Two days after the biggest win in months, Eagles veterans sweated out eight hours of their general manager’s sabotaging the rest of the 2021 season.
Howie Roseman never could read a room.
This is the same guy who, in 2020, added Jalen Hurts to his “quarterback factory” and infuriated franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
Ever tone-deaf to his surroundings, Roseman spent Tuesday trying to trade six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at the deadline. Cox, in his 10th season, is the unquestioned leader of the defense, the most decorated player in the franchise, the best defensive tackle in its history, and the keystone to the only Super Bowl title the club ever won.
But 4 o’clock came and went, and when Cox remained an Eagle on Tuesday evening, several Birds, relieved and rejoicing, refocused on turning around their 3-5 start — a start that seemed to have soured the brain trust on the prospects of the season’s second half.
Cox was relieved, too. He rejoiced on Instagram: “FOREVER PHILLY!!!!!!” followed by two red hearts.
Cox also said Friday that Roseman kept him appraised of all trade talks, then said, “They wanted me here. I’m happy to be here.”
That, of course, made little sense. Cox might have wanted to remain an Eagle, but if the Eagles listened to trade offers, they clearly weren’t committed to keeping hm in the nest.
The ramifications of trading Cox, the team’s best player, two days after a 38-point road win could not be clearer. Clearly, 2021 means nothing to Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie. That’s how several players saw it, according to a league source with several ties to the locker room.
You can trade an aging tight end and an insurance-policy quarterback, but moving a 31-year-old who made it to the last six Pro Bowls — a player around whom the entire defensive roster was built — that indicates the brass doesn’t care about the last nine games of the season.
Reports on Tuesday said the Eagles priced themselves out of a deal. They asked for assets similar to the second- and third-round picks the Broncos netted from the Rams for edge rusher Von Miller. The current players don’t care about future second- and third-round picks. Not when they’re busting their butts trying to win now.
There was evidence that Roseman and Lurie care more about tomorrow than they care about today.
First, they shipped Zach Ertz to Arizona on Oct. 15. But the 30-year-old Ertz, while still effective, was a declining player making lots of money, and he wanted to be dealt. He also was stealing playing time from Dallas Goedert, a more complete player in his fourth season whom the Eagles will have to sign to an extension soon.
Then, they traded veteran backup Joe Flacco to the Jets last week. Flacco isn’t the Super Bowl MVP he was in 2012, but, even at 36, he was more a viable replacement than third-stringer Gardner Minshew if struggling young starter Hurts got injured or benched. But still, he was a backup QB, and much of 2021 is about developing Hurts.
But 2021 should also be about not wasting a precious season for veteran stars like Jason Kelce, who, at 33, hasn’t lost a step; right tackle Lane Johnson, who, at 30, is in his prime; cornerback Darius Slay, who, at 30, is bouncing back nicely from a disappointing 2020; and especially Javon Hargrave.
He’s 28, in his sixth year, and just eight games into the season he already had six sacks. That ties Hargrave for the lead among defensive tackles, and it’s a half-sack short of his career high, set three seasons ago in Pittsburgh. Why has he suddenly been so productive?
Because he plays next to Cox, who draws endless double teams. This usually means Hargrave is blocked by just one lineman, and he’s clever enough to beat one man; his pass-rush grade from profootballfocus.com is 90.2, third behind Aaron Donald, the Rams’ centerpiece, and Washington’s Jonathan Allen. Hargrave’s previous best score was 83.9, set last season, which, not coincidentally, was his first season playing alongside Cox.
Cox isn’t playing at the level he once reached, when double teams were little more than a speed bump for him. But his mere presence affects the jobs of everyone else — linebackers who have to cover for less time, safeties who can cheat a yard or two and, of course, the defensive ends who accompany him and Hargrave.
You want Hargrave to disappear? Start him next to Hassan Ridgeway, or rookie Milton Williams.
The players aren’t just peeved that Cox might have been dealt, and thereby diminished whatever slim chance the team had of making the playoffs, the league source said.
They’re irked because they think Cox was being shopped because, the week before, he’d publicly complained about being misused in a chronically docile defense. They’re suspicious that Roseman wanted to trade Cox because he’d rocked the boat tenuously captained by ill-suited, first-time head coach Nick Siriainni and his equally overmatched defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon.
Cox had confronted coaches on the sideline after a play call in a blowout loss to the reeling Raiders: “I didn’t agree with what was called on the defense. ... I don’t get paid to play screens,” Cox said indignantly. “I get paid to sack the quarterback, play in the backfield, tackle.”
Granted, when given the chance, Cox hasn’t done much of that — sacking, playing in the backfield, or even tackling. He has just one sack and 12 tackles this season.
But he also lost Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham in Game 2, and the linebackers have been so bad that Eric Wilson, a veteran who served as a front-liner the first four games, was cut Wednesday.
Roseman was, in fact, displeased with Cox’s insubordination, a team source said, but that wasn’t the reason he tried to trade Cox. The players might not believe that.
Cox was right, and the players knew it. Gannon adjusted his defensive scheme in Detroit to be more aggressive, and the defense dominated for the first time since the opener in Atlanta.
Again, Cox was right. Roseman tried to trade him.
Roseman has never been popular in the Eagles’ locker room.
He has never been less liked than he is right now.