Ten years later, the similarities and the differences are equally striking for the Philadelphia Eagles.
In 2004, they had about $24 million in salary-cap space, same as today. They were coming off a strong season that ended with a home playoff loss, same as today. They had a clear and oft-stated policy of re-signing their own young players and avoiding big splashes in free agency, same as today.
But the Eagles’ playoff loss that winter was a third straight disappointment in the NFC Championship Game. There was a sense they were banging their heads against a wall, not the sense they were in the early stages of something special. That is more the prevailing feeling in 2014, after Chip Kelly’s rookie season.
Ten years later, the Eagles’ daring March moves can be seen as equally successful and disastrous. They struck quickly and stealthily, obtaining defensive end Jevon Kearse and wide receiver Terrell Owens, the top defensive and offensive players available that year.
The Eagles landed Kearse in free agency, with a deal that made "The Freak" the highest paid defensive lineman in the league. They worked out a contract extension for Owens, only to have San Francisco trade him to Baltimore. It took an arbitrator to award Owens’ rights to the Eagles after the NFL Players Association filed a grievance on his behalf.
Successful? The Eagles went 13-3 in 2004, and the last two losses were asterisked by coach Andy Reid’s decision to rest his starters in the final two weeks. It took only 14 weeks to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Disastrous? As brilliant as Owens was on the field in 2004, he was many times as disruptive and difficult in 2005. His scorched earth campaign for a new contract ended with his dismissal from the team and a bitter end to the best sustained era of football in Eagles history.
Kearse was never a problem, but he never reached Owens' on-field level of success with the Eagles, either. He had 7.5 sacks in 2004 and matched that total in 2005. Injuries and age led to a total of seven sacks in the next two seasons combined and he was ultimately released.
Neither move worked out as the Eagles and the players hoped. Kearse said he wanted to be the one player that pushed the Eagles over the top, and to earn the Super Bowl ring that had eluded him in Tennessee. Owens was going to be the game-breaking wide receiver Donovan McNabb never had -- and he was, right up until he nearly broke McNabb by attacking the quarterback repeatedly in interviews.
But that uncharacteristically bold offseason got the Eagles to the second Super Bowl appearance in team history, and first since the 1980 season. The 2004 season was the high-water mark of Reid’s tenure and McNabb’s career. Coming off the spirit-crushing NFC title game loss to Carolina, at home, the additions of Kearse and Owens created unprecedented excitement and buzz around the team.
That party atmosphere lasted throughout 2004, through Super Bowl week in Jacksonville.
And then it was over. Was it worth it? Ten years later, the only answer for Eagles' fans is yes.