April 28, 2021
Philadelphia's collective stare will be directed at Eagles general manager Howie Roseman for days to come as the 2021 NFL Draft gets underway Thursday night in Cleveland.
The Wednesday before the draft is always a bit like the calm before the storm, so it was interesting to see an interview with Roseman pop up at The New York Times. There's a been a lot of dissonant noise around the Eagles organization this offseason after a dreadful 2020 and the departure of Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson, but Roseman will soon get his first crack at the rebuilding effort after a relatively quiet free agency period for the Birds.
If you ask the GM, the Eagles don't necessarily view their situation as one that's going to require a long period of losing to compete again:
We’re not looking at this like, you know, let’s see how long that we can struggle. We’re looking to turn this around as quickly as possible, and we feel like we’ve done that. You talked about the transition from Coach [Andy] Reid and Coach [Chip] Kelly came in, and we won 20 games the next two years. Coach Pederson came, we won seven and then we won 35 the next three years. And so that’s our goal, and accumulating assets is a way to make us better quicker — it’s not to sit here and just see how long it takes to get back on top. [nytimes.com]
It's often remarked that NFL turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, with teams like the Buffalo Bills earning praise for their impressive reconstruction over the last few seasons. It's a glass-half-full approach, to be sure, but the Eagles have a few things working in their favor: the playoffs are expanded and they remain in a division that doesn't have a clear-cut, perennial powerhouse. The Eagles have been the closest thing to it.
Then you have the draft assets Roseman mentioned that were acquired in the Wentz trade and the subsequent pick swap with the Miami Dolphins, moving Philadelphia from No. 6 to No. 12 on Thursday night and giving them an extra first-round pick next season. If the Wentz pick (a second-rounder that could become a first) plays out as hoped, the Eagles are going to have a lot of ammunition heading into 2022.
Roseman is often criticized for his draft record as a way of dismissing the value of those assets as long as he's in charge of using them. It's doubtful he doesn't feel the pressure and sting of his precipitous drop in public perception, from "This Is Howie Do It" Super Bowl architect to overseeing the biggest dead cap hit in NFL history this year.
But Roseman didn't care to dive into the tough questions asked by the Times, including a chance to address the accuracy of reported dysfunction internally:
Last year with the pandemic was a unique year in terms of communication for everyone. But at the same time, if we didn’t have a team that worked together, then we wouldn’t have had the success that we had in the past when we dealt with adversity, whether it was coming back in 2016, getting a whole new group and winning a championship in our second year, or in 2018 and 2019, with the starts we had, finishing strong one year and making a strong run in the playoffs and the other year winning the division. [nytimes.com]
The rest of the interview reads much the same. Roseman didn't really give the Times anything of substance or insight into the state of the team, or even about his personal reflections on the job in front of him.
Some of that is understandable, if unsatisfying. Roseman has put his foot in his mouth before with excitable comments about the Eagles being a "quarterback factory," to name an obvious example. And yet, couldn't he benefit from being a bit looser and talking about lessons learned from mistakes? The most the front office ever says in this vein is, more or less, "Obviously, things didn't go as we hoped."
There's no need for him or owner Jeffrey Lurie to endlessly apologize for bad decisions — or for decisions that aren't yet as clear-cut as anyone would like them to be — but the humility that comes from a 4-11-1 season (or whatever your life's equivalent of 4-11-1 may be) usually should bring about some newfound maturity and resolve that's worth sharing in a more illuminating way.
At the end of the day, Roseman's best path back to building trust is to deliver on restocking the team with talent that can shine under new head coach Nick Sirianni and his staff. The strategy, for now, appears to be Roseman giving himself as many opportunities and avenues as possible to improve the roster, rather than banking on one immediate shot to make a splash:
Because we have so many picks over the next two years, it gives us the flexibility to not only move up and down the draft board, to target some guys, but also if there is an opportunity in the trade market at a particular position, to go get that guy, especially when we look at the cap and how the cap got reduced because of the pandemic. [nytimes.com]
After months of criticism and a relatively quiet offseason for player acquisition, Roseman will finally get a chance to win back some support on Thursday night. As much as Eagles fans complain about him, these are the moments you root for him. Hopefully, he'll have more to share and will open up about his mindset when the team introduces their first-round pick.