To Rebuild the Eagles, the Team’s G.M. Worked His ‘Magic’
Five seasons ago, the Eagles toppled the Patriots for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title after a breakout season from a young quarterback, behind a brash coach in his second season in Philadelphia, with a top-5 offense and defense that defended the conference’s No. 1 seed.
As the franchise stands on the precipice of another Super Bowl berth, the cast populating those roles has largely been swapped out for upgrades.
In lieu of Doug Pederson, fired in 2021 after a 4-11-1 season, stands the trash-talking Coach Nick Sirianni. Carson Wentz, signed to a $128 million contract extension in 2019, is gone (as is his backup, Nick Foles), replaced by the prospective league M.V.P., Jalen Hurts. The lineup on both sides of the ball is populated by impact players opportunistically handpicked in the draft or scooped up in free agency.
One of the few constants: General Manager Howie Roseman, who survived a role change and navigated middling seasons to orchestrate the Eagles’ turnaround through a mix of bold and aggressive trades and signings that have worked in the team’s favor. He declined to comment, but veterans of similar jobs noted the challenges of working against fast rebuilds in the N.F.L.
“To have the guts to face very difficult decisions head-on and make moves for the betterment of the organization — and they work — to me, that speaks volumes to Howie’s approach,” said Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager for the Atlanta Falcons from 2008 to 2020. “There aren’t that many in the league right now who could go toe to toe with Howie in that space.”
N.F.L. teams that win championships with young rosters usually face tough choices about committing significant money to the players who could form the core for multiple winning seasons. But when those contracted players don’t perform as well as expected, untangling the roster often takes years before the franchise contends for a title again. Roseman’s daring approach is the rare exception, though it wasn’t without errors.
“It’s easy to try to win people and keep people on your positive side. You know, like, ‘I’m going to do this because I don’t want the criticism out there,’” Dimitroff said. “There are oftentimes people out there in that role who are concerning themselves too much about how they’re perceived versus doing what’s best for the organization — but that’s not Howie.”
The post-title rebuild wasn’t Roseman’s first. In 2015, the Eagles stripped Roseman of his general manager title and handed the roster decisions to Chip Kelly, then the team’s head coach. A disaster followed: Kelly traded running back LeSean McCoy, the Eagles’ best offensive player. The Eagles were 6-9 before firing Kelly in the final week of that season.
“Most people would have been kind of defeated by that and discouraged,” Joe Banner, the Eagles team president from 2001 to 2012, said of Roseman’s setbacks. “He used that time to try to look back and learn from any mistakes he made so that if he did get another chance, he was even better.”
With Kelly gone, the Eagles returned roster decisions to Roseman. Since then, he has been one of the most aggressive general managers in the league, often adding established players who contribute immediately by capitalizing on other teams’ miscues.
Many of those off-season pickups fortified the Eagles defense. Last March, Roseman lured the free agent linebacker Haason Reddick from Carolina with a three-year deal heavy on guaranteed money, making him an anchor of the pass rush. Reddick had 16 of the team’s league-leading 70 sacks this season.
Offenses picked on Eagles defensive backs not named Darius Slay last season, so Roseman pounced when the Giants released cornerback James Bradberry last May to make cap space. The Eagles were able to sign Bradberry to a one-year deal largely because he wanted to play alongside Slay, and Bradberry was named to the All-Pro second team this month.
After the Saints couldn’t agree on a contract extension for safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Roseman picked him up on the final year of his rookie deal in exchange for a late-round draft pick. Gardner-Johnson tied for the league-lead in interceptions (6) despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney.
Still, Roseman’s most significant move came on the night of the 2022 draft. He traded for Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown, who couldn’t reach a contract agreement with his former team. Roseman signed Brown to a four-year, $100 million contract, which has quickly paid dividends. Brown elevated the Eagles’ offense to one of the most dynamic in the league, and he finished the season with the fourth-most receiving yards in the N.F.L.
Roseman also traded in the draft’s first round to select the University of Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis, who has been a force in their run defense.
“Dude, Howie Roseman is working that Howie Roseman magic,” said Jason Kelce, the Eagles center who was hosting a live draft show when the trade happened. He added: “I’m like on Christmas right now. Howie Roseman is Santa Claus.”
But Roseman’s successes have come with significant misses; one of the most notable came in the 2020 N.F.L. Draft.
The Eagles had a depleted wide receiving group heading into the 2020 draft, and Justin Jefferson, a receiver out of Louisiana State, seemed like a done deal to Philadelphia in the months leading up to draft night. (Jefferson thought so, too.) Instead, Roseman took Jalen Reagor with the 21st pick in the first round. A speedy, lesser-known receiver from Texas Christian University, Reagor had been projected as a second-round pick.
With the 22nd pick, the Minnesota Vikings selected Jefferson, who set an N.F.L. record for the most receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons. Reagor never panned out in Philadelphia and was traded to Minnesota in August for two late-round draft picks. To make matters worse, the Vikings later posted a video of their head coach and general manager’s live reactions of amazement and laughter when the Eagles passed on Jefferson.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie,” Roseman told a Philadelphia radio station in September. “We’d love to have that moment back.”
But in the second round of that draft, Roseman selected Jalen Hurts despite having Wentz under a long-term contract that set a since-broken record with $107.9 million in guaranteed money.
As the Eagles struggled in the 2020 season, Wentz was eventually benched for Hurts and was later traded to the Colts with Philadelphia eating the remainder of the guaranteed portion of his contract, which was $33.8 million.
“It’s hard to stay bold after you’ve had a situation that didn’t go the way you wanted,” said Banner, the former Eagles president. But, he said, Roseman had been “undeterred” by the Wentz situation.
“He’s made individual moves that have been obviously very impressive, but I think what’s served him well and the Eagles best is his willingness to just keep being bold,” Banner said.
Regardless of whether Philadelphia again lifts the Lombardi Trophy, Roseman will again face dilemmas over how to best spend for the future. Hurts is in the third year of his rookie contract, and a league — or Super Bowl — M.V.P. award could put him in line for a market-setting extension. Playmakers compelled to overachieve their one-year deals will be due for salary talks, and with 19 potential free agents this off-season Roseman might be in the same position as the cap-strapped general managers he lurked last year.
But Roseman and the Eagles have six picks in April’s draft, including the tenth overall selection (from the Saints in the Gardner-Johnson trade). That means the Eagles’ postseason games aren’t the team’s only showcase worth watching.