Doug Pederson has been described, at various points in his career, as an amiable chap, the sort you could imagine having an after-work beer with even if he were your boss. But the Eagles coach has increasingly taken on the opposite persona in his dealings with the local media.
So when he was recently asked if his agreeable disposition was one of the key factors in the Eagles’ front-office harmony, it was unclear if his immediate answer was just Pederson the public contrarian or the unmasking of someone who may not be quite as he seems.
“If you’re saying I’m a yes man,” Pederson said, “that’s a no.”
While that wasn’t the implication, Pederson’s acceptance of his limited role in personnel, unlike so many successful coaches -- particularly those who have won championships -- has allowed for a defined coach-general manager dynamic.
To steal from a famous Bill Parcells quote when the Super Bowl-winning coach was denied final personnel say by the Patriots: Howie Roseman buys the groceries and Pederson cooks the dinner.
“For me, that’s just not the avenue that I want to go down as a coach,” Pederson said during a recent sit-down interview with beat reporters. “I’m a part of it. And I want my coaching staff to be a part of it. But I want to coach. I want Howie to bring the players in and give us the talent that we can go and develop and win games.”
And win games the Eagles have. In the three years since the Pederson-Roseman partnership was established, the team has won 29 of 48 regular-season games and 4 of 5 in the postseason. Expectations are high again following yet another active offseason.
Two years ago, Pederson was criticized by some for suggesting that the Eagles had as much talent as some of the championship-caliber teams he played on with the Packers. This year, when asked to compare the roster with others he’s had in Philadelphia, he didn’t shy away from comparisons to the 2017 squad.
“From a skill position on offense, it’s probably the best we’ve had going into my fourth season,” Pederson said. “From a depth standpoint, as I mentioned earlier, I think it’s equivalent to what we had going into the 2017 season. But listen, all that can change in a heartbeat, as we know.”
Roseman’s job, in essence, is over. There will be additions here or there, mostly near the bottom of the roster, but the core of the team is set. And it’s now on Pederson and his staff to mold the team into a winner.
It took too long last year. Pederson disputed the notion of a Super Bowl hangover throughout last offseason, but the short offseason, mounting injuries, and Carson Wentz’s stunted return from knee surgery resulted in a 5-6 start.
But Pederson shoulders some blame as well. His messaging to his players was, at times, awkward. Slow offensive starts showed a lack of preparedness. And whether it was a lessening of trust in his players or a shaky trigger finger, his decision-making had become tentative.
Something clicked, however, after Wentz’s season-ending back injury. Maybe it was Pederson’s comfort with Nick Foles at quarterback, but that ignores the heights he did reach with Wentz at the controls. Nevertheless, the final stretch was a reminder of what the Eagles have in Pederson.
He may not be a yes man. In fact, he’s far from it. But the secret to the Eagles’ success may be Pederson’s humility.
He knows his bounds. He gives Jim Schwartz autonomy over the defense. He empowers his assistants. And he doesn’t think that coaching his team to victories automatically makes him a master talent evaluator.
That doesn’t mean that Pederson doesn’t have opinions, especially on quarterbacks, or that there aren’t disagreements.
“Honestly, I can’t think of a time in the last three years, going on four, where I’ve just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have this guy, or not this guy,’ ” Pederson said. “I just don’t think it works that way. But I can have strong opinions, one way or the other, good or bad, for players.”
The process of evaluation is manifold. Assessments are elicited from various corners with more weight given to, say, a particular position coach or an area scout or a personnel director who has a certain area of expertise.
Football operations, which Roseman oversees, offers an analytical approach to evaluating. The vice president of player personnel supervises the scouting division. And Pederson speaks for the coaches. Those three heads meet, along with a select few from various departments, and Roseman weighs the room before making the final decision.
There will be a transitional period in the front office after Joe Douglas left to become the New York Jets’ general manager this offseason. Pederson and Douglas had developed a rapport. But Andy Wiedl was promoted into Douglas’ position as vice president of player personnel, maintaining some continuity and seemingly keeping all the pieces in the same order.
Roseman will often go with the majority, but sometimes he’ll use his clout and go with his instinct even if it might be in the minority. If there is a major disagreement – as there were on several occasions with former Eagles coach Chip Kelly – then the player is discarded.
“There’s probably not been a case in the last three years, even this offseason, where there was such two ends of the spectrum on a player that we both just said, ‘There’s no need to bring this guy in,’ ” Pederson said. “Bottom line is we have to walk out of that room united — whatever the arguments are — and agree because once that person becomes a Philadelphia Eagle then it’s my job to coach them.”
Roseman has brought in some players with checkered pasts, and Pederson has absorbed them all. Running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi were acquired despite questions about their character, and both helped the Eagles win a title.
Nigel Bradham was involved in separate off-the-field incidents before he even played a game in Philly, but Pederson weathered those storms, and the linebacker has become an integral part of Schwartz’s unit.
Dorial Green-Beckham wasn’t productive, but Pederson’s locker room culture kept the troubled wide receiver out of trouble. Defensive end Michael Bennett was effective last season -- and was surprisingly traded this offseason -- but he seemingly toed Pederson’s line.
DeSean Jackson returns with baggage, and while Pederson has a better understanding of the receiver because he had previously worked with him, the coach said that he had no reservations when Roseman first broached the topic of bringing him back.
“It’s like a no-brainer. I know this: Our culture here in Philadelphia can absorb that,” he said. “You’ve got to have guys … with a little edge and guys that get a little pissed off from time to time.”
There aren’t many NFL coaches who have ceded personnel control when they were either given the opportunity or were successful enough to demand it. There are far more examples of its failing, either because coaches overstepped their bounds or because they were consumed by the workload.
Pederson hasn’t overloaded his plate. He has recently admitted -- just as he has in reference to his players -- that the shortened offseason following the Super Bowl had affected him.
“This whole spring has been sort of rejuvenating for me,” Pederson said. “Obviously, the way we ended our season last year, I was ready to get back on the practice field as soon as we could. I hated the way we lost, and just the fact that we were kind of peaking at the right time.
“I couldn’t wait to get back out on the practice field and be around the guys again.”