Why Sean McDermott and not Howie Roseman?
It's a fair question.
If McDermott was the scapegoat for last season's first-round playoff exit then why can't Roseman be the one held culpable for this season's profoundly disappointing playoff absence?
I'm not suggesting that Roseman be fired. As a beat reporter, that's not what I'm here for. But the comparison between the former Eagles defensive coordinator and the team's current general manager -- both of whom rose through the ranks of the organization together – and how they were handled two years into their promotions warrants examination.
McDermott was fired last January, we were told then by Andy Reid, because the pressure of following the legendary Jim Johnson was too much for the then-36-year old. Reid suggested that his protégé would flourish in a different organization and with a fresh start. Other members of the Eagles front office told me then that McDermott would also benefit from toiling under a defensive-minded head coach.
So McDermott was "placed" in Carolina with Ron Rivera, a former Eagles defensive assistant that had just been named the Panthers head coach. The Eagles replaced McDermott with an offensive line coach. But I digress …
Perhaps McDermott deserved to go. His convoluted blitz schemes confused some of his players, his penchant for zone blitzing angered some of his defensive linemen (read: Trent Cole), and his overall intensity rubbed several others the wrong way. His unit finished 12th in total yards in both 2009 and 2010 and 19th and tied for 21st in points allowed. Not bad numbers. His red zone defense, though, was historically bad in his final season.
But McDermott was canned after just 18 months on the job. He was the interim coordinator during the spring of 2009 as Johnson battled cancer and wasn't officially named the successor until Johnson died during training camp. Still, the Eagles finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs and then went 10-6 the following season and made the postseason again.
The Eagles' explosive offense had more to do with those playoffs berths, but McDermott wasn't necessarily handed the same talent as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was on that side of the ball. (More on that later.)
Roseman was named general manager in January 2010, several years after moving from salary cap and contracts -- under the tutelage of team president Joe Banner -- to the player personnel end of front office dealings. Two full years in and the Eagles have regressed from a 10-6 playoff team to an 8-8 one that prompted owner Jeffrey Lurie to deliver a scorching assessment of his team on Tuesday.
And, yet, when Lurie was asked if Roseman was returning next season he genuinely seemed shocked by the question.
"Absolutely," he said.
Later in the hallway after his press conference, Lurie told a few reporters that Roseman was "one of the youngest, bright" minds in the NFL. So the season is "unacceptable," the "most disappointing" of all of Lurie's years as owner, and only Reid is to blame for its failures? That was clearly Lurie's message.
To be fair to Lurie, most of the questions centered on Reid. But when Lurie was asked about dubious recent drafts – especially on the defensive side of the ball -- he called Brandon Graham, Roseman's first draft pick, a future "top-tier" defensive end when there has been little evidence to support this claim.
It's no surprise Lurie keeps Reid around. He not only takes all the arrows for his players, but for the front office, as well. He not only sacrifices his protégés – McDermott, former general manager Tom Heckert – but he gladly accepts the front office's.
If you're looking for proof that Banner has more power than Reid this is it. If McDermott had to go to get out from under the protective umbrella of Reid shouldn't Roseman – after the same time length and worse results – have to go to forge his own path elsewhere?
I'm not sure if the Eagles could find as soft a landing place for Roseman as they did for McDermott and Heckert (now in Cleveland), at least one where he could move laterally. Perhaps New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, a Roseman fan, would take him on, but certainly no higher than his position.
All that being said, Roseman deserves more time. If McDermott deserved another year, so, too must the 36-year-old Roseman -- especially this year.
This will be the first off-season in which the general manager won't be restricted by labor unrest. In 2010, the talent pool was diluted when free agents with four and five-years of experience were no longer unrestricted. In 2011, the lockout scrambled the off-season and free agency was compressed into an unprecedented week of activity.
The Eagles, of course, were supposed to benefit from the shortened off-season, the new salary cap and the cluelessness of other front offices. They swooped through free agency, signing who they wanted and at what price. Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith were the most notable additions.
When Lurie was asked about Roseman after his presser, he pointed to the acquisitions of Asomugha, Babin, Jenkins, the trade for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the then-less heralded signing of Evan Mathis as examples of the effective job Roseman has done.
But, really, how much did Roseman have to do with those players? If Lurie is to be believed then it is Reid that deserves credit because he has final say on all personnel matters. Of course, I can't see Reid accepting slaps on the back for Asomugha. The signing made no sense then, still doesn't.
You're going to spend $60 million on a cornerback that doesn't fit the new scheme you've implemented, a day after you already traded for a starting corner and risk angering the Pro Bowl corner you already have on defense?
