Howie Roseman’s contract, Kelce’s future, and Eagles play-calling: NFL combine takeaways
The 46-year-old GM has seemingly only solidified his standing with the Eagles.
The NFL combine is over, free agency is almost a week away, and the league has already endured a seismic shift this week. Another bombshell could be coming with Deshaun Watson slated to stand before a grand jury on Friday.
But here are some Eagles-related notes leftover after a week scouring the convention halls, hotels, and eateries of Indianapolis:
Howie Roseman’s contract situation uncertain
Howie Roseman is in his 13th offseason as Eagles general manager. And while his title and authority has fluctuated over the years, only three other GMs have been in their roles longer.
And when the Steelers’ Kevin Colbert steps down after the draft, only the Saints’ Mickey Loomis and the Seahawks’ John Schneider will exceed Roseman’s reign. The 46-year-old GM has seemingly only solidified his standing with the Eagles.
Roseman received an extension in August 2018, along with then-coach Doug Pederson, that would keep both under contract through 2022. Pederson, of course, was fired last offseason, but teams typically don’t enter into the last year with executives without a restructure.
It’s unclear where the Eagles currently stand with Roseman or if owner Jeffrey Lurie reworked his contract to run concurrently with new head coach Nick Sirianni. The GM and the team, through a team spokesperson, declined to comment on his contract situation, as did Roseman’s agent, Bob LaMonte.
If he’s still under the terms from the 2018 extension, there is still conceivably time to redo the deal. Lurie is expected to be at the annual NFL owners’ meetings later this month and hasn’t taken questions from reporters since firing Pederson.
While some outside the organization – and even some inside – questioned whether Roseman deserved to return last offseason considering the Eagles’ three-year regression, and the fact he’s the only current GM to survive the firing of three coaches, Lurie mostly absolved his GM.
The owner’s trust in Roseman can’t be overstated. Some have viewed their relationship as a codependent one, though, that allows for Lurie to be significantly involved in football decisions and one that prevents the GM from being held to the same standards as others in the organization.
But Roseman’s overall record is better than most GMs over the last decade-plus. The Eagles have gone 100-92-1 (.521) during his 12-year tenure, been to the playoffs six times, and, of course, won Super Bowl LII after the 2017 season.
Lurie cited Roseman’s ability to help build that championship roster and that he believed he was the best candidate to do it again when justifying his return in January 2021. His best seasons came when he was initially paired with a coach, and that proved to be the case last season with Sirianni, especially coming off a bleak 4-11-1 campaign.
The 9-8 Eagles may have benefited from one of the easier schedules in the NFL, but Roseman’s moves last offseason played a role in the overall improvement. He has displayed a knack for rebuilding amid the rubble of prior seasons.
Roseman, of course, was only correcting some of the original mistakes he made. He didn’t want to trade Carson Wentz, but he made the best of a dire market, and secured first- and third-round draft picks for a quarterback who could be released a year later.
DeVonta Smith appears to be worth last year’s first rounder, but would Roseman have moved up for the wide receiver if he hadn’t missed the year before with Jalen Reagor?
Those are just two moves from last spring that appear to have panned out. Roseman made other decisions, such as extending four 2018 draft picks, in which the early returns have been positive.
He also procured another 2022 first rounder when he moved back in the first round of last year’s draft in an exchange with the Dolphins. Roseman had his choice of Miami’s own selection or one they had received from the 49ers, as detailed in Peter King’s Monday column for NBCSports.com.
He chose wisely, projecting the Dolphins to finish worse than San Francisco, and now has the 15th overall pick rather than the 29th, to go with the Wentz first rounder (16th) and the Eagles’ own choice (19th).
No matter what Roseman does with the three first rounders, or with any other decision this offseason, for that matter, few team observers and sources close to the Eagles expect his future beyond 2022 to be in jeopardy.
A repeat of the 2017 offseason, or one that continues an upward trajectory would only add to his entrenchment. And if he has yet to receive an extension, it’s likely only because he wanted it that way.
Play-calling adjustment also contributed to Eagles turnaround
The Eagles’ turnaround following a 2-5 start has mostly been credited to their shift to a run-based offense, and rightfully so. But an under-the-radar change in play-calling around that period also played a role in their resurgence and march into the playoffs.
Sirianni handed over more of the play-calling responsibilities to offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, sources close to the situation said. He altered the approach, in part, to lessen his load.
Sirianni, in his first season as a play caller and head coach, was also chiefly responsible for game management, and wanted to maintain an involvement in defensive and special-teams operations, headed by Jonathan Gannon and Michael Clay, respectively.
The transition to Steichen was also a rather easy one to make because he was already part of the collaborative process and was the intermediary between Sirianni and quarterback Jalen Hurts on the headset. Steichen also had more experience as a play caller having handled that role with the Chargers in 2020.
