Philly, I know we have to go our separate ways….. but can we still be friends?
Maybe this sounds crazy — but it really does feel like I’m going through a breakup right now. Like I’m breaking up with my city. And as with anyone unlucky enough to have to go through a breakup during the era of social distancing, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to reflect on our time together.
PHILLY. We were together for six years!! You saw me at my best and at my worst. You were always good to me, but more than that you were always real with me. And I will forever love you.
Trust me: Being an 11-year veteran in this league, I know a lot better than to let my emotions get the best of me. “It’s a business,” everyone tells you. And it’s like, Yeah, man, I know — it’s a business. No emotions. Got it. So I’ve made it a point to never get emotionally attached to a team.
But no one ever warned me about getting emotionally attached to a CITY!!
No one ever warned me about getting emotionally attached to a culture, or to a community of people, or to a way of life.
I remember when I signed with the Eagles, back in 2014…. man, I’ll never forget the reactions to that news. Every time I turned on the TV or the radio, or I’d read some article, it was like — Couldn’t we have just signed so and so? Or, I’d much rather us have this player over there. Y’all weren’t very excited about Malcolm Jenkins, that much I know. And I remember thinking to myself, “Well, if the gold standard at safety in Philadelphia is Brian Dawkins, then I can understand the concern.” But I also knew that I was going to give this team everything I had.
Being a Jersey guy, I know what characteristics this city respects and responds to. Not just in its football players, but also in general. And I knew that I fit the bill. It’s like with B Dawk — Philly loved his passion first, his leadership second, and last but definitely not least, his talent. No doubt B Dawk is the most talented safety to ever wear the Midnight Green (he’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason)….. but rarely do we relive highlights of his spectacular plays. And that’s because he was never about flash — he was about substance. So instead of highlights, what’s been memorialized are his legendary pregame speeches, and his unlimited energy on the field, and his uncanny ability to personify the attitude of y’all as a fan base. And that’s really what I tried to do here, from my very first game to my last. In every game I played, and in everything I did — I wanted to personify what it meant to be a part of this special family.
I wanted to personify what it meant to be a Philadelphia Eagle.
Aaron M. Sprecher via AP
And just like I learned to understand Philly, I think Philly learned to understand me in return.
My first time in an Eagles uniform was on September 7th, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field. We were playing the Jaguars and our first eight offensive drives resulted in: fumble, fumble, punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, end of half. The crowd erupted into boos after the first fumble — and by halftime there was pretty much this mutiny in the stands. I remember some teammates getting upset and saying things like, “I can’t stand our fans.” I had a different response.
I laughed because, internally, I was booing us too! That’s Philly, I was thinking. They’re going to be tough, but they’re going to be fair. And I can’t prove it or anything — but I swear it was those boos that inspired us to set our chins and just start swinging back. We ended up winning that game, overcoming a 17–0 deficit…. and by the end of it we had the crowd cheering as loud as you’ve ever heard anything in your life. I remember looking up into the stands….. and I just started laughing again. How could you not?? That game was Philly fandom in a nutshell. And I knew that I’d love playing for this city from that day forward.
What’s my favorite moment as an Eagle? Parading down Broad Street as WORLD CHAMPIONS is up there….. but I was a little too drunk to remember all of it. Putting that hit on Brandin Cooks — the one that sent shock waves throughout Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, all at once — is definitely up there….. but I still have a moment I like more.
My favorite moment is when the clock struck 00:00 at the end of the Super Bowl, and it really began to sink in — just everything that had happened. I dropped to my knees and felt tears of relief fall down my face.
Not necessarily relief over winning the game or a championship in and of itself, if that makes sense. It was more like over what the win meant. It was about how deeply I’d tethered myself to the spirit and plight of Philadelphia. It was about what I’d been carrying on my shoulders: For one, the hope of a fan base that had never felt the thrill of a Super Bowl championship — absolutely. But also the hope of so many citizens who needed their stories of injustice lifted up upon a stage as tall as the Super Bowl.
Both on the field and off, in that moment, it seemed like this was true: The world had told us that we couldn’t do something….. so we fought even harder and got it done.
It felt like my transformation was complete: I was Philly, and Philly was me.
Ben Liebenberg via AP
And now it’s on to the next fight.
I want to establish two truths upfront that are not mutually exclusive.
One: I’m excited as hell to be going back to New Orleans.
And two: I sincerely never wanted to leave Philadelphia.
Let’s tackle that second part first. Forget everything else you’ve heard, and just trust me on this: Money has NEVER been my motivator. For me, it’s always been LEGACY that I value most.
