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January 08, 2020

Roseman admits Eagles need to get younger, but his balancing act has never been more complicated

The best thing about Howie Roseman has to be his self awareness.

Where other GMs or front office officials around the league (or even in Philadelphia), often beat around the bush, play dumb, or worse — actually are dumb — about the perceptions and shortcomings of a team, Roseman knows what's being said, and knows when he makes a mistake.

The Eagles had one of the oldest rosters in football while drafting just 10 players combined over the last two seasons. 

"Going forward we need to infuse youth on this team," Roseman said to media members at a season wrap-up news conference on Wednesday. "We have 10 draft picks, we are excited about that. When we look at what our young players did for our team down the stretch, it's a tribute to that."

Those players down the stretch were not among those drafted by the Eagles. Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett, Rob Davis, and Josh Perkins were all forced into action on offense as the Eagles made an improbable playoff run.

There are a variety of ways to look at it, but the Eagles were forced to rely on practice squad players in part because:

  1. They had old players — injury prone ones. "I definitely think that's a factor in the injuries," Roseman said. The list of players with significant injuries has a slant toward the elderly (relatively speaking, of course). Darren Sproles (36), DeSean Jackson (32), Brandon Brooks (30), Lane Johnson (29), Malik Jackson (29), Alshon Jeffery (29) and Zach Ertz (29), among many others, were key injured players who are older than the league average (26.8).
  2. They simply did not have many drafted players to be the next men up. "The big thing for us is, because we haven't had a large number of picks, we have to hit on more to them," Roseman added. "Volume is important to us going forward."

The lack of draft picks has, as Roseman said, forced the Eagles to try to hit on a higher rate than the rest of the league. And they simply haven't. Of their 10 most recently drafted players, just three — Miles Sanders, Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox — have really been key contributors. It's too early to abandon hope for the other seven, but missing on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and being torched by D.K. Metcalf, who was picked after JJAW, is not a pleasant reminder.

"I don't think we saw the best of J.J.," Roseman said, who admitted that Arcega-Whiteside made many believe he was a rookie of the year candidate during the preseason. "There are four rookie receivers who have never had more than 40 catches in a season [in college] who were very productive this year… we have to look at that."

Roseman went short of saying the JJAW pick in 2019's second round was a mistake, but does seem to be learning from some draft letdowns. Roseman will have more draft capital in 2020, but it's important to know what to do with it.

"It also gives you more flexibility," he said. "In the last couple of years, obviously we moved up to get Andre [Dillard], it's hard to move up and down on the board."

Picking the right players — and having more draft picks — is just part of what the front office needs to achieve. It also needs to know when to say yes and when to say no in regards to bringing back veteran players.

Sproles, who saw his season and career end with another injury-plagued partial season, was brought back to be a leader in the locker room and to return punts. And while he wasn't on the field much, Roseman believes he was a huge influence on the emergence of Scott and Sanders this season. A pretty simple counter-argument can be made that Sproles was a waste of a roster spot and of reps a younger player could have gotten.

It's a tough balance for Roseman, who admits he can get attached to players.

"It's very difficult when you have guys who have given their heart and soul to this organization… at the same time, you need veteran leadership on your football team," he admitted. "You need guys who have been through it. You saw that at the end of the year"

But also.

"You have to let young players play. It's natural for us to want to have a safety net at every position and we have to allow these young player to grow and gets some experience."

If anyone can pull off the balancing act it's Roseman, who won a Super Bowl by implementing what Jimmy Kempski calls an "old guy strategy."

Roseman's "old guy strategy" makes some sense, as he was able to acquire contributing role players at a low cost. It paid off big-time for the Eagles in their run to the Super Bowl in 2017. In 2018, however, the five old guys Roseman acquired missed a combined 30 games, which is a risk with older players, despite the aforementioned "science." Those players were also largely ineffective when they were on the field, Bennett aside. 
Best two out of three in 2019, I guess.

Well, the old guys the Eagles acquired last spring missed more than a combined 30 games in 2019.

With 10 drafted rookies potentially fighting for a roster spot in camp next summer, the Eagles will alleviate a little salary cap stress and will also open it up for the Eagles to be able to strategically sign a few older veterans.

"When we look at our team from 2017 to 2019 we knew that we had one team, a team we would basically stick with," Roseman said.

Will the Eagles continue to stick?

Key decisions will need to be made on free agents like Jason Peters, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Timmy Jernigan, Nelson Agholor and others. So will contract extensions for players like Malcolm Jenkins and Zach Ertz who are playing for less than their currently worth. 

There is a lot on Roseman's plate — perhaps more than ever before — and he will need to pull off a magicians balancing act to get it all right.

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