"This past year was honestly some of the most fun I've had playing football since I was a kid," Epps told NFL.com on Wednesday. "It was definitely bittersweet leaving. I made some brotherhoods, some bonds with those guys that are for life, and definitely enjoyed my time (in Philadelphia), but at the same time I'm excited for what's to come."
What's to come is a move out west to Las Vegas after Epps signed a two-year, $12 million deal to join the Silver and Black as the team undergoes an offseason of transition.
The Raiders came into 2022 with high expectations, but ended up turning out a disappointing 6-11 campaign which saw the defense finish near the bottom of the league in most categories.
One of a number of defensive signings Las Vegas has made to try to buttress its unit, Epps brings a veteran presence to the locker room, along with experience as an everyday starter who has had postseason success. Epps said he hopes what he's learned from playing in a strong, established secondary such as Philadelphia's can translate to his new team, helping to mentor the younger members of the defense.
"It's not easy getting to this league, it's even harder staying in the league, and it's even harder to continuously be a starter in this league," Epps said. "Hopefully there are some things I can kind of give to the younger guys in the room and help them out."
It wasn't long ago that Epps himself was a new player in the NFL, drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings in 2019 after working his way up from being a walk-on at Wyoming. After being waived by Minnesota and claimed by Philly midway through his rookie year, Epps spent three seasons learning the ropes and slowly moving up the depth chart before finally breaking into the starting lineup on a consistent basis in 2022. Epps started every single regular-season and playoff game for the Eagles, collecting 94 tackles (70 solo), six passes defensed and a forced fumble.
Epps also played more defensive snaps (1,096) than anyone else on the Eagles, taking the field for 99% of their defensive plays. His value as a consistent presence on the field became so clear that he led the NFL in performance-based pay distribution. Awarded to players who outplay their salaries, this program added an additional $880,384 to the overall $2.68 million he earned in Philadelphia, based on the tangible impact Epps had last year. And now that breakout season has earned him a yearly salary with the Raiders that is almost double his earnings over his four years with the Eagles.
Epps said signing his Raiders contract led him to think back on the long road to get to where he is and all the work it took to establish himself. While some doubted him, the belief from those close to him, and more importantly himself, has buoyed him and will continue to help him grow as he enters the next phase of his career.
"When I signed, kind of reflecting, it's just been a crazy journey, honestly. Lots of ups and downs, and for me the biggest thing was just not a lot of people believed in me, but the few that did, that helped me a lot," Epps said. "And most importantly, I believed in myself as well. I've always had that mindset of 'The only person I really need to believe in me is me.'"