Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Marcus Hayes

Marcus Hayes: Eagles and 49ers should rule for years. This NFC championship game is just Chapter 1.

PHILADELPHIA — This could be the beginning of a beautiful rivalry.

What Rick told Louis at the end of "Casablanca," Howie Roseman could tell John Lynch at 3 p.m. Sunday when the Eagles host the 49ers. They run the two best teams in the NFC, with innovative young coaches, dynamic defenses, promising quarterbacks, and, most significant, a lot of the top talent locked up for the foreseeable future.

Dallas and San Francisco met in the three NFC championship games after the 1992-94 seasons. There’s no reason the Eagles and 49ers shouldn’t meet for at least the next three years.

Can Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, and Haason Reddick become Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Charles Haley 2.0? Can Christian McCaffrey, Nick Bosa, and George Kittle do for the Niners what Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Brent Jones did against America’s Team for so many seasons?

The GMs declined to comment on their enviable situations. Eagles coach Nick Sirianni mostly limited his observations to the trenches.

“One thing I can say is I know how good their O-line is, and I know how good our O-line is. Same thing with the D-lines. Very impressive,” he said, noting that this will be the 49ers’ third trip to the NFC championship game in the last four seasons. “Sure, we’d love to have that.”

He wasn’t interested in thinking about the next few years, but, like most coaches, he has significant input on scouting and roster decisions. So, Nicky T-shirts didn’t play dumb.

“Both teams are built the right way, as far as their O-lines and D-lines,” Sirianni said. “I’ll let you guys be the deciders if this is something that could be going on for years.”

Mission accepted.

Eagles and 49ers are very much alike

The parallels are undeniable.

Sirianni, a 41-year-old coach’s kid, is taking the Eagles to the NFC title game in his second season as a head coach. Kyle Shanahan, a slightly more famous coach’s kid, had just turned 40 when he took the 49ers to the NFC title game after the 2019 season, his third as a head coach.

Both got their jobs because of their progressive offensive philosophies, though this season both rode brilliant defensive coordinators to the top of the NFC. That’s why Sirianni is likely to lose Jonathan Gannon to a head coaching job. Gannon’s defense finished second in the NFL ... to the defense of DeMeco Ryans, Shanahan’s DC, and Ryans also is likely to become a head coach within the next few weeks.

No matter where Gannon or Ryans lands, neither will threaten his old bosses any time soon. No team should.

The Eagles might be the No. 1 seed, but most pundits are betting on the 49ers, who finished stronger. Either way, it’s been a two-horse race for two months, and it should be a two-horse race for the next two years. What other teams can compare, either today or tomorrow?

The Eagles at full strength dominated the Giants twice this season. The Rams fell off a Super Bowl cliff. Jerry Jones is caught in a Mike McCarthy/Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliott hell of his own making. Tampa Bay? Bagged and tagged. The Vikings? Frauds, since 2017. Seattle succeeded because of Geno Smith, who apparently started writing back all the doubters who wrote him off. Green Bay, you say? You sippin’ Aaron Rodgers’ psychedelic tea?

Roseman, Lynch have been building for years

While the rest of the best are hoping for miracles, Lynch and Roseman are at the top of their games, and their players know it.

“They’ve been putting the pieces together for years,” said fifth-year tight end Dallas Goedert, “and we’re kind of right there with them. We’ve got me, Smitty, [DeVonta Smith] A.J. [Brown] here for a while. Hopefully we lock up Jalen. As long as we’ve got Jalen back there, we’re destined for good things for a while.”

Certainly, the progress of third-year quarterback Jalen Hurts from mediocre starter to MVP candidate in one season changed the Eagles’ future. But Hurts wasn’t even the biggest surprise in the NFC. Lynch is riding rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, the last pick of the 2022 draft, and he’s undefeated, but the 49ers also have Trey Lance, the hyper-talented No. 3 overall pick in 2021. Every team should have such a dilemma.

Lynch’s truest genius lies in snagging all-purpose weapon Christian McCaffrey from the Panthers in October. Combined with Deebo Samuel, who’s in the first year of a three-year extension, Shanahan can decoy defenses into confusion, if not submission. Purdy is 8-0 in his first NFL exposures, but the 49ers are 12-0 since McCaffrey went West and became a starter. McCaffrey can make even Jimmy Garoppolo look good.

If Lynch is hot, Howie’s even hotter.

He traded for Brown, who broke the franchise record for receiving yards, and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who tied for the NFL interceptions lead despite missing five games. Roseman also signed edge rusher Haason Reddick, who has 17 1/2 sacks in 18 games, and cornerback James Bradberry, who has the NFL’s fourth-highest coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

Perhaps most significant, Roseman did not replace Hurts, who is a Pro Bowl starter. Roseman on Thursday was named executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers of America for the second time in six seasons. Lynch won in 2019.

They each might win again sooner rather than later. The cores of their teams aren’t going anywhere.

Purdy, Lance, McCaffrey, Samuel, Kittle, receiver Brandon Aiyuk, linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and safety Talanoa Hufanga all have played six seasons or less and are under contract for the next two years or more. The 49ers also have control of their best player, fourth-year defensive end Nick Bosa, through next season, though he’s certain to sign a massive extension.

The Eagles? They’re more complicated.

Like the 49ers with Bosa, the Eagles control Hurts through next season, but he’s surely going to cash in this spring.

Money spent to lock down Hurts will make it harder to justify big deals for pending free agents like center Jason Kelce, defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, and defensive end Brandon Graham, as well as fourth-year studs T.J. Edwards, the middle linebacker who led the team in tackles, and Miles Sanders, the Eagles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy hit the mark eight years earlier.

That shouldn’t worry Roseman much. He’s got a young, talented replacement in the stable for each of those positions, and they’ll be harnessed with thoroughbreds.

For at least the next two seasons, Lane Johnson, Landon Dickerson, and Jordan Mailata will anchor the offensive line, Josh Sweat and Reddick will lead the pass rush, Jordan Davis will anchor the middle of the defensive line, and Goedert will rival Kittle as the league’s best all-around tight end. Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay’s contract will demand a restructuring that will extend him through 2024 at least. Gardner-Johnson is assuredly priority No. 1 on Roseman’s defensive wish list.

With talent stockpiled like an Amazon warehouse, Sirianni and Shanahan should be giving each other the same headaches for the next two or three years. Like as not, those headaches will culminate in the penultimate game of their dream seasons.

Roseman and Lynch have made it so.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.