WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Since Jeffrey Lurie became the Eagles’ owner in 1994, his team has drafted nearly 250 players, signed and re-signed more than a thousand, made manifold evaluations and roster decisions, and only three times, he recalled Tuesday, has he ever pushed for a particular outcome.
Lurie cited the Eagles’ drafting of Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2013, the missing out of selecting Russell Wilson in 2012, and the seventh-round swing for Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata in 2018.
By coincidence — or not — the 70-year-old owner’s three moments of draft room cheerleading involved one of the best offensive linemen in Eagles history, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and a Cinderella shot in the dark that has proved to be one of greatest gambles in NFL history.
With that kind of success rate, it’s a marvel he hasn’t spoken up on more occasions, or at least as far his selective memory is willing to go.
“I sometimes look in the mirror and I say, ‘Have you ever felt like, geez, maybe you over-rooted for something or overextended yourself in terms of what you wanted to see happen?’” Lurie said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “And yes, there’s probably been three instances as I look back on whether, well, should I have been so excited or rooted for something to happen.
“And it’s never been based on my evaluation. It’s been based on, you get excited when you’re in a draft-preparation process — and I’ll tell you what they are — so you have some feel for it.”
Lurie’s claim, of course, strains credulity and runs counter to recent reporting — or “reporting,” quote, unquote, as he derisively called it — by The Inquirer and elsewhere regarding his immersion in football matters related to his team.
He has always been involved, and understandably so. But through the first 20 years or so of his ownership, Lurie was often kept at arm’s length by his head coaches or front office leaders. He’d offer his opinions. One time he walked into a personnel meeting with a list of team offseason needs written on a large white board.
But then-coach Andy Reid, or then-team president Joe Banner, had mastered the art of placating their boss. It would be a reach to suggest that Lurie hasn’t learned something about the game, or which voices to listen to in regard to football decisions, after being in his position for so many years.
His involvement, though, has increased, especially after Chip Kelly’s departure following the 2015 season, team sources, past and present, have described to The Inquirer. It was general manager Howie Roseman’s return to personnel that gave him complete authority over the roster, and the hiring of Doug Pederson that helped open the door for Lurie.
He disputed the notion.
“If I really had to say, I’d say slightly less involved,” Lurie said in his first news conference since he fired Pederson more than 14 months ago.
It was, ultimately, his dissatisfaction with Pederson’s staff suggestions after the abysmal 2020 season that led the Super Bowl-winning coach’s ouster. Lurie balked at proposals in which Press Taylor would be promoted to offensive coordinator and Matt Burke to defensive coordinator, for instance.
He offered a slightly different interpretation.
“I will never tell a coach who to hire, but I will evaluate a coach on exactly how good their staff is, how good their opposite-side coordinator is,” Lurie said. “All that stuff goes into play. Who’s going to develop our quarterback the best? Those are very important for a franchise.”
But Lurie has made strong recommendations. He wanted former offensive coordinator Frank Reich to go after the 2016 season because he wasn’t pleased with Carson Wentz’s development. He spurred Pederson’s firing of offensive coordinator Mike Groh and wide receivers coach Carson Walch three years later.
Whether those moves proved right or wrong, Lurie delved deeper into coaching choices than he had previously. But he was willing to go further with Pederson, whose affability allowed for it, and used their Tuesday meetings as a means to present his arguments or second-guess.
Lurie still isn’t considered by some who have worked closely with him to be an overly meddling owner. He has invested significantly in the Eagles’ expanding infrastructure and allowed departmental leaders autonomy in most respects.
He’s a self-described questioner, but his beliefs are well known throughout the NovaCare Complex, and few have been willing to cross-examine him when there is doubt or the results have been subpar, team sources have said.
Lurie has often been right, of course. The Eagles have won approximately 55% of their games, they’ve been to the playoffs in 16 out of 28 seasons, and they won their only Super Bowl during his tenure. He’s a respected owner in NFL circles, with sway on important league issues, and has built his team into a model for other sports franchises.
But he has often averted public self-criticism when it comes to his team’s misfortunes. The Super Bowl, some team sources suggested, had many at the NovaCare in a self-congratulatory state in the years following the 2017 season, and it filtered down from the top.
