Howie Roseman trudged along the hallway, past the postgame buffet and the training room, head down, humiliated, like a whupped dog with no dinner.
The Eagles general manager ignored the guard who asked him to make sure his ID was visible for the next security checkpoint. His gray suit coat flapped in a damp Tampa breeze as he plodded toward the team’s executive bus, whose engines drowned out a question shouted from a nearby exit ramp:
Or maybe he did hear the question. Maybe he ignored it, as he’d done the guard. It was a dumb question, anyway.
After the 31-15 playoff embarrassment, Roseman was not OK. He was, obviously, the opposite of OK. As he stepped onto the bus, eyes still on his shoes, he looked very much like the man in charge of the mess that unfolded at Raymond James Stadium. He looked like a man who constructed a roster at once too old and too young to compete with any team that actually deserved to make the NFL postseason.
Roseman’s mistakes and miscalculations were manifest Sunday afternoon. Each of them built the 31-point lead on which the Bucs cruised for the final 20 minutes. Roseman has a little more than three months, by the end of April’s draft, to address them.
It will take much longer than three months to correct the problems and to answer the big questions.
The coach ... for real?
Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie hired little-known, 39-year-old Nick Sirianni to replace Doug Pederson. Sirianni had never before been a play-caller, much less a head coach. It showed, over and over again.
The Eagles became utterly predictable by the season’s end. They were outscored 49-7 in the first quarters of their last six meaningful games, and backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, not starter Jalen Hurts, led the only first-quarter scoring drive since Thanksgiving.
Can Sirianni evolve?
Gut: Maybe ... if he has a better main weapon.
Jalen Hurts finished the season with an 87.2 passer rating, which was 22nd among regular NFL starters. It also was misleading. He was worse than 87.2.
Hurts’ passer rating in the first three quarters of games was 81.3. He threw nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, his fourth-quarter rating was 105.0, with seven TDs and no picks. That sounds great; clutch, right? But these numbers do not represent a clutch QB. They represent a QB who played so badly early in games that the opposition built leads and played pliant, preventative defenses in the fourth quarter.
This was the case Sunday. Hurts’ passer rating finished at 60.0, but in the first three quarters it was 35.9, after which the Eagles trailed, 31-0. It was 130.0 in fourth-quarter garbage time. Hurts is a fine running quarterback, but he is an inefficient passer, and the NFL is a passing league.
Can Roseman move on from Hurts?
Gut: Probably not. He’s not brave enough.
The Cox conundrum
Fading Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and the Eagles teased a trade near last season’s deadline, but Roseman’s earlier restructuring of Cox’s contract meant the Eagles would have incurred $24 million dead-money hit to their 2022 salary cap. The Birds ate $33 million in 2021 to shed malcontent Carson Wentz. Cox sounded little more contented after he cleaned out his locker Monday afternoon: “I’m not talking about any type of contract situation, or me being here.”
After a 3.5-sack season that graded out as his worst since 2013, according to profootballfocus.com, Roseman faces this question: Is Cox, now 31, worth the $15 million cap hit he’d carry if he stays in 2022, or would it be worth it to trade him for a third- or fourth-round pick and eat the bigger cap hit?
Gut: Cox is gone.
DeVonta Smith and ... ?
Roseman made a solid move on Draft Day 2021 when he traded up in the first round and landed DeVonta Smith, football’s Slim Reaper. But Smith had no cohort opposite him, and, at 6-foot and 170 pounds he’s neither big enough nor stout enough to force-feed through double teams. He’s a 1-B receiver. He needs a 1-A.
For all the talk about drafting defense with the Eagles’ three first-round picks, there are as many as five receivers with first-round pedigrees in the 2022 draft. Roseman has spent two firsts and a second on receivers the past three seasons.
Will he draft another?
Jonathan Gannon carried more cachet than Sirianni when he landed in Philly as the defensive coordinator, but no person in the franchise failed to match their hype more than Gannon. Against top quarterbacks, his defenses were toothless failures. He hated to blitz and seldom showed unusual fronts, though when he did get exotic, the attempts were intriguing.
It is a testament to Gannon’s character and intelligence that he reportedly remains a head-coaching candidate in Houston, Denver, and Minnesota.
Will Gannon change? Nope. This is his philosophy: The defensive line gets home, or it doesn’t. He played defensive back in college, so he hates hanging DBs out to dry.
Is Roseman eager to retain Gannon?
It was almost sad to witness the rebirth of 31-year-old cornerback Darius Slay, who returned to the Pro Bowl even as the rest of the secondary withered on the vine. He had virtually no help.
Will Roseman commit the necessary resources to finally fixing the secondary?
Gut: No. Why start now?
The rest of it
Other matters must have muddled Roseman’s mind Sunday evening.
Cox or no Cox, will he improve the disappointing defensive line? Gut: Derek Barnett, the inconsistent 2017 first-rounder, finally will be gone, and Roseman will use another first-rounder at defensive end. Solid.
How will he address the absence of a tight end to play alongside Dallas Goedert? Gut: He waits on the Day 2 tight-end depth in this year’s draft ... and, maybe, he re-signs Zach Ertz.
Will he ever invest in a stud linebacker? Gut: Never. Sigh.
Can he coax 34-year-old center Jason Kelce to play one more season?
Gut: Pray God, yes.