Some familiar names have been grinding through the rumor mill recently. First, Chris Mortensen reported that the Eagles were one of two teams seriously interested in trading for Brandin Cooks. The Eagles were ready to draft Cooks in 2014 until the New Orleans Saints rather cruelly leapfrogged them. As a result, the Eagles selected all-world defensive end Marcus Smith. Second, following reports from Ian Rapoport and Adam Caplan that Chase Daniel is drawing interest from a lot of teams, BLG wrote that it’s not out of the question for Nick Foles, whose 2017 option will not be picked up by Kansas City, to return to Philadelphia (How’s everyone doin’? Let’s make some noise, c’mon!). And this after fans and media alike have been speculating how DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy could also return.
So, what gives? Why are ghosts of Philadelphia past still haunting us?
These seem to be the latest examples that illustrate how Howie Roseman, or the Eagles organization in general, has a problem with chronic error-correction. Identifying institutional errors and correcting them is not necessarily a bad thing. Every organization does it. And given the high pressures and stakes involved, NFL teams, or major sports franchises, probably do it more often than most. However, there may be a point after which correcting past mistakes ends up challenging an organization’s strategic vision, bordering on the obsessive and obstructing progress for the future.
It’s unclear when this strategy surfaced. You could go back to, say, the Andy Reid/Joe Banner era and how they handled Jeremiah Trotter. Trotter, of course, became a free agent in 2002 and signed with the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, in turn, released Trotter after two seasons and he was picked up by the Eagles again for the veteran minimum. In Trotter’s absence, the Eagles run defense was among the worst in the league, so bringing back the tackling machine seemed to make sense, and it corrected an action that perhaps shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
More recent examples center around mistakes made during the Chip Kelly era. It’s been well-documented here and elsewhere how Kelly’s GM coup and subsequent mishandling of the roster set back the franchise a few years. But since his departure, Roseman has almost made it a point to correct, in some way, every one of Kelly’s roster decisions. DeMarco Murray? Later. Kiko Alonso? Gone. Byron Maxwell? See ya. Sam Bradford? Well that’s a different beast. Bradford, acquired before the 2015 draft, was Kelly’s consolation prize after failing to trade up for Marcus Mariota. A year later, in a culminating move that almost bordered on the spiteful, Roseman sent Bradford to Minnesota, regaining the first-round pick that he spent to move up the draft board for Carson Wentz. The whole thing had an air of one-upmanship.
While the move to draft a potential franchise quarterback seems to be working out well, it remains to be seen if the rest of Roseman’s corrections will have impacts as positive. It can’t be entirely healthy for an organization to continually pick up an oft-used shovel, dig up past demons, and exorcise them. What about the future?
There are ways to systematically look at historic organizational performance and improve upon it. Other institutions have solved this problem. For example, in higher education there’s a concept called “outcomes assessment.” Generally speaking, an organization, in this case a college or university, identifies criteria for success for something and comes up with the means to assess them. Eventual results are compared to the criteria for success, analyzed, and used to improve the next decision cycle. This method for institutional advancement isn’t perfect, but it’s a methodical way for identifying areas of improvement, excellence, and establishing ways to move forward without dwelling so much on past mistakes.
We’ll never know what could have been had the Eagles, say, retained Murray and Maxwell for another year, or kept [Super Bowl Champion] Eric Rowe. Mistakes are made in every organization, but the what-ifs… the what-ifs can drive you mad. With speculation surrounding the return of McCoy, Jackson, and Foles, and the potential acquisition of Brandin Cooks, there should be worry about the institutional costs involved with spending so much time focused on the past. Even if some of the moves pan out, the franchise may still be in trouble. Ultimately, the Eagles need to understand the difference between dwelling on the past and learning from the past to improve the future.