On the surface, the Eagles’ restructuring of their front office looked like a massive overhaul. Last week, they announced 11 new hires, gave new titles or jobs to 19 employees, promoted two football operations vice presidents into newly created assistant general manager roles, and left vacant the vice president of player personnel position — once considered the second-most important post in player evaluation.
And while it is notable that Howie Roseman tabbed Alec Halaby and Jon Ferrari — executives without traditional scouting backgrounds who have worked for only one NFL team — to be his lieutenants and opted not to have an intermediary between him and the personnel department, the longtime Eagles GM didn’t consolidate power as much as he reinforced it.
Roseman runs the show, always has, and likely always will as long as he maintains Jeffrey Lurie’s confidence. The three-year contract extension the Eagles owner awarded the 46-year-old GM earlier this year further emphasized that loyalty.
It’s been, on paper, a good offseason for Roseman, both in the $3 million salary he now annually earns and in the positive way people outside the NovaCare Complex have viewed his decision-making. Even some who wanted him gone after a disastrous 2020 season that resulted in the departures of Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz, though not Roseman himself, have climbed back on board.
If Roseman has displayed a strength in roster construction, it has been in rebuilding from the ashes of recent franchise nadirs (see previously: 2012 and 2015). He, of course, had as much to do with those declines as anyone in command.
But after each destruction, Lurie has vociferously defended Roseman and subtly pointed fingers elsewhere. It doesn’t much matter, though, which subordinate or coach influenced which evaluation when it’s the GM who has final say and full authority over the roster.
The Weidls departures
Andy Weidl’s departure came as little surprise to some close to the former Eagles VP of player personnel, especially since he left for his hometown Steelers, where he started as a scout. He gets a bump in title as assistant GM and a likely raise, but he’s still below the new GM (Omar Khan) and the old coach (Mike Tomlin) in the personnel pecking order.
Khan comes from the business side of football operations, so perhaps Weidl will be given more sway than he had here. But he essentially made a lateral move. Roseman could have easily given him the assistant GM title here. Most in that role have come from personnel.
But either Roseman didn’t make the offer or Weidl declined. Firing Weidl’s brother, Casey, as scouting director and not renewing the contract of Tom Donahoe, Weidl’s mentor and the Eagles’ senior football adviser, after the draft all but foretold an eventual parting.
Neither has spoken publicly since the moves were announced.
Weidl became the fourth VP-level executive to leave the Eagles for an assistant GM job elsewhere this offseason. Personnel directors Ian Cunningham and Brandon Brown were hired in January by the Bears and Giants, respectively, and vice president of football operations Catherine Raiche left for the Browns last month.
A change in the hiring process
Assistant GM hires have come frequently over the last few years after the NFL mandated that “non-high-level” club employees be given the right to interview for “secondary football executive” positions with other teams.
The change was instituted, in part, to help minority candidates with upward mobility. But the promotions for Cunningham and Brown, who are Black, did not net the Eagles the third-round draft picks they would have received for compensation had they become GMs.
Roseman wasn’t exactly in position to match the offers with Weidl in place. But by repositioning former VPs Halaby and Ferrari as assistant GMs and not replacing Weidl, he can have as many assistant GMs as he likes if that’s what it takes to retain his director-level talent on the personnel side.
Even if Halaby and Ferrari are one step closer to being considered for the top job, neither would currently be placed on any next-GM lists. Halaby’s primary responsibilities have revolved around the use of analytics, while Ferrari has worn many administrative hats. But neither has ever formally scouted.
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The general manager’s job around the NFL has evolved. Most GMs still come from traditional football backgrounds, but few work exclusively in player evaluation. They must oversee various departments and know how to manage many different personalities.
Halaby, who heads an analytics staff of five, and Ferrari, who in handling the Eagles’ compliance with league rules works with the coaching, personnel, and football ops staffs, would seemingly have some of the necessary managerial requirements.
But most GMs are still former scouts. Even Roseman, who got his start in the NFL by working on the salary cap and contracts, spent time on the road and in the film room before ascending the personnel ladder.
So in promoting Halaby and Ferrari, who are both white, Roseman has two loyal aides he most likely won’t have to worry about losing or worry about undermining him as long as he doesn’t expand their roles into scouting.
A position left unfilled
The Eagles have left the VP of player personnel position unfilled before, most recently in 2016 after Ed Marynowitz was fired along with former coach Chip Kelly. Donahoe essentially filled the role, and after the draft that year, Joe Douglas was hired.
Lurie, less than a year later, described Douglas’ arrival as “the pivotal moment” of 2016. The owner is prone to hyperbole when talking about his team, but the overstatement was also meant to placate fans still wary of non-traditionalist Roseman.
Douglas had an extensive scouting resumé, played in college, and looked and spoke like a “football guy.” Lurie inflated his role, though, and while Roseman did adopt Douglas’ Ravens-influenced formula for rating prospects, Roseman still constructed the final draft board and made the ultimate decisions.
Douglas did influence many decisions, both in the draft and free agency. But when he left for the New York Jets GM job after the 2019 draft, Roseman didn’t lean as much on his replacement. Weidl would often become despondent with his ranking in preference, sources close to him said.
Ideally, personnel decisions are made with unilateral support, and sometimes they are, but Roseman has his more trusted evaluators in coaching, personnel, and analytics. As is often the case with new hires, the Eagles are enthusiastic about the recent additions they made in the personnel department.
Matt Russell joins Dave Caldwell, who was brought on last year, as senior personnel director/adviser to the general manager. Russell was out of football for a year, and Caldwell is two years removed from being the Jaguars GM. Neither will live in Philly, nor is either of the 48-year-olds likely to have designs on wanting more with the Eagles.
Brandon Hunt and Charles Walls were hired from the Steelers and Browns, respectively, to be director of scouting and director of player personnel. Alan Wolking was promoted and also given the role of director of player personnel.
The three scouts, along with senior director of college scouting Anthony Patch, will work in concert with Russell and Caldwell to lead the personnel department. There isn’t a formal hierarchy. All will report to Roseman.
There is the opportunity for one of Hunt, Walls, or Wolking to assume the VP of player personnel role. Hunt spent most of his time in Pittsburgh working on the pro side, so he will likely start out focusing on college to round out his resumé.
Hunt has the most NFL experience, though, and has interviewed for GM and assistant GM openings. If Hunt or Walls, both of whom are Black, were to receive outside interest for jobs one step higher, Roseman would have the capability to match.
And if they were to get GM jobs elsewhere, the Eagles would receive the third-rounders they may have eventually received in return had they been able to keep Cunningham and Brown.
To many outside NFL front offices, when a staffer leaves for a promotion, it is often assumed that the team didn’t want to see him or her leave. And that may often be the case. But sometimes it isn’t. And with teams now able to reap compensation for hiring minorities, there is an opportunity to gain an edge.
It’s a cynical way to do business, but with Roseman entrenched with the Eagles, one thing is certain for the foreseeable future: A minority executive who comes to Philly — or any executive for that matter — is unlikely to become GM.