And tick off Asante Samuel the Eagles did. They should have just traded Samuel when they had the chance during training camp. Roseman, at one point, had a deal to send Samuel to the Lions for a second-round pick, two sources close to the situation said. Roseman even went so far as to have the Lions call Samuel. But he wanted a first round pick instead and called off the deal.
(UPDATE: I received further clarification on this proposed deal from another source close to the situation. The compensation for Samuel that was agreed upon was not just a second round pick, but two second day draft picks, and the deal fell apart for reasons other than draft compensation.)
So the Eagles ended up keeping Samuel, who had his pickoff-artist skills neutralized by the defenses' less blitzing, Rodgers-Cromartie, who had never played in the slot before, and Asomugha, who had hardly played zone before.
And now they'll be lucky if they get a third round pick for Samuel, who they're likely to dangle on the market as they did during camp and right before the trade deadline. Samuel, upset over the October rumors, ripped management by saying they were playing fantasy league with the owner's money, an obvious critique of the Asomugha signing.
The Babin acquisition had defensive line coach Jim Washburn's fingerprints all over it. Signing Jenkins, a three-technique defensive end, and turning him into a 4-3 defensive tackle was a bold stroke, if Roseman's. Reid and Mornhinweg wanted quarterback Vince Young as much as anyone, so I can't fault Roseman there. Signing running back Ronnie Brown and wide receiver Steve Smith, two moves Roseman had significant input on, backfired on the Eagles, though.
Mathis was a great example of finding a diamond that failed elsewhere but was tailor made for a scheme here. It's unlikely the Eagles would have signed Mathis, a journeyman guard, had Howard Mudd not been the offensive line coach. But if Mudd said to Roseman, "Get me an athletic left guard in case we have to move Todd Herremans to right tackle," then the general manager did his job effectively.
I recall seeing a heated conversation between Mudd and Roseman during training camp. I can't say "argument," because, for one thing, Roseman later told me it wasn't, and two, Mudd always looks like he's arguing with someone. But I conjured up this thought in my head that Roseman was resisting Mudd's demands for control over what kind of linemen he had to work with.
If Mathis is Roseman's then it's another example of the general manager spotting talent where others didn't see much. Colt Anderson, Brandon Hughes and Phillip Hunt are other examples. Jason Kelce, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman are late round gems, comparatively speaking, even if they aren't likely to become Pro Bowlers.
But you don't win championships with late draft diamonds or practice squad finds, you win with your top draft picks (see: Bay, Green). And that's where Roseman's record begins to slip. Both the general manager and those players warrant additional time before final judgments can be made, but the signs aren't bright.
Graham showed flashes during his rookie season, and that's usually all you can ask for at his position. But he suffered a knee injury in the last month of the season and understandably could barely get on the field this season once he returned from rehab. He deserves another year to prove himself in light of the injury, but he may never escape the notoriety of being selected one spot ahead of Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and two spots ahead of Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Both Thomas and Pierre-Paul were selected to the Pro Bowl this year.
Nate Allen, selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, also suffered a knee injury last December. His wasn't as serious and he was ready by the opener, but it obviously slowed the safety early in the season. There were moments when Allen looked good, moments when he looked really bad. Even at his best moments it's hard to see that he will become a difference-maker.
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim was a surprise third round pick. No one forecasted the defensive end being selected anywhere higher than the fifth round and once he started playing you could see why. He was last seen in Tampa Bay.
The Eagles top pick in 2011, guard Danny Watkins was behind the curve because of the lockout and a camp holdout. He lost his starting spot before the season but regained it a month later. He improved as the season progressed, but he was the weak link on the line and at 27 may never have the opportunity to justify a first-round pick.
Jaiquawn Jarrett is this draft's Te'o-Nesheim. A slow combine 40-yard dash dropped the safety's stock, but that didn't deter the Eagles from expending a second-round pick on the Temple product. He struggled to get on the field – in part because of the lockout – but mostly because, go figure, he's a slight step too slow.
Curtis Marsh was saddled behind a number of Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks so it's hard to knock or praise the third round pick.
I never understood the cheap shots directed at Roseman because he doesn't come from a traditional football executive background or because he doesn't look the part of the grizzled general manager. If he's an ace evaluator of talent it shouldn't matter what his pedigree is or whether he looks like an accountant or not.
But, ultimately, he should be judged by the players he drafts, the trades he spins, the free agents he acquires, even if the Eagles shroud his role by assigning all responsibility to Reid. I'm willing to give him more time. I just wonder why the Eagles didn't grant McDermott as much grace.