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March 12, 2018

When (and how) the hell did Howie Roseman become a football genius?

The 2014 version of Howie Roseman was an attention hound whose skills as a GM started and ended with managing the salary cap. He had his own radio program, which he used primarily to explain all of his mistakes. The conventional wisdom was that he had his job only because he was a close friend of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.

The 2018 version of Howie Roseman is a master at trades, savvy in the draft room and a cool and efficient manipulator of his championship roster. He is the best GM in the NFL right now, if not in all of sports.

OK, I give up. How the hell did this happen?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. The Eagles' run to an improbable championship is the best story I have ever experienced in sports, but the most unlikely aspect of this dream-come-true is the emergence of Roseman as – am I really typing this? – a football genius.

Roseman's systematic assembly of the 2017 roster included Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Alshon Jeffrey, Corey Clement, Nigel Bradham, Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Ronald Darby and Jake Elliott, among others. He added all of those major contributors in the two years since he returned – and clearly Roseman is not done.

Last week, despite having no space under the salary cap, the GM somehow talked Seattle out of its best pass rusher, Michael Bennett, for the bargain price of wide receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round draft pick. Roseman is so shameless, he even fleeced a seventh-rounder out of the Seahawks as a sweetener to the deal.

Then he traded the untradeable Torrey Smith – one of the few underperformers during Roseman's second tenure as GM – for promising cornerback Daryl Worley. What could Roseman possibly have said that convinced Carolina to take on Smith's $5 million salary? Did he send them a highlight tape that edited out all of Smith's drops?

What made Roseman's theft of Bennett especially sweet is that it victimized a familiar foe, the New England Patriots, who attempted to win the bidding for the veteran pass rusher with a very late bid of third and fifth-round picks. In the end, Seattle honored their deal with Roseman even though the Pats clearly offered more. Ha, ha, ha.

My guess is, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had the same forlorn expression on his face that he wore when the Eagles beat his team in the Super Bowl. Maybe he's starting to catch on that these are not Andy Reid's Eagles of 13 years ago. 

No, these are the Howie Roseman Eagles, a team that takes Belichick's own discards like Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount and beats him. These are players and coaches and executives who try gadget plays near the goal line in the Super Bowl, and make Belichick look silly. Do you think he's sick of hearing about the Philly Special yet?

Everything that has happened to the Eagles in the past year has been like one impossible, amazing dream. No one ever warned us that someday it would be our football team everyone is trying to emulate, our football team that inspires jealousy and envy throughout the NFL.

Nothing about this turn of fortunes makes any sense, including the man behind the success. He is smarter now – cooler, more confident and much, much quieter. Howie Roseman doesn't have a radio show anymore, and he's even very hard to book as a guest these days.

He's got other priorities. Right now, for example, he's getting fitted for a Super Bowl ring.

* * *

After months of clamoring for the Phillies to spend some money, I should be thrilled today that the team won the bidding – if there was any – for free-agent starting pitcher Jake Arrieta with a three-year, $75-million contract.

Well, I am not.

Oh, I'm happy that the Phils have improved enough to at least challenge for their first winning record in seven seasons. With Arrieta and Aaron Nola at the top of the pitching rotation and Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana in the middle of the batting order, they should be a lot more fun to watch this year.

But I am not turning cartwheels because there are alarms sounding everywhere in the aftermath of this astounding deal. The truth is, this move has all the markings of a full-blown disaster.

First of all, it appears that Arrieta will be the first player in Philadelphia sports history to earn a base salary of $30 million. Think about that. He's a 32-year-old pitcher who has lost three miles an hour off his fastball in the past three seasons, and he's coming off an ordinary (14-10, 3.53 ERA) year after winning the Cy Young Award in 2015. And he's making more than anyone ever made here? Hey, no pressure, Jake.

Secondly, he has some political baggage. After the Cubs won the World Series, Arrieta snubbed an invitation to the White House, even though the occupant at the time was a Chicago hero, Barack Obama. Instead, Arrieta sent out a controversial Tweet after Donald Trump was elected inviting all of the new president's critics to leave the country.

And finally – this is the biggest one – why would the best GM in baseball, Theo Epstein, sign World Series bust Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126-million contract instead of retaining his own hero for far less? Darvish is only five months younger than Arrieta, and he's coming off a much worse (10-12, 3.86 ERA) season.

