Like a kid in a candy store, the sugar-rush faded quickly. The crash that followed dragged painfully. Howie Roseman’s baptism as an NFL GM could hardly have been more disastrous. The 2011 season was an unmitigated disaster, from the personnel decisions to alterations on the coaching staff. For a franchise that had made the playoffs every season since 2007, the time for patient team-building was over. A host of high-priced free agents were expected to elevate the team to perennial contender. Instead, the Eagles dropped to a 4-8 record, and into a downward spiral that lasted half a decade.
The 2011 offseason is probably the worst in Eagles history. The list of mistakes is long; Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jarrad Page, Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh. In many ways, however, a kicker was most symbolic of the malaise. Instead of securing the reliable David Akers, an impending free agent, the Eagles opted to draft a kicker in the fourth-round. Alex Henery managed three NFL seasons, two with the Eagles. It was the worst possible start for the league’s youngest GM.
Admittedly, Roseman lacked the power he currently wields. Andy Reid retained the final say, and the draft picks (in particular) had his fingerprints all over them. Still, Roseman admits the 2011 off-season informed much of his career progression to date.
“When we look back at that, I think being in five NFC Championship games, getting so close, I think you get in a moment where you feel like you have to put all your chips in the center of the table,” Roseman told us.
“That was counter to everything we had built in Philadelphia. It goes back to how important culture and chemistry is to your football team, drafting the right players, having homegrown talent that you’re able to sign to contract extensions. I think we did a good job of getting back to the way that we believe in.”
Via Bleacher Report
Things changed again in 2013 with the arrival of Chip Kelly. An autocrat at Oregon, he failed to adapt to pro football, both schematically and with regards to player acquisition. In hindsight, the structure was doomed from the start. Although Roseman had full authority over personnel decisions, Kelly’s control over the final-53 effectively nullified Roseman’s responsibility. He had to defer to Kelly’s volition in the market, without the capability to convince his head coach to use, or even keep, the players he recommended. Emboldened by a strong couple seasons in which the Eagles won 10 games consecutively, Kelly seized full personnel control, banishing Roseman back to salary cap concerns in 2015.
But Roseman would not give up on his NFL dream. Returning to the GM role upon Kelly’s dismissal at the end of 2015, he took on the tough task of rebuilding the Eagles into a super bowl contender. Next, we’ll look at Roseman’s roster-building philosophy.
Building the Trenches
Roseman rarely resembles his former mentor Joe Banner, but his approach to the first round of the draft is similar. Between when Roseman arrived in 2000, and his elevation to GM in 2010, the Eagles spent their first pick on a defensive lineman five times. They targeted a guy to improve the defensive front on a ridiculous 50% of drafts over the span. In 6 out of 10 drafts, they took a defensive tackle in the top two rounds.
Similarly, Roseman has selected a defensive lineman with the Eagles’ first pick in three out of his six drafts as GM. Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and, lately, Derek Barnett have been prioritised by the front office. Vinny Curry makes it four in the top two rounds. Primarily, the new regime have targeted ends rather than tackles, but that likely reflects the NFL’s transition into a passing league predominantly. Overall, there’s a clear preference for defensive lineman in the early rounds.
Roseman is additionally willing to commit financial resources to tie down defensive lineman, as well as add players from the open market. In his time in charge the Eagles have signed or traded for; Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, Jason Babin, Darryl Tapp, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Timmy Jernigan. Now not all of them were major deals, but he also gave big extensions to Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Trent Cole during that span. The $50 million committed to defensive lineman in 2018 is the third most in the league, behind only the Jags and Bucs.
Scared off the Skill Positions?
By contrast, the Eagles have never invested a pick higher than the fourth-round on a back or wide receiver under Roseman. Perhaps the recent failure of highly regarded wide receiver prospects has scared them off but, whatever the reason, there appears to be a stark change in approach to rookie wideouts. The Eagles picked six wide receivers in the first three rounds between 2000 and 2009 but have favoured free agency since Roseman returned to the top job.
Over the past couple of seasons, they have added Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace and Torrey Smith. Previous names added include Steve Smith, Reuben Randle and Dorial Green-Beckham. Considering the value of the position, the Eagles simply have not committed significant resources to wide receiver. When they did break that mould with Jeffery, the results were profound, but there is a sense Roseman’s attempts to cut corners was only feasible to a point. The four-year, $50 million deal might indicate that dawning realisation.
For consecutive seasons, the Eagles were linked with a running back atop the draft. It seems unlikely there was ever any interest in Derrius Guice or Dalvin Cook, despite links to the contrary. Roseman hasn’t touched a back prior to the fourth-round, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. Roseman was also willing to part with a fourth-round pick for Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline a season ago. Otherwise, this front office do not have a long history of acquiring backs outside the later rounds of the draft.
