The Eagles have to get younger and quicker. The philosophies the team has been employing in free agency and the draft process are being reviewed with an eye toward change, as are the handling and prevention of injuries. Roster turnover is coming, after the front office tried to hold the core of the 2017 Super Bowl LII team together for two subsequent seasons, but couldn’t win another title.
Those were the main takeaways from general manager Howie Roseman’s session with reporters on Wednesday, in his first public remarks since the 2019 season began.
Roseman’s opening statement relayed that while he was proud of the effort, a 9-7 record and a wild card-round playoff exit were not what he had in mind from this group.
“I’m standing up here with a range of emotions. I think the first emotion is disappointment,” Roseman said. “I think when you have a disappointing season, it’s not just on the players and the coaches, it’s also on the front office. That starts with me. I’m sorry to our fans; they give us tremendous support.”
Roseman said that in the wake of the moves he made to win the Super Bowl, “we didn’t have a lot of resources in terms of draft picks. That’s on me. We made trades for some veteran players to go win. We stick to that. We’re glad of those decisions. But, going forward, we need to infuse youth in this team. … We think we’re going to have 10 draft picks in this draft [pending the awarding of compensatory picks] and we’re excited about that. When we look at what the young players did for our team down the stretch, it’s a great tribute to them; it’s a great tribute to our coaching staff, and it’s a great tribute to our developmental program.”
Roseman said that the Eagles “need to look at everything.” He noted that the team was able to overcome key injuries in 2017, but injuries came to define the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
“Injuries are going to happen, but we have to figure out a way to get better here. We can help from a front-office perspective by looking at the players that we bring in," he said. "Hope is not a strategy when it comes to injuries. When you bring in guys that are injured, it obviously increases the risk that they will get hurt again.”
Roseman said that 37-year-old chief medical officer Dr. Arsh Dhanota, hired in June, asked that he be allowed to “observe through the season, observe our training staff, observe our weight staff, our sports science, our processes, and make recommendations to us that we would carry out.”
Asked to assess his own performance this past year, Roseman said that it “wasn’t good enough. We’re not playing right now, and that wasn’t our goal and that wasn’t our expectation. I will do a better job. I will do whatever I have to to make sure I do a better job, and that we continue to make good decisions.”
In approaching free agency since 2016, the team has been “trying to find what were the undervalued markets,” but young free agents with upside, such as 2016 signees Brandon Brooks and Rodney McLeod, are harder to find at bargain rates these days. He said his free-agent record last offseason would have looked a lot better if defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who had no injury history, didn’t go down in the season opener, after being signed for three years and $30 million.
Roseman said some of the moves he made after the start of training camp were to add depth. He wasn’t expecting a lot of impact, but even so, they were underwhelming.
“Obviously, a couple of those moves didn’t work out either,” he said.
Roseman was asked about one of the most-frequent criticisms of the way the 2019 roster was built — that after bringing back wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the Eagles didn’t do enough to make sure they’d put enough speed and explosiveness around quarterback Carson Wentz.
His answer was that they felt they had speed in Nelson Agholor, Miles Sanders, and a dynamic tight-end group.
“Obviously, that didn’t work out in the exact way we were hoping for. So for us, it’s an important thing to do,” he said.
Roseman endorsed wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has denied being the source of anonymous quotes critical of Wentz. Jeffery finished a disappointing season (43 catches, 490 yards) on injured reserve. The team guaranteed Jeffery’s $11.75 million salary for 2020 in exchange for 2019 cap relief.
"Alshon is a talented player, and he loves being an Eagle, and he loves this city,” Roseman said. He also noted that none of the team’s top three wideouts was healthy down the stretch, “so we have to look at that.”
It seemed pretty obvious during the four-game winning streak that finished the regular season that the Eagles might have been better off going with younger skill-position players earlier — Boston Scott, Greg Ward, and even Sanders, in terms of how limited his role was in the early going. The team spent a lot of the season stirring the ashes, trying to get a spark from spent veterans such as Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and Jay Ajayi, and from Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, who battled injuries and inconsistency.
Roseman said the late contributions of the younger players were “a great lesson,” but he also said the veterans, especially Sproles, helped the youngsters. He said Sproles ensured sure-handed punt returning in some difficult road environments early in the season.
“We had tremendous faith in Darren, and we also felt [it was important] what Darren could do for Miles and Boston and what Darren did do for Miles and Boston. Those guys, for the rest of their careers, will be affected by Darren Sproles being on this team — seeing how he prepares for games and seeing his work ethic. There’s value to having veteran players on the team that’s bigger than just their on-field contributions.”
Roseman acknowledged that the Eagles don’t have what they need at cornerback, a vital position. He was asked about Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas not playing any defensive snaps in the wild-card loss to Seattle, despite having been drafted in the second and third rounds, respectively, in 2017.
“I know there are a couple positions here that are a focal point, and I understand the reason for that,” Roseman said. “I think that we’ve got to get with our staff and decide kind of what we’re going to do going forward … that’s an important position. You see it, when you have a guy who can really kind of take over and take one side of the field, but those guys are hard to find. They don’t grow on trees.”
Safety Malcolm Jenkins said Monday he wouldn’t return under the terms of his current contract, which will pay him $7.6 million this year, the deal’s final season. Roseman lauded Jenkins — “What an incredible Eagle; what an incredible player; what an incredible person he is, and has been for us” — but Roseman said he would keep contract matters private.
Roseman said there would be additions to the personnel staff. Radio host Adam Caplan tweeted that former Eagles edge rusher Connor Barwin could join the front office.