Howie Roseman joked that there aren't many issues that don't keep him up at night, the type of concerns that leave a general manager rolling over in bed and staring at a dark ceiling. But there's one overriding problem that Roseman admitted is particularly troublesome, and it's one without a concrete answer.
"You have a limited number of resources, whether it's draft picks or salary-cap room," Roseman said. "You try to build a team with depth. It's not always going to be perfect. But you know at some point injuries are a part of the game. But where are you going to have those injuries, and are those players who you feel confident can fill in going to do the same job as the starters?"
Roster management is perhaps the most important part of Roseman's job, and that is no more apparent than this time of year. So it's worth noting that when the Eagles open practice this week, the team will likely include 24 first- or second-year players. By comparison, the Giants have 19, the Cowboys have 18, and the Redskins, even during a rebuilding period, have 19.
This number is revealing when examining the two parts of Roseman's question: the limited resources available to every team, and the capability of the reserves on the roster.
"As we look at it going forward, we have a roster with a lot of guys who make good money because they are good players," Roseman said. "When you have that kind of roster you have to have young players supplement it."
This point is accurate. The Eagles' front-line players are paid handsomely, with 19 players due to have a salary-cap hit of $2 million or more this season, and two players in excess of $10 million. (Two of those players, Jason Peters and Mike Patterson, are on the non-football injury list.) This is more players than the Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins in both categories.
Because of that, it helps to stockpile players on the roster earning the rookie minimum, or close to it. That is where many of the young key players come in. Roseman needs to focus on budget allocation. It hurts when a team overpays a backup. The Eagles have created a system in which they compensate top players with top dollars and assess the cap value of a player's spot on the team.
The roster can also be more flexible with younger players than with the vested veterans. The termination pay is more expensive for a player with more than four seasons of NFL service who is on the team at the beginning of the season. So, in theory, the Eagles would be able to cut Jaiquawn Jarrett during the season for less of a cost than Oshiomogho Atogwe.
Roseman said the roster decisions were not financially motivated, although the Eagles chose inexperienced players at interior offensive line, safety, and cornerback over experienced players. The base salaries for Atogwe, Joselio Hanson, and Steve Vallos - three players with varying degrees of NFL experience - would have been a combined $2.35 million. David Sims, Brandon Hughes, and Dallas Reynolds - three relatively inexperienced players at those positions - will earn a combined $1.32 million if they're on the roster this season.
"If we had a veteran player that we thought was going to be better than the young player, then we are going to take the veteran player," Roseman said. "Obviously we were encouraged by how some of the young players did and the growth potential we think they have, and it's a great credit to our personnel staff and our coaching staff."
The risk, of course, is the second part of Roseman's question. By constructing the roster the way they did, the Eagles' depth is mostly filled with inexperienced players. Past performance is often not a reliable indicator of future performance in the NFL, so there's no saying that Atogwe would have been a more capable reserve than Sims if Nate Allen suffers an injury, or whether there will be a decline at the nickel cornerback spot from Hanson to Brandon Boykin. But in both those examples, the veterans have a track record of productivity while the rookies create an unknown.
The other by-product of the way the Eagles formed their roster is the dearth of players who have won a playoff game. After reaching the 2008 NFC championship game, coach Adny Reid spoke about the importance of ensuring a class of players who had experienced success because winning and losing can become contagious.
The average age of the current Eagles roster is 25.5, and the Eagles have not won a postseason game since the 2008 season. Only eight players on the active roster have ever won a playoff game in an Eagles uniform.
Roseman did not sound concerned about this, and cited the Green Bay Packers as a young, inexperienced team that won the Super Bowl. He pointed to youth in other leagues, too, able to thrive and compete for a championship.
"I don't think there's a rhyme or reason," Roseman said.
That sentiment can be applied to many aspects of Roseman's job. He scouts players and manages the salary cap and makes roster decisions, but he's ultimately a scientist trying to master an inexact science. That's enough to keep him awake at night.