In December, Sirianni revealed unprompted that he and Steichen had “been calling the game together the entire year.” He provided more detail about their partnership after a follow-up question.
“We’re talking about the series of plays before each go around,” Sirianni said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to run this, this, this, this, and this on this one,’ and we know the flow of what we’re going to do. Shane calls it in, but we discuss what that flow will be before each one. …
“Sometimes Shane is going to roll with those five or six plays that we talked about, and sometimes Shane is going to call it in the order we talked about, and then I’m going to tell him, ‘No, I want this here.’ So, we’re doing everything together.”
A significant amount of play-calling is preplanned. Sirianni, when asked a year ago why he would make a good play caller despite having never officially done it before, noted that most of the heavy lifting was done during the week in game planning.
Sirianni, Steichen, pass-game coordinator Kevin Patullo, run-game coordinator/offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson formed the brain trust behind the Eagles offense. There was a collaboration, but the coach made the final calls on the script.
But adjustments often need to be made in-game. There is a skill involved in play-calling, and Steichen was cited by several team sources as a prominent reason for the Eagles’ second-half success.
The Eagles certainly benefited from one of the easiest schedules over that stretch. And it’s unlikely anyone on the team wants to be associated with how the offense functioned in the first-round playoff loss to the Buccaneers.
But Sirianni’s openness to change, in scheme, personnel and the usage of his staff – moving Johnson down on the field during games was another of his tweaks – stood in contrast to the dogmatic stance many young coaches make when their initial plans fail.
And that he was willing to give up some play-calling spoke to his growth mindset. The Eagles return their entire offensive coaching staff, aside from senior consultant Jim Bob Cooter. Another year together should benefit the group.
It’s likely that Sirianni maintains a collaborative approach on game days.
Jason Kelce’s return won’t happen without a new contract
While signs pointing to Jason Kelce holding off retirement for at least another year, the Eagles still have to restructure the all-pro center’s contract if he expresses interest in a return.
It’s likely to cost them if precedent is taken into account. The Lions’ Frank Ragnow set the bar on center contracts when he signed a four-year, $54 million extension with $42 million guaranteed last offseason.
His average per-year salary of $13.5 million is likely the number that will be used when free agent Ryan Jensen engages in contract negotiations next week before the new league year opens on March 16.
The Buccaneers’ Pro Bowl center is five years older than the 25-year-old Ragnow, but his APY salary could end up just shy of that.
So where would that leave Kelce? He’s 34 and unlikely to sign a long-term deal that could inflate his APY, but he’s still arguably the best and most reliable center in the NFL. Kelce was voted first-team all-pro for the fourth time in the last five seasons and hasn’t missed a start in 129 straight games.
Kelce signed what was essentially a one-year deal worth up to $12 million last year, but the contract technically runs through 2023. It was structured to help the Eagles with their salary cap, but also in a way that indicated that 2021 would be his last season.
If he was on the roster after June 1, 2022, Kelce would be guaranteed $31.5 million through 2023. That won’t happen, as he said last month to The Inquirer. But now that he’s mulling a return, the Eagles will likely need to be creative again.
Kelce has earned more than $55 million over his 11-year career, and is known to have a less-than-extravagant lifestyle, but the team needs to make the notion of another grueling season worthwhile to Kelce.
He has leverage. He could just happily call it a Hall of Fame-caliber career. And Sirianni made clear the Eagles’ desire, however obvious, when he recently sent Kelce a keg of beer to entice him to stay.
But he is still in relatively good health, enjoys playing for Sirianni and with young teammates he holds in high regard, and probably has no intention of playing elsewhere.
The Eagles used to be ahead of the curve in letting their older mainstays leave before a significant decline. They made a notable mistake with Brian Dawkins and in recent years have hung on to some veterans past their expiration dates.
That is unlikely to be the case with Kelce, though, the Eagles’ emotional leader. It’s within both parties interest to come to an agreement, and that is typically more than an enough to get a deal done.
Eagles likely focused on free agent slot receivers
If the Eagles are to spend on wide receivers in free agency, they’re likely to get more value by focusing on slots than on the wide position. Beyond the fact that inside receivers typically cost less, there should be a number of plausible options, which would flood the market and drive down prices.
Quez Watkins was relatively productive out of the slot for the Eagles last season. He caught 30 of 42 targets for 462 yards on routes run from inside despite spending the majority of his college career on the outside.
The Eagles, when asked about their receiver depth and the possibility of upgrading at the position, have been adamant in their endorsement of Watkins as the No. 2 complement to DeVonta Smith.
“The guy is extremely talented, extremely hardworking,” Roseman said last week.
A move opposite Smith could thus be in the offing, which would open the door for acquiring a more natural slot.
Chris Godwin was the No. 1 free agent-to-be slot receiver, but even though he tore his ACL and MCL on Dec. 19, the Buccaneers placed their franchise tag on the 26-year-old on Tuesday. Even if they had let him walk, the Eagles would have been priced out by lesser teams with cap space to burn.
