Over their three years working together, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seemed plucked from an assembly line of cliched odd couples. They were Mutt and Jeff, Lenny and George, Felix and Oscar — Douglas big and bald and barrel-chested and goateed, a former offensive lineman at Richmond; Roseman shorter and skinnier and clean-shaven, a law school grad. They’d stand or sit side by side, at a news conference or in a press box, and the contrast was almost comical.
Their collaboration on the Eagles’ player-personnel decisions contributed to a Super Bowl victory that feels more like a miracle with each passing year. It also contributed to the New York Jets’ decision in 2019 to hire Douglas as their new general manager. No, that championship wasn’t the only reason the Jets swiped Douglas away from the Eagles: He had spent 16 years with the Baltimore Ravens, burnishing his reputation and presumably learning the tricks to spotting talent from one of the NFL’s most highly regarded and accomplished GMs, Ozzie Newsome.
But being part of building a one-year wonder that got the better of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick certainly didn’t hurt. If Douglas had helped a franchise that had never won a Super Bowl end its drought, maybe he could do the same for a franchise that hadn’t won one in half a century.
That backdrop doesn’t add much intrigue to Friday night’s Eagles-Jets matchup at MetLife Stadium; it’s pretty much impossible to add intrigue to two teams’ preseason finale. But it does make the Jets’ progress, presuming they make any this season and in the years to come, worth monitoring as long as Douglas is there.
“There’s a lot of great nuggets from Ozzie over the years,” he once said while he was with the Eagles. “One of the things he would say is, ‘What some people may consider a luxury pick today turns out to be a necessity pick tomorrow.’”
Funny, the Eagles confirmed the truth of that axiom not long after Douglas left. At the 2020 draft, they made what anyone at the time would have considered a luxury pick: taking Jalen Hurts in the second round for the purposes of acquiring a young, inexpensive backup quarterback. Because it threw Carson Wentz into such a tizzy, that pick turned out to be a necessity, though Roseman and the Eagles didn’t look particularly astute or forward-thinking for creating their own quarterback crisis.
Of course, Roseman isn’t alone when it comes to fumbling things at football’s most important position. For all the decisions and circumstances and failures that led to the Eagles drafting Wentz — signing him to a gargantuan contract extension, then trading him because of his discontent with the organization — the Jets came close to matching them misstep for misstep, misfortune for misfortune.
They thought they had found their franchise quarterback in 2018, selecting Sam Darnold with the draft’s No. 3 pick. From contracting mononucleosis to “seeing ghosts” floating within Belichick’s defensive schemes, from the theory that he would have thrived with more talent around him to the suggestion that he was never all that good to begin with, Darnold flamed out fast. The Jets went 2-14 last season and, like the Eagles, ditched their meal ticket. Douglas traded Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.
But Douglas didn’t draft Darnold; his predecessor, Mike Maccagnan did. So Douglas could start fresh, hiring Robert Saleh — formerly the 49ers’ defensive coordinator — to be the head coach and using the second pick in the 2021 draft on Brigham Young quarterback Zach Wilson. Saleh was one of the most sought-after head-coaching candidates in the league, and Wilson has been impressive throughout the preseason.
“I don’t look at it from a legacy viewpoint,’’ Douglas told reporters in April, when he was asked whether the No. 2 pick would define his career with the Jets. “I feel like every decision we make has risk. Obviously, the pick at No. 2, there’s a huge spotlight on that, and we understand that.”
Douglas might not be inclined to look at his decisions through the prism of his legacy, but everyone else will be happy to do so. And actually, you can look at Douglas’ decisions through the prism of Roseman’s legacy, too.
Think about it. If Douglas does manage to turn the Jets around — arguably the most challenging renovation job in the sport — what would that accomplishment say about his value to the Eagles during his stint with them? And what would it say about Roseman, given the steps backward that the Eagles have taken since that Super Bowl?
In that odd-couple dynamic that led to the championship Roseman and Douglas won together, there was never any doubt about who was really in charge, who the real decision-maker was. It was Roseman. And yet … what if this season, and the next, and the next demonstrate that maybe it should have been Douglas all along?