When you see me doing whatever I can to keep my body healthy through long seasons, it’s not for me to get paid — it’s because my teammates need me and I want to be remembered as a guy who was always available. When you see me, an 11-year veteran, playing special teams and running down on punt coverage, it’s not because I want extra money — it’s because I want to be known as someone who will give it all to his team in order to win. And in a similar sense, I don’t spend countless hours fighting on behalf of those who need help for any personal credit — I do it because I believe it’s my responsibility, as someone who stands on the shoulders of those who came before me.
It’s my legacy that I’m concerned with.
And it’s no secret that I wanted a new deal — no secret that I felt like I deserved one. Not so I could be the highest-paid player at my position (even though I regard myself as being of that caliber), but so I could cement my legacy in Philadelphia forever. I wanted a deal that showed me that my sacrifices to the game have been recognized. I’m no idiot. I know money is tied to timing, market value, age, the draft, and so on. But legacy? That’s tied to the player, and to the name on the back of his jersey.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to ensure that my name would end up on the back of an Eagles jersey this year. But hopefully the legacy that I leave behind will last in the most important way: over time. And maybe then, maybe one day in the future when I’ve hung up my cleats, I can be in the company of the Eagles greats. It would be a dream come true.
To Mr. Lurie, Coach Pederson, Jim Schwartz, and the rest of the coaching staff — I’m so grateful for the opportunity you gave me to be the best version of myself in an Eagles uniform.
To my teammates — you guys may say that I gave you a lot, but you all gave me more than I could ever repay you for. The times when I knew you were challenging me made me compete hard to maintain my spot as one of the Alphas in the locker room….. but the times I knew you were following me made me give everything I had to not let you down. It made me a better player, a better leader, and a better man. You guys have seen up close all that I deal with — both inside and outside the game. And I appreciate you always being there for me.
Aaron M. Sprecher/AP Photo
But now back to the first truth — back to the future.
I’m so excited for this chapter of my career that’s about to start in New Orleans.
It’s like — going back to that breakup metaphor: When I got dumped by my beloved Philly? New Orleans, y’all came in like that old flame you still had feelings for.
“Hey big head….” — NOLA
You know what I’m saying?
It’s funny how things work out, though. Because when I think of legacy, my time with Philly is where I came into my own — but make no mistake about it, I was built in New Orleans. NOLA is where I learned how to be a leader. I watched and emulated captains like Jon Vilma and Drew Brees. I saw what it took to bring Saints fans their first and only Super Bowl title, back in 2009. I was trained not just on how to achieve success, but on how to maintain it — game after game, and season after season. I discovered the difference between good coaches and great teachers. I learned how to carry a burden on the field that wasn’t just my own.Make no mistake about it, I was built in New Orleans.
For real, everything you saw me do in Philly? It was the fruit of a tree that was planted in New Orleans. And I cannot wait to give Who Dat nation the benefits of a player they helped create.
This team was the NFC’s #1 seed last year for a reason, trust me on that — and there are so many great players who I’m looking forward to sharing a locker room with. Also the roster is littered with players from my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University, so I’m excited to join all my Buckeye brothers in Columbus South. This team has changed a lot in six years….. but then I look at guys like Cam Jordan and Thomas Morstead and I see familiar faces. I also see a guy like Demario Davis, one of the most active players in his community and a champion for social justice, and that’s someone I can’t wait to link with as I pour myself back into this city.
Oh yeah — and I’ve heard there’s a pretty decent quarterback down there in NOLA.
I know that Drew wants to go Full Legend, and get another big ring before he rides off into the sunset….. and I’ll tell you what: I’m here to help that come to fruition.
On that note, I want to thank Mrs. Benson, Mickey Loomis, and my good friend Sean Payton, for everything I could have asked for — an opportunity to win another championship in a Saints uniform.
I’m getting chills as I write this, thinking about being back in the Superdome: rocking those all-black uniforms and running out of the tunnel. These next few years, they’re what I consider to be my “Last Laps” on this journey. And everyone who’s ever run a race before….. they know what you do on those last laps: You put it all on the line.
You go hard.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo
But it doesn’t matter how excited I am, or how hard I plan on going.
It’s still tough to leave.
Thank you to the Eagles organization for these last six years. It’s been a privilege to wear the Midnight Green, and it’s been an honor to represent you — as a player on your team, but also just as one of your own, raising a family and living a life that I’m proud of in the greatest football town in the world. I became a Pro Bowl player here, but more importantly we became Super Bowl champions — and the road we took to get there is one I’ll never forget. That season we showed the world the Philly Way….. and to this day I couldn’t be prouder.
Thank you to the people of Philadelphia, and by that I mean the community of Philadelphia. You brought me in, challenged my ideas, and gave me a true home. You awakened my political voice and you sharpened it. And — as much as any football team I’ve ever been on — you taught me the value in being a part of something bigger than myself.
Lastly, to y’all Eagles fans: I hope in your hearts that you feel I’ve done right by you.
Thanks for the memories — from one fighter to a whole city of ’em.