The Cardinals’ Christian Kirk, whose 63 receptions out of the slot were the fifth-most in the NFL last season, might also be out of range. And the same could be said of the Cowboys’ Cedric Wilson, who had the second-highest slot-target percentage among qualifying receivers, if he isn’t to stay in Dallas.
But among the next group, there are several intriguing names, some that have been linked to Philly before. JuJu Smith-Schuster missed most of 2021 with a shoulder injury, but he returned for the Steelers’ lone playoff game and caught five passes.
His numbers have steadily declined since he caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards in 2018, but Smith-Schuster is only 25 and the Eagles reportedly had some level of interest last offseason.
The Falcons’ Russell Gage was targeted less than 50% of the time on routes run out of the slot last season, but Calvin Ridley’s “mental health” leave resulted in more time outside for the 26-year-old receiver than in previous seasons.
The Colts’ Zach Pascal has one significant reason why he could be on the Eagles’ radar aside from his experience in the slot: Sirianni apparently loves him. On three separate occasions last year, the coach name-checked Pascal when referencing his time in Indianapolis.
The 27-year-old receiver might not qualify as a sexy acquisition, but he would give the Eagles ample size inside (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), and Sirianni an obvious fit for his culture.
There are older options (see: Jamison Crowder), restricted free agents (see: Jakobi Meyers), and other avenues (see: the draft), but the most obvious path to addressing the slot should come via an unrestricted market that wouldn’t likely force Roseman to dig deep into his pockets.
Carson Wentz’s blemishes emphasize Jalen Hurts’ strengths
The hits against Carson Wentz keep coming.
Last week at the combine, the Colts refrained from committing to the 29-year-old quarterback for next season. Wentz improved upon his disastrous 2020 season with the Eagles, but his habit of recklessness remained, and GM Chris Ballard said a lot of the criticism he faced was “pretty fair.”
Some have viewed Indianapolis’ harsh public treatment of Wentz as indication that they plan to either trade or release him, but the end result will likely be the opposite. They have all but killed his value as a starter – not that there would be many suitors.
The Colts would have to almost give Wentz away for nothing considering the remaining money left on his contract. They have the cap space to absorb a hit, but the Colts don’t have many alternatives if they were to move on.
They don’t have the draft picks to trade for a quality quarterback, the number decreasing after the Russell Wilson-to-Broncos blockbuster on Tuesday. They don’t have a first rounder if they felt a prospect in this draft class had starter potential. And they don’t have No. 1-caliber backups.
That leaves only Wentz, who wasn’t nearly as bad as his final game last season indicated. Colts head coach Frank Reich was able to help him regain his confidence, but he was unable to fix many of his flaws, the most significant being his penchant for “hero” ball.
Wentz had only 12 turnovers all season, but several were egregious and occurred when he inexplicably tried to shovel a pass or throw left-handed when under pressure. He attempted an inexplicable 15 left-handed passes last season.
Reich had been aware of Wentz’s over-aggressiveness since his rookie season with the Eagles and had once told The Inquirer that coaching suggestions to play otherwise often “went in one ear and out the other.” That apparently remained the case, thus the Colts’ last-straw criticism this offseason.
Wentz struggled with accountability in his last three seasons in Philadelphia and it hurt his standing with teammates and coaches. But it was the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season and denied him the Super Bowl run that revealed character defects and affected him in certain corners of the locker room.
Sometime before the championship game, Wentz voiced his displeasure with the Eagles’ success to a group of other injured players, sources with direct knowledge of the incident said. One of the players immediately confronted him and the two eventually had to be separated.
Wentz certainly had his supporters or those that sympathized with the obstacles he faced in Philly. If he was more successful, others would have likely been willing to overlook some of his personality quirks.
But the Eagles’ predraft evaluation didn’t place enough emphasis on questionable character traits or that he lacked the mental strength to accept hard coaching and personnel decisions that directly affected him.
While not by design, the Hurts draft pick exposed Wentz, but also accentuated the former’s off-the-field intangibles. Hurts has many of the characteristics needed to excel in the NFL.
The 23-year-old can take coaching criticism. He’s accountable. He can relate to the various personalities on a team. He’s diligent, and while it’s often necessary to have interests outside football, Hurts’ devotion to his craft is exemplary.
The Eagles have many reasons for believing he can develop into a long-term answer. Roseman and Sirianni reaffirmed their commitment to him last week, and with Aaron Rodgers’ return to the Packers and Wilson off to Denver, it’s increasingly easy to see why.
Deshaun Watson is really the only possible replacement left. The Eagles have continued to monitor his situation, but there are obvious arguments against trading for the 26-year-old quarterback, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 massage therapists.
But there should be some clarity later this week. Ten of the women who have filed criminal complaints against Watson have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury on Friday.