guard Jonah Jackson. Still, Slay’s impact on Philadelphia’s defense has been immense and his importance as a star player cannot be overstated.

Jalen Hurts draft pick

The Eagles’ first two picks in the 2020 NFL Draft were heavily scrutinized at the time they were made. Their decision to take receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round was unequivocally wrong.

But their decision to draft Hurts even after giving Carson Wentz an extension? That turned out to be sheer genius.

Hurts originally was expected to be a backup who would come in under certain packages to take advantage of his mobility. But Wentz quickly began to regress and the Eagles saw an opportunity to thrust Hurts into the starting lineup for a trial run at the end of the 2020 season.

Hurts struggled with his accuracy at times but showed enough for the Eagles to believe that he could be a starter. He paid off that faith two years later by totaling 35 regular-season touchdowns, being named a second-team Associated Press All-Pro and leading the team to a Super Bowl.

Roseman, then, was unequivocally right to take Hurts even after paying Wentz a lot of money. In fact, he was able to undo the damage done by the Wentz extension not too long after it was signed.

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Carson Wentz trade

The Eagles’ decision to move on from Wentz was arguably the biggest move to catalyze the team. Wentz struggled badly during the 2020 season; he led the NFL with 15 interceptions in just 12 games.

Roseman and Co. quickly sussed out that it wasn’t just a blip on the radar with Wentz. So they sent him to the Colts in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick. That allowed the Eagles to move to Hurts as the starter and, more importantly, reset their salary cap to open up a lot of space for the 2022 offseason.

Wentz endured an up-and-down season in his lone year with the Colts before he was traded to the Commanders. Meanwhile, the Eagles used the third-round pick they acquired to trade up for receiver DeVonta Smith and turned the 2022 first-round pick (No. 16 overall) into the No. 10 overall pick in the 2023 draft via the Saints.

Clearly, the Eagles ended up winning this trade. It has helped them add a couple of key assets to their championship-level roster.

MORE: Why Jalen Hurts fell to the Eagles in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft

Haason Reddick signing

As mentioned, part of the reason the Wentz trade was so important was that it opened up a lot of cap space starting in the 2022 offseason. That freed the Eagles up to chase some big fish in free agency. They landed one of the best pass-rushers available in Reddick.

Reddick was set to move on to his third team in as many years when the Eagles scooped him up. He was an undervalued commodity. He had spent the first three years of his career playing out of position at inside linebacker before he generated 12.5 and 11 sacks, respectively, playing on the edge with the Cardinals and Panthers.

Reddick didn’t receive a big deal in 2021 free agency because he was something of a one-year wonder. But Philadelphia saw that he was a dynamic pass-rusher and gave the Temple product and New Jersey native a three-year deal worth $45 million.

The results? Reddick led the team with 16 sacks in the regular season and has been a force during the team’s playoff run. He is a key part of an Eagles defense that entered the Super Bowl with 78 total sacks for the season and has helped marry pass-rush success to better coverage in the back seven.

AJ Brown

(Getty Images)

A.J. Brown trade

If Reddick was the Eagles’ biggest defensive acquisition, then Brown was easily their most important offensive acquisition to fuel the 2023 Super Bowl run. The Eagles completed a surprising swap with the Titans on Day 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft to land the receiver. Philadelphia received Brown in exchange for the 18th pick in the draft.

Brown showed immediate chemistry with Hurts thanks to a friendship that dates to their high school days. Brown caught a career-high 88 passes for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns as a perfect complement to DeVonta Smith.

That Roseman wasn’t afraid to get Brown after whiffing on the Reagor pick was key. The team needed a dynamic receiving threat opposited Smith; he and Brown are more like dual No. 1 receivers instead of a traditional 1-2 combination. One could argue that Brown and Smith are the best receiver tandem in the league, though the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins may have something to say about that.

Regardless, Brown was a perfect fit for the Eagles and they didn’t miss the 18th pick too much. The Titans selected Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks, who had a solid rookie season but was, in fact, compared frequently to Brown in the pre-draft process.

MORE: Breaking down the A.J. Brown-Jalen Hurts connection

James Bradberry signing

The Eagles picked up another castoff when they signed Bradberry for the 2022 season. The Giants had released him as a cap casualty on May 9 after failing to find a trade partner for him. The Eagles scooped him up nine days later to give Slay a perfect counterpart.

Bradberry gave the Eagles one of the top cornerback duos in the league. He logged 54 tackles, three interceptions and 17 passes defended. Those numbers were good enough to earn him an AP All-Pro second-team nod.

That the Eagles were able to land Bradberry — a high-quality player at a position of need — so late in free agency without surrendering any draft-pick resources for him was an excellent development. He helped give the team a top-tier secondary to go with an elite pass rush. His presence is part of what makes the Eagles’ defense so tough.

CJ Gardner-Johnson

(Getty Images)

C.J. Gardner-Johnson trade

Gardner-Johnson plays a role in the unit’s toughess as well. The do-it-all defensive back was acquired on Aug. 30 along with a 2025 seventh-round pick from the Saints in exchange for fifth- and sixth-round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Despite his late arrival, Gardner-Johnson fit into the Eagles’ defense right away. He largely played at safety and in the slot, but he has the ability to play any position in the secondary. That made him a big-time threat, especially as a ballhawk. 

Gardner-Johnson logged an NFL-best and career-high six interceptions in just 12 games. His 67 tackles were also a career best. His playmaking ability is well worth the Day 3 picks the team surrendered to get him. Even if he leaves as a free agent following the 2023 Super Bowl, he will have been a difference-maker.

Chalk up the Gardner-Johnson swap as another win for Roseman.

MORE: Why did the Saints trade C.J. Gardner-Johnson?

Howie Roseman’s impact

These moves represent just a sample of the roster-building done by Roseman. He has been aggressive at the right times and quickly corrected mistakes, such as trading for Brown after Reagor turned out to be a bust.

He even addressed some of his team’s weaknesses in-season in 2022. When the Eagles underwent a rocky period against the run, Roseman shored up the depth at defensive tackle by signing veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. They helped to improve Philadelphia’s rotation, and the Eagles suddenly became less leaky against the run.

Roseman deserves a lot of credit for building the Eagles into a true Super Bowl contender so quickly after their disastrous 4-11-1 season in 2020. He has once again shown his mettle as one of the NFL’s best talent evaluators. Now, he’s hoping to add another Super Bowl ring to his collection.


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