Day Two Defensive Backs
The mid-rounds have been an abundant source of corners for the Eagles. Just a season ago, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas were picked consecutively, in a throwback to 2002 when the team selected three defensive backs at 26th, 58th and 59th overall. The last of those picks, Sheldon Brown, was the last corner drafted in the top two rounds prior to Jones in 2017. On the other hand, including Douglas, the Eagles have taken four corners in the third and fourth rounds. A couple of slot guys in the fourth, and a couple of perimeter guys with potential in the third. The compensation for Ronald Darby last offseason also included a third-round pick, in addition to Jordan Mathews. The list of free agent corners is not long, but the signing of Patrick Robinson has to go down as one of Roseman’s best deals.
Prior to the additions of Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins in free agency, the Eagles struggled to find a reliable safety pairing. Early in his tenure, Roseman selected back-to-back safeties in the second round; Jaiquawn Jarrett in 2011 following Nate Allen in 2010. While the Jarrett selection might well be attributed to Reid, it’s quite possible the struggles of the rookie safeties elicited a change in approach. The new policy failed initially, with veteran free agents Jarrad Page and O.J Atogwe failing to perform to an adequate level, but those mistakes have since been rectified to a large degree by McLeod’s signing.
Low on Linebackers
Linebacker has never been a position of value for this regime. They made an exception for Mychal Kendricks, selecting him 46th overall in 2012, but that pick stands out as an anomaly. Roseman has actually selected more linebackers (eight) than any other position, although all but one has arrived from the fourth round or later. Heavy on quantity, low on quality. None of the picks ultimately proved effective starters, but they did provide significant contributions on special teams.
Roseman’s early years were also marred by the misses of the pro scouting department. Trades for Demeco Ryans and Ernie Sims yielded marginal results at best, and negatively impacted the team in Sims’s case. His reckless performances undermined the Eagles’ defensive structure for far too long. Nigel Bradham is at the polar opposite end of the spectrum, setting the tone physically for the stop unit. How much credit he deserves is debateable, considering Schwartz’s familiarity with his standout linebacker from his time in Buffalo.
Offensive Line an Enigma
Minimal early-round offensive line investment exemplifies the relevance of need, to at least a partial degree, in the NFL draft. Roseman inherited a fortune in his first stint, a bounty that includes future Hall of Famer Jason Peters, the outstanding Todd Herremans and one of the league’s best tackles in Lane Johnson (second stint). The only interior offensive lineman subject of a major investment was Danny Watkins, during the Dream Team debacle.
Roseman’s record in the later rounds is much more impressive. He signed a stud in Jason Kelce, generating a huge payoff from a meagre sixth round pick. Dennis Kelly was also a solid rotational lineman who has enjoyed a solid NFL career. Recent additions Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata also have promising futures, along with Hal Vaitai despite some patchy form. The jury remains out on Isaac Seumalo, whose failure to excel in any area has hurt his transition from college. Still, that’s a pretty good haul.
The GM’s free agency record is also promising. Evan Mathis was an inspired acquisition. Probably the best-value move of his entire era. Including dead money, the Eagles paid Mathis $14 million for three years of service at a Pro-Bowl level. In many ways, Stephen Wisniewski fits the same mould. He’s never quite got to Mathis’s level, but he remains a cheap, highly dependable, veteran. While I was critical of the Brandon Brooks signing at the time, the contract looks fantastic in hindsight. Brooks’s $4.8 million cap hit in 2018 only just cracks the top 25 most expensive guards. His $17 million guaranteed also lies outside the top ten. There is one glaring failure in there; Demetress Bell. Arguably Roseman’s worst signing, Bell lasted just a solitary year after receiving a mega deal on the open market.
Quarterbacks are King
Surprisingly, we haven’t yet discussed the most important position in football. Probably because little really needs to be said. Roseman engineered a genius trade, first involving Miami and then Cleveland, to get from 12 to 2 to snag the team the franchise quarterback they craved. Oh, and he drafted Super Bowl 52’s MVP in the third round. Mike Kafka never worked out and Chase Daniel was an underwhelming stopgap, but they required marginal investments in comparison.
Roseman also generated good value from trading quarterbacks away. He got second-round picks as compensation for an over-the-hill Donovan McNabb and out-of-his-depth Kevin Kobb. Overall, Roseman’s decisiveness at the position transformed the franchise’s fortune.
Evaluating the Evaluator
Signed – 4
Success rate – 50%
Rating – 10/10
Signed – 16
Success rate – 62.5%
Rating – 9/10
Signed – 11
Success rate – 55%
Rating – 7/10
Signed – 13
Success rate – 38%
Rating – 5/10
Signed – 15
Hit rate – 26%
Rating – 4/10
Signed – 10
Hit rate – 20%
Rating – 2/10
Spread the Cred
It’s clear Roseman’s record upon his return is much better than during his first stint. On the one hand he might have improved dramatically as an evaluator. More likely, however, the input of Joe Douglas in his role as VP of Player Personnel has been essential. A veteran of 17 NFL seasons on the scouting circuit, he had the finest mentor in Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome. He’s been an unmitigated success, and is highly likely to be hired away as a GM next offseason. Whether, and with whom, Roseman replaces him will be key to his long-term legacy. Ultimately, though, hiring a pair of Dougs helped enshrine Roseman in Eagles history.