PHILADELPHIA – Minnesota receiver Jalen Reagor and Washington quarterback Carson Wentz were just the appetizers, former teammates the Eagles dined on the past two weeks.
Now comes the main course – Doug Pederson.
The coach who led the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory just five years ago is returning with a first-place team in the Jacksonville Jaguars after being fired by the Eagles just two years ago, and only three seasons after beating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
“I’ll say hi to him after the game,” said right tackle Lane Johnson. “I owe a lot to Doug. He helped resurrect my career. I expect him to probably get a standing ovation just for what he did here and how he was and how he treated players. People don’t forget that. It will be weird seeing him on the other sideline there.”
Johnson was suspended for 10 games due to his second violation for PED use during Pederson’s first season with the Eagles in 2016. The team was 3-0 at the time, but, with Johnson missing a big portion of the season, finished 7-9.
The year after, they won the Super Bowl, and Johnson’s career has taken off to the point where he is considered one of the best right tackles in the game.
There are just eight players left on the Eagles’ roster from that title team, but there are several more who watched the 2020 season go down in the flames of a 4-11-1 season. The NFL played that season while the country was still in the grips of COVID-19.
One of Pederson’s strengths as a head coach is his ability to connect with players. Having to conduct a season that had mostly virtual practices and meetings was challenging for him.
“I know he’s coming in here trying to win," said Eagles veteran DE Brandon Graham. "It was a bad taste probably in his mouth leaving this place, especially after winning a Super Bowl for the Eagles and the way things went down, but we’ll try not to let him come in and beat us.
“We know will give some love, but it’s competition, and we have to go out there and we have to get after it. That’s always in the back of my mind that Doug is trying to hurt us out there.”
Pederson will have to now gameplan an offense that must account for Fletcher Cox, 31, and Graham, who had a career rebirth at age 34 last week with six tackles and 2.5 sacks against Washington to earn the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award for the first time in his 13-year career.
“Having coached them, it is a little different watching them from a game-plan standpoint, but it’ll be fun on Sunday, that’s for sure,” he said.
Veteran center Jason Kelce said he is trying to focus on a good Jaguars team that has won its last two games by 24 points against both the Colts and Chargers.
“Obviously, we had a lot of success with Doug, played a lot of football for him, won a Super Bowl with the guy,” said Kelce. “I think he’ll get (cheered). He left this city on good terms, even though it didn’t end well. I think most people appreciate what Doug Pederson did while he was here, but you never know.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Fan Nation Eagles Today and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglesmaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.