Doug Pederson is required by the NFL to talk five times a week with local reporters during the season. The Eagles coach does four such sessions, but under normal, non-pandemic conditions he does an off-the-record session, which makes up for one less availability. He also does a radio interview with WIP-FM (94.1), typically on Mondays.
It’s a lot of talking for, frankly, someone who isn’t exactly good at it, but Pederson is responsible for the performance of the team, and it’s become an accepted part of the job. But the league has no such mandate for general managers. While they are largely the architects of the roster, and in most cases have as much to do with the product on the field as the coach, GMs can avoid questions — tough or otherwise — during the entire season.
Howie Roseman hasn’t spoken to reporters on the record since Sept. 5, the day most final roster decisions were made before the start of the season. The Eagles could have been Super Bowl-bound as far as most could have predicted at the time. But what has transpired over the last three months has shown that the team is far from that conversation and possibly regressing into a hole in which there is no immediate way out.
The roster is an unmitigated disaster, the product of poor personnel moves made since the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017. But Roseman’s decisions this offseason have been particularly egregious. Free-agent swings-and-misses. Dubious draft picks that have continued a trend. Players brought back because of salary-cap errors that have mounted for years.
If your team is bad — and make no mistake, the 3-6-1 Eagles are — and you have cap challenges because you borrowed from the future, you have done a poor job. And beyond player personnel, Roseman’s fingerprints are all over the franchise, from medical-staff decisions to coaching hires.
Pederson certainly hasn’t helped matters. His coaching has been abysmal. But it’s also a byproduct of a terribly constructed roster, one that Pederson must defend day after day after day.
Since Roseman isn’t obligated to talk during the season, it’s understandable why he’s stayed behind the scenes. He also likely doesn’t want to say something that contradicts Pederson. The NFL is mostly to blame for the dynamic. But there are some GMs who talk during the trade deadline — deal or no deal — to hold themselves accountable for how a season has progressed.
It should be noted that aside from the Jay Ajayi trade, Roseman avoided the media as the Eagles made their 2017 championship run, until he was required to speak during Super Bowl week. But the ultimate measure of a GM, to steal a phrase, is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge.
Roseman deserves credit for that star-crossed run. He was instrumental in the hiring of Pederson and other assistants, in the two offseasons that got the Eagles out of the Chip Kelly mess, and in the three straight playoff appearances from 2017-19. It’s hard to see owner Jeffrey Lurie discarding the 45-year-old GM based on that resume alone.
But Lurie has to also account for the downward slide of his franchise, from title to second-round playoff exit, to first-round ouster, to this season, which only still has meaning because the 2020 NFC East is one of the worst divisions ever. He needs to look to the future, to quarterback Carson Wentz’s contract, which has him likely tied to the Eagles through 2022, and decide if Roseman was chiefly responsible for the demise, or if he can be the one to resurrect them.
Lurie’s trust in Roseman has long been established. He exonerated him for the end of the Andy Reid era, even though he was the ex-Eagles coach’s personnel lieutenant from 2010-12. He restored his front office standing after Kelly’s firing in 2015, even though he was one-half of a power struggle that ripped the team apart. And if Pederson were to fall under the knife for this squad’s decline, and Roseman were to return, Lurie would be setting a modern-day precedent for how many coaches a GM was involved in hiring.
The owner excused Roseman for the personnel mistakes of 2010-12 by saying that he had kept voluminous notes on evaluation success and failures. He used Kelly’s implosion to shepherd Roseman back into control. And he has a ring that could be reason enough to retain the GM beyond this season. But there can’t be any plausible redirection for a series of decisions that have backfired at almost every turn.
It was Roseman who guaranteed receiver Alshon Jeffery’s 2020 salary when there was no imperative; who traded a fourth-round pick for Genard Avery; who decided not to acquire receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, or Robby Anderson when all were available and could have addressed a great need; who neglected the linebacker position; who gave free-agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who has thus far disappointed, a three-year, $39 million contract; who brought back the aging, injury-riddled Jason Peters and DeSean Jackson.
It was Roseman who traded up for Andre Dillard in the first round even though the Eagles hadn’t exhausted as much predraft scouting on the tackle as they did other prospects; who drafted receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf and other viable options; receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson; Shareef Miller, Clayton Thorson, and Davion Taylor.
The jury is still out on a number of the youngsters, but the early returns, especially in comparison to comparable players they could have conceivably also drafted, aren’t promising. The less said about the 2017 class, the better. But in many cases, Roseman opted for the splashier, out-of-box pick than the more obvious one.
Jefferson was teed up, but the Eagles went for outside speed and projection in their scheme. They deemed the LSU receiver more of a slot who wouldn’t be a high-volume receiver in Pederson’s scheme, but they failed to see that he could line up anywhere and be as effective. And it’s not like Jefferson isn’t fast, either.
Roseman, ultimately, sided with his coaches over his scouts on Reagor vs. Jefferson, per NFL sources, and stressed need over talent. But the Jalen Hurts pick in the second round was mystifying when it happened, and even more so now. Roseman, again, strayed from the draft board — safety Jeremy Chinn would have been the likely selection — and went big in taking the Oklahoma quarterback.
The explanations then didn’t carry much weight, but they ring even more hollow now. Roseman said that Hurts as a backup would alone justify the pick. That the Eagles’ “quarterback factory,” as he described it, would churn out yet another commodity. There was talk of the multifaceted Hurts adding an explosive element, a la Lamar Jackson or Taysom Hill, to the offense.
But Hurts’ effectiveness has waned and he has played less and less in recent weeks. Ultimately, the most damaging aspect the addition may have had on the 2020 Eagles was the message it sent to Wentz, all while the team had other holes that needed filling. Wentz shouldn’t have been affected, but why mess with your $128 million investment?
There have been a few solid moves the last two years: drafting running back Miles Sanders and tight end Dallas Goedert in the second round and trading for cornerback Darius Slay. Tackle Jordan Mailata and defensive end Josh Sweat have shown potential. And the Eagles have gotten contributions from bottom-roster names like Greg Ward, Boston Scott, Travis Fulgham, and Alex Singleton.
But those pale in comparison to the mistakes, and when cost is factored into the equation, especially with early-round draft picks and high-priced free agents, the third-day draft, undrafted rookies, and waiver-wire success stories have less significance.
Is it any wonder Pederson and Wentz look like arguably the worst offensive coach and quarterback in the NFL when just three seasons ago they were considered by many to be among the best?
They have six games to salvage a respectable finish. Anything is possible. There’s little Roseman can do during this stretch. Most of his work was done in the offseason.
But when the season is over, Lurie will have to ask himself if he can entrust another offseason to his longtime GM. It’s likely Roseman is back. But should he be?