Lurie’s advocacy for the use of analytics, for instance, played a key role in Pederson’s aggressiveness that season. But Lurie was seemingly emboldened by those triumphs. He has always loved the draft, the process of evaluating prospects and crafting the board, and has championed certain picks.
“I’ve probably backed off. Not that I was super-involved ever, but I think I get excited. I’m a football fan,” Lurie said. “I love the possibilities of players and it’s always to support those that are excited about players in the draft. It’s never my evaluation. I don’t do the work. Come on.”
In 2018, the Eagles had narrowed their second pick in the second round down to two receivers: JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Parris Campbell. Most of the top decision-makers liked both, but Lurie preferred the former, partly because of the analytics on the Stanford product’s catch radius.
Roseman and then-vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas wanted to go with Campbell. But Lurie procured Pederson’s support and when Roseman had to make a final decision, he felt he couldn’t go against the owner and the coach, sources said.
Lurie’s version of events differed.
“There was a tie between JJ and Parris in that room and they said to me flippantly, ‘Who do you want?’” Lurie said. “And I said, ‘Hey, these are both red star players’ — that means A-plus character — ‘you’ve got my blessing whatever way you want to go.’
“And I think they went probably based on injury risk. Parris had some soft-tissue injury risk.”
Neither player has panned out. But even if his recollection was accurate, that he was part of the conversation on a second-round selection speaks to his influence in the draft room. A similar series of events played out a year later when the Eagles selected quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round.
Lurie has always been kept in the loop on quarterbacks, but the position has only increased in importance over the last decade. The Eagles thought they found their savior in Wentz and expended significant capital and salary cap space in drafting and extending the quarterback.
But after an MVP-level 13 games in 2017, he suffered multiple injuries, regressed, and forced a trade out of Philadelphia last year.
“I’d rather take the road of he really helped us in a very important way in the 2017 season,” Lurie said in his first comments on Wentz since he was dealt to the Colts. “I wish he had been able to maintain that level of growth throughout, and it didn’t pan out that way.”
Lurie noted how difficult it is to find a “franchise” quarterback, and that even having one doesn’t guarantee championships. But the easiest path to sustainable success is with an elite thrower of the football, and Hurts is currently far from that.
It is why the Eagles did more than their due diligence on Wilson and Deshaun Watson, who were available in trades this offseason. Neither would waive his no-trade clause to come to Philly, but when asked if he would have green-lit offers, especially for Watson, who has unresolved allegations of sexual misconduct made against him, Lurie declined comment.
The owner, meanwhile, praised the off-field intangibles of Hurts, who is slated to have a second full season as the starter.
“That’s why we’re committed to Jalen at age 23,” Lurie said.
But he never mentioned Hurts’ on-field attributes and in the next breath said, “Who knows what the future holds, right?”
Lurie was much more dogmatic on Roseman, whose contract he extended through 2025 last month. Few around the team expected otherwise, especially entering a contract year and with coach Nick Sirianni only a year into his run.
But the Eagles didn’t need “a transition year” in 2021 — Lurie’s term — solely because Pederson, Wentz, and others who have since been cast off regressed after 2017. Roseman had a number of notable misfires in the draft, free agency, and salary cap management.
Lurie absolved the 46-year-old GM of almost any culpability for the three-year slide. Last year’s playoff appearance, he said, showed that Roseman could again build a winner.
“It’s always a hard decision to take every single instance and evaluate it, and it was a pretty easy decision to make when it came to really getting into facts,” Lurie said of Roseman’s extension.
Roseman has treaded above water, and when compared to other GMs around the league, doesn’t look so bad. But Lurie’s hyperbolic praise only adds to a sentiment, expressed by Eagles sources over the years, that Roseman’s entrenchment has as much to do with the owner wanting a conduit to his team as anything.
As a result, their relationship is a codependent one in which neither is held accountable. Lurie doesn’t have to answer to anyone, and he does, to a degree, have the right to feel emboldened by his success.
But the anecdotal evidence he provided when asked about his increased involvement in football decisions suggested a loosening grip with reality. When you’re the man at the top and you’ve surrounded yourself with sycophants, your perception of the facts can get distorted.