Meet the new Howie Roseman news conference, same as the old one.
If the Eagles general manager’s season-recap interview with reporters felt a lot like the one he gave a year ago, that’s because he admitted to repeating some of the mistakes he has previously made. And when answering for others, he used similar phrasing, and in one particular case, the exact same wording.
Asked about the Eagles drafting wide receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson last April, Roseman had this to say Monday:
“Obviously, [Jefferson] has had a phenomenal year. It’s not like our head is in the sand and we don’t see that.”
Asked last January about drafting receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf and other quality receivers the year before, he said the following:
“There have been some successful receivers from this draft class, and we don’t have our head in the sand and not notice that.”
But is there any other conclusion to reach when it comes to Roseman’s drafting of receivers that he does, in fact, have his head in the sand? The Eagles might have dropped Metcalf on their draft board for medical reasons, but that doesn’t excuse the selection of Arcega-Whiteside, who appears to be a bust.
And as far as Reagor over Jefferson, who set an NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie, there was again an error in the process, this time with Roseman favoring the coaching staff’s evaluation over that of his scouting department.
But it wasn’t just the micro that made Monday’s Zoom conference call with Roseman and coach Doug Pederson feel like deja vu all over again. Big picture, the Eagles have made the same errors, from outside-the-box drafting to retaining injury-prone veterans, from salary-cap management to medical-staff changes that didn’t improve their standing as one of the league’s most injured teams.
You don’t finish 4-11-1 and in last place in one of the worst divisions in recent NFL history without doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And Roseman, who directly oversees personnel, football operations, and the medical staff, has his fingerprints on almost every major organizational decision made.
The only person he reports to is owner Jeffrey Lurie, and he has obviously decided to run it back with Roseman, even though his team has regressed in the last three seasons, dramatically so in 2020, with seemingly a long road back to respectability.
The Eagles’ roster is old, expensive, and without much young talent. The quarterback situation with Carson Wentz is uncertain, the salary cap is way over budget, and even though Roseman is armed with the No. 6 overall draft pick, and six other selections, recent history suggests that he’s more likely to whiff than hit.
Roseman was responsible for helping to turn the franchise around after Chip Kelly, despite his role in that debacle. He played a significant part in the building of the 2017 Super Bowl-winning team that also made two subsequent playoff appearances.
But for the second year in a row, he admitted to hedging on a complete rebuild, and in the case of this past offseason, trying to take advantage of the Eagles’ returning coaching staff vs. the three other NFC East teams who were not, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“As much as there’s a little voice inside of your head that said, ‘You know, now is probably the right time to change it,’ I think that’s my responsibility that I didn’t really listen to that as much as possible,” Roseman said. “And now we’re in the situation we are in ... where change is necessary and change is inevitable to this roster and the things that we need to do to get back [to] being the kind of team that we know we can be.”
Can Roseman do it again? Or will he again be bound by the same fundamental flaws that come from unchecked powers, organizational hubris, or an inability to objectively look at the previous decisions?
There was a lot of dodging Monday of major decisions that will need to be made, but understandably so. Roseman and Pederson don’t want to be boxed into a corner, especially on Wentz.
But aside from a mea culpa on his unfortunate “quarterback factory” comment after the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round of the draft, Roseman declined to assess whether the pick had an adverse effect on Wentz and the future at the position.
Either way, the Eagles are worse off at quarterback than they were a year ago. Roseman either erred in giving Wentz a four-year, $128 million extension, or he goofed in taking Hurts, who has obvious potential but is far from a sure bet.
“It’s so raw right now to answer that and not really dive into everything that we’re doing, not just on this decision but on other decisions,” Roseman said. “I think it’s hard to do. Part of the reason that we’re talking today is because we felt like we owed it to our fans to make sure we’re talking and we’re not hiding.”
The 45-year-old Roseman didn’t escape culpability. He repeated the same mantras about his disappointment and his role in the Eagles’ demise. But he seemingly failed to see how recent draft classes have had as much to do with the state of the team as anything.
“We have a lot of players who are on this team, some of them older, that are drafted by our organization, drafted by the people in this building, that are going to end up going to the Eagles Hall of Fame,” Roseman said when asked if he thought he was the right man to rebuild the roster. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t missed on some picks.
“I would just say if there’s a guy that’s playing really well that we were looking at in the draft or decide to go in a different direction, those things hurt. Those things are punches to your gut.”
But there have been far too many examples in recent years. In the last four drafts, the Eagles have selected 10 players in the first three rounds, and yet, only four were starters this season, and those four averaged just 10 starts.
Aside from Wentz, the Eagles haven’t drafted a player who was either voted to the Pro Bowl or earned All-Pro honors since 2013. Their three Pro Bowlers this season -- defensive end Brandon Graham, center Jason Kelce, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox -- were all drafted before 2013, and before Roseman had final personnel say.
The Eagles have a few young, homegrown pieces to build around. But defensive end Derek Barnett, running back Miles Sanders, and tight end Dallas Goedert, for instance, haven’t exactly delivered upon expectations.
Former Pro Bowlers like tackle Lane Johnson and guard Brandon Brooks are coming back, but both will be over 30 and have suffered multiple injuries in recent years. And how much longer can the Eagles expect Graham, Kelce, and Cox to not only play at high levels, but high enough to remain leaders?
Tackle Andre Dillard, Reagor, linebacker Davion Taylor, and other youngsters have time to develop, but the early returns haven’t been promising. And while Roseman has done better in free agency and with trades, partly to account for draft misses, he won’t have much cap room to add new faces this coming offseason.
He pointed to the pandemic as one reason for cap restrictions, but he has also negotiated some bad contracts and will have to part with veterans who should go like receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, and some it could be argued would stay under normal circumstances, like tight end Zach Ertz and defensive tackle Malik Jackson.
The Eagles will be making significant changes to their roster this offseason, but is Roseman capable of changing his methods to make sure past mistakes aren’t repeated?
“I think there’s two parts of that. The fact that we are where we are now, and we’re 4-11-1, to not sit there and review everything we’ve done and see if there’s a better way to do it, you know that, would probably be ignorant. So, we have to do that,” Roseman said.
“But by the same time, we have also been incredibly successful. Just because you have one bad moment doesn’t mean you’re not good at your jobs or you don’t have a good process. It happens in this business, extremely humbling business.
“And we have to rebound from it, and we have to do better, and it starts with me.”
But the buck stops with Lurie. Does he have his head in the sand when it comes to his longtime GM? Or will he be rewarded for his patience? Depending upon how much rope the owner gives Roseman, a rebuild could mean it’s a long time before there’s an answer.