This Eagles brain trust moves fast and hard.
If Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and Doug Pederson make anything out of this 8-1 start, they can point to their willingness to make bold decisions quickly, which is a marked departure for this franchise. Not long ago, you could walk through the locker room and wonder what players like Riley Cooper, Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins were doing on the roster, much less in the lineup. Not with this trio running things.
After eight games they needed a running back, so they gambled and traded for Jay Ajayi. He sent them into the bye week with 77 yards on eight carries, punctuated with a 46-yard touchdown.
After two games they needed an upgrade at left guard, so they benched Isaac Seumalu. Stefan Wisniewski won the job.
After no games last year, they decided they needed a first-round draft pick more than they needed the security of quarterback Sam Bradford, so they traded Bradford and handed the keys to the franchise to Carson Wentz. He now is an MVP candidate.
More than anything else, strong, decisive leadership is the hallmark of the Doug Pederson era and the Howie Roseman reboot. But then, Roseman, Douglas, and Pederson have incentive to make big moves fast.
Pederson, the coach, was hired with minimal credentials and in a haze of franchise nepotism. He was Andy Reid's protege and a former Eagles assistant. He had to prove himself quickly.
Roseman's title is football operations director, but really he's the general manager, again. He's had a voice in personnel decisions since 2008, except for when he was deposed for 2015. Reascended, he needs definitive results. Remember owner Jeffrey Lurie's pledge in January of 2016 to hold all parties more accountable.
Douglas is the player personnel director; the top scout; a risen star who wants to keep rising. He climbed through Baltimore's respected scouting department for 16 years, then directed the Bears' college scouting for a year – the year they took running back Jordan Howard in the fifth round, three spots before Wendell Smallwood. Howard has 1,700 more all-purpose yards and nine more touchdowns than Smallwood — who, had he been as productive as Howard has been, would have precluded the need to add Ajayi.
But there was a need, and it was met. That's how the Eagles work these days.
Roseman still makes mistakes; it's just that now, with Douglas at his hip and with Pederson on the field, those mistakes are more quickly identified and corrected.
This has not always been the case.
Roseman signed Cooper to a lucrative extension after 2013, but that season was a mirage, and even though his production diminished in 2014 and 2015 he remained a starter. Smith, drafted in the first round in 2014, has never started an NFL game. Watkins, drafted in the first round in 2011, somehow started 18 consecutive games for the Eagles before the team had seen enough.
This year, Seumalo, whom Roseman drafted in the third round last year, started twice. There is no room for favoritism.
Now, something that does work isn't endured; fingers crossed. It's fixed. The fixes are all over the roster, even if they haven't manifested themselves as planned quite yet.
Through mid-August, it appeared the rebuilt cornerback corps was not good enough. In the past, Eagles might have stood still and hoped for growth.
That thinking is passé at One NovaCare Way.
Roseman and Douglas traded with Buffalo for third-year corner Ronald Darby. It cost them their most productive receiver, fourth-year slot man Jordan Matthews, who also happened to be Wentz's best friend. They were betting on themselves. They believed they had upgraded the receiver position with free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and fourth-round rookie Mack Hollins. They believed Nelson Agholor, in his third year, would thrive in the slot.
More than anything, they realized they had failed to fix the corner position. No egos or pride, just analysis and action. Coincidentally, Darby was injured in Game 1, and the original cast has played well; but the philosophy was sound.
Again, this has not always been the case, even in the recent past.
Last year, before Douglas arrived in May, Roseman gave defensive end Vinny Curry a 5-year, $47.25 million contract with salary-cap implications that essentially tied Curry to the Eagles through 2018. Since being taken in the second round in 2012, Curry had logged only one season with more than four sacks and, ominously, had never even started a game for the Eagles – a streak he kept alive through 2016, to the Eagles' dismay. He finished the season with just three sacks.
Curry last season wound up playing behind Connor Barwin, which also never should have happened. Barwin was signed in 2013 to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. Pederson switched to a 4-3 when he was hired in January of 2016, but instead of trading Barwin for a draft pick that spring, the team made him a defensive end. Retaining Barwin after signing Curry was the sort of bet-hedging that has held the Eagles back for years. It's the kind of bet-hedging that doesn't happen in, say, New England.
But, again, the fact that Barwin was finally cut in March — a year late — underscores the evolution of a new paradigm. This is Howie, evolved; Joe, enacted.
Then, with the first-round pick they got in the Bradford trade, they drafted rush end Derek Barnett … because they realized asking so much of Curry was a mistake. Simply put, they would never have drafted Barnett had Curry collected, say, 10 sacks in 2016. Not with left end Brandon Graham affordably locked up through 2018.
They also were wrong about Smallwood, who, in his second year, they thought would be their all-purpose back. They also were wrong about fourth-round rookie Donnel Pumphrey, whose training camp was so awful he thought he might get cut. He's now on injured reserve, with apparently the most devastating hamstring strain in NFL history.
They knew LeGarrette Blount was a one-dimensional battering ram, and they couldn't trust undrafted rookie Corey Clement, and they had the chance to get better at the position for a year or two, and free agent Kenjon Barner has been a stop-gap solution since third-down back Darren Sproles got injured in Game 3. So they traded a fourth-round pick for Ajayi, risking the liabilities of his knee and his attitude.
He rewarded that risk last week. He seems capable of even greater dividends.
If he's not, rest assured, the brain trust won't let him linger.