Losing the Super Bowl has been the kiss of death for teams in recent years. The last runner-up to make the playoffs the following season was four years ago, when the Titans won their division after falling to the Rams in the previous year's big game.
But the Eagles have the right ingredients to buck that trend again be the NFC's dominant team in '05. Along with New England, Philly has emerged as a master of the salary cap. Time and time again, the Eagles have made the unpopular decision to let a veteran go -- such as cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent last offseason -- and their strategy often has worked in the long run. Their cap management in recent years has allowed them to trade for Terrell Owens and sign Jevon Kearse, and they're well under the cap again for next season.
Six starters are unrestricted free agents, but the ones they can't re-sign likely won't be missed. Perhaps the most critical decision will be on what to do with middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who left town in '02 when Philly didn't offer him big money. The seven-year veteran will generate interest on the free-agent market after helping secure a once-questionable run defense. But if the Eagles wouldn't pay him before, why would they now?
Defensive tackle Corey Simon and defensive end Derrick Burgess also are unrestricted free agents. Burgess emerged as a force, especially in the playoffs, and they should try to re-sign him; Simon had a disappointing season and could be gone.
Offensively, Philly could lose veteran lineman Jermane Mayberry, along with fullback Jon Ritchie and tight end Chad Lewis. They have a replacement for Mayberry waiting in the wings -- last year's first-round pick Shawn Andrews -- and both Ritchie and Lewis are coming off injuries and are expendable.
Virtually all of the Eagles' key players are wrapped up in long-term contracts. Running back Brian Westbrook is an unrestricted free agent after next season, but they'll likely make a strong effort to re-sign him. Philadelphia also has two picks in the top 35 of this year's draft (the 35th pick is from Miami in exchange for quarterback A.J. Feeley).
Andy Reid's recent draft record has been outstanding. In '02, Philly drafted Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis and Westbrook -- all Pro Bowlers except for Brown, who easily could have been Honolulu-bound as well this year.
If Philly continues to draft well and make wise decisions in free agency, there's no reason it shouldn't remain the class of its conference.