The executive closest to Arrieta during the pitcher's best years wanted nothing to do with him this winter, and we're supposed to place our blind faith in Phils GM Matt Klentak, who has none of the history for success that Epstein has? No, thanks.

Here's hoping the Phillies are back in contention because they just signed Jake Arrieta. 

I'll believe it when I see it. 

* * *

In the same week when Joel Embiid called Miami center Hassan Whiteside "soft," an outcry was building once again to coddle the Sixers' struggling center. When it comes to turning players soft, the 76ers and their wary fans are experts.

Whiteside outplayed Embiid on both ends of the court in that loss to the Heat, and it was the latest in a series of disappointing games by the Sixers' franchise center. It came as no surprise, then, when his clueless fans began the clamor for him to rest. Embiid may be the most rested 23-year-old in the history of professional sports.

Remember, after two years off because of foot issues, Embiid was not allowed to play back-to-back games, nor to average more than 24 minutes per contest. Now that he's finally getting to play more – 31 minutes per game this season – the only possible explanation for his slump is fatigue.

How about this? How about he's human, prone to slumps like anybody else? The best way to get out of slumps is to play; at least that's what athletes always say. And it is what Embiid himself is saying, because he is not soft. The only thing soft about Joel Embiid is his surroundings.

After his best game in a couple of weeks on Sunday night against the Nets, Embiid said he actually wants to play more, not less. He insisted he wasn't tired, and he didn't look tired against Brooklyn. People his age play day and night on courts throughout America. They aren't on minutes restrictions, nor should he be.

At the risk of sounding old – which I am, by the way – how could the greatest NBA player ever, Wilt Chamberlain, average close to 48 minutes per game when he was 24, 25 and 26 and suffer absolutely no negative repercussions, but Embiid supposedly can't handle 15 minutes less per game? It's ridiculous.

From the day he arrived here, his foot in a cast, his young, wussified fan base has been trying to coddle Embiid, with consistently poor results. The way to get better is to work harder, and there is no replacement for game experience.

Joel Embiid is not a soft player. He is ferocious on the court and feisty off it. He will be fine. He just needs to tune out all of the soft people who don't know any better.

* * *

And finally . . . 

  In case you can't stand the suspense, the Flyers are never going to hoist a Stanley Cup while Dave Hakstol is their coach. He proved his cluelessness again last week when he praised his team after a tough loss to Boston. Hakstol ignored the fact that it was the Flyers' fifth defeat in a row, and that he was speaking in a city that recently held a sports parade. There are no moral victories in Philadelphia anymore, Dave. This is not North Dakota.

  The good news is, muscle-bound ref Ed Hochuli retired last week after 28 years in the NFL. He will be remembered most for throwing lots of flags, and for then assuming that fans wanted to hear him explain in excruciating detail why he called the penalty. The bad news is, his son, Shawn, was named to replace him. A former back judge, Shawn should not try to follow in his father's footsteps. In fact, Shawn should not lift weights. One grandstanding Hochuli is enough.

  Say this about Torrey Smith, the Eagles' wide receiver who was traded to Carolina over the weekend. In his one season here, Smith demonstrated a level of class that far exceeded his contribution on the field. He was an eloquent spokesman for the team, the kind of player whose value in the clubhouse cannot be overstated. Smith's Instagram post after the deal thanking the team and the fans was one final act of dignity by an exemplary athlete. 

  Kobe Bryant received a hero's welcome last week in Hollywood when he won an Academy Award for producing the best animated short film. The only problem is, the theme of the Oscar ceremony was the long-overdue empowerment of women, and Bryant had an incident in Colorado years ago that rivals any of the accusations against the sexual abusers and harassers in movies today. There is now a movement to strip Bryant of the award. A bit too late, don't you think?

  Former Phillies' nonentity Desi Relaford went on a podcast last week and made an even bigger fool of himself than he did in his five lousy seasons here. He called the fans "trash," and even had the audacity to blame late, beloved coach John Vukovich for Relaford's struggles here as a rookie. My only question is why anyone would feature a nobody like Desi Relaford on a podcast. What, Steve Jeltz wasn't available?