Hey there BGN, it’s been a while. I’ve had a crazy start to my 2017, but after the Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery I knew I wanted to contribute to the discussion. I just spent the last weekend at PAX East which kept me away from a keyboard, but now that I’m snowed in (be safe today) I have the time to share my thoughts.
Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ de facto general manager and affectionately referred to as the “Bear Jew” on BGN, was originally promoted to the general manager position for the Eagles in 2010. He held that position until 2015 when Chip Kelly was given full reign over the personnel department. After Kelly’s unceremonious dismissal late in the 2015 season, Roseman was brought out of exile to run the team once more. He spoke at length about how he studied other successful sports organizations in his year off and was a “changed man.”
Naturally, many people were skeptical. Bringing Roseman back was an unconventional move on Lurie’s part and we had heard this story from Howie before. In the years following the “Dream Team” fiasco in 2011 Roseman would occasionally reference that season and how the team was committed to “building through the draft.” And yet, the Eagles continued to be free agency superstars, handing out multiple lucrative contracts each season and making splash signings. Most of the big moves panned out, especially the signings of Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin, although the second-tier signings that wrought the revolving door of burnt toast at cornerback and one-trick-pony deep threats at wide receiver were not nearly as successful. Even with the good signings, the big contracts still did not demonstrate a true change in philosophy. As much as Roseman claimed they wanted to build through the draft, the recurring activity during free agency suggested otherwise.
But now, as the 2017 free agency hype dies down and we move full-throttle towards the draft, it seems that Howie truly has changed. It took three phases (and just over a calendar year), which I’ll detail below.
Phase One: Identifying The Core
The 2016 offseason was all about locking down hometown talent. Yes, they gave out splashy contracts to Rodney McLeod and Brandon Brooks, but their contracts were dwarfed by the cash doled out to incumbent starters Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins, Brent Celek, Vinny Curry, and eventually Fletcher Cox. He then unloaded Kelly’s signings from a year before in order to move up in the draft and snag a franchise signal caller in Carson Wentz.
The size of these extensions served as a message that Howie wanted to send not only to the organization but to the players as well: play well for us, and we’ll reward you before we pay some guy who played well for someone else. This became the foundation for the organization’s new approach to team-building.
Phase Two: Enter Joe Douglas
One of the biggest criticisms of Howie was his ability to evaluate talent, especially since his ascension through the Eagles’ front office was unusual. How could a lawyer who never played the game in his life know which players were good and which ones were bad? To make things worse, various reports about his paranoia and arrogance (along with Lurie’s rabid defense of him) didn’t help to quell fears that he was unable to accept the advice of anyone else.
And then, in May of 2016, Howie snagged Joe Douglas away from the Bears. Douglas was widely praised around the league and even referred to by some as a future GM in training. Roseman has since gone on to explain he would have final say on all moves while Douglas would be responsible for setting the draft board. We may not know the exact inner workings of the front office, but all signs point to a Howie Roseman that is now willing to listen and accept the input of hist talented advisers.
Phase Three: Howie Roseman, Salary Cap Ninja
After an up-and-down 2016 season that showed plenty of promise from Carson Wentz, the Eagles found themselves tight on cap room that limited their ability to make any significant moves in free agency. This is a direct side effect of Phase One, and even though it may have not been by design, it works as a net benefit for the Eagles. While the Jaguars and Patriots were free to hand out enormous contracts to A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore, the Eagles will be forced to address their horrendous cornerback situation through the draft... y’know, like they said they would do. As anxious as the salary cap situation has made all of us, it serves as a blessing in disguise because it essentially forces the team to build through the draft (which should improve via Phase Two). And I think it’s fair to claim that Roseman realized this at some point since he didn’t make any of the easy and predictable cuts that would have inflated their cap space before free agency began (with the exception of Connor Barwin and Leodis McKelvin).
That being said, they didn’t hold off on improving at all through free agency. The most notable signing was (obviously) Alshon Jeffery, who they were able to bring in on what is essentially a 1-year, $9 million contract. This is incredible value and shows a good balance between getting a top-tier player without chaining the franchise to an inflated albatross of a contract. It’s impossible to know if they would have signed Jeffery had the market dictated a long-term deal, but the “prove-it” deal they gave him falls in line with the “if you play well for us, we’ll reward you” mentality... a la Phase One.
Tying It All Together
Starting to notice a pattern here? Each of the Eagles’ big moves since Howie regained control of the front office have all tied into each other in one, coherent strategy that has real potential to solidify the Eagles’ future as a yearly contender. Phase One established the core while all but eliminating the possibility of giving into the free agency “splash signing” temptation. This forces the team to build through the draft, which can be properly coordinated by the talented Joe Douglas, who was hired in Phase Two. 2017 saw the launch of Phase Three: a transition to a more sensible approach to free agency often adopted by successful teams such as New England and Seattle.
I can’t see the future. There is no guarantee that they will draft well or that their free agency signings will pan out. And it’s entirely possible that Howie’s shortcomings as a football executive will catch up with him. However, the philosophy is sound. This is how you build a team, and the Eagles are finally getting around to realizing that.
This might be a phrase more associated with the 76ers, but with the Eagles we can say that the right course now is to “trust the process.”