Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, and Peyton Manning.
John McVay, Bill Walsh and George Seifert, and Joe Montana and Steve Young.
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, and Big Ben.
The history of the NFL is replete with examples of Super Bowl winners having a strong general manager, a great head coach, and a franchise caliber quarterback.
The Eagles currently have Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, and Sam Bradford.
Is this triumvirate good enough to finally end the Super Bowl drought that has plagued this city’s loyal fan base for over 60 years? In order to answer that question, I wanted to analyze each position — head coach, front office and quarterback — in a three-part series.
As I mentioned in Part 1 (which you can read here), it is too early — and indeed, impossible — to judge how Pederson will turn out. But we have enough information from which to draw reasonable conclusions on Howie Roseman (Part 2) and Sam Bradford (Part 3).
Digging deep into the Eagles front office leaves an indelible impression that you are watching an episode of “NovaCare 90210“: politicking and in-fighting begetting backstabbing and constant turnover.
A lot of the finger pointing has been aimed at de facto general manager Howie Roseman. And as we will see in a moment, some of it is justified. But by focusing all of our efforts on Roseman, we run the risk of ignoring the fact that Jeffrey Lurie is just as, if not more, responsible for the mess facing this Eagles franchise.
It Starts With Jeffrey Lurie
To be fair, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, the Eagles have enjoyed their best run in franchise history under Lurie with a record of 186-148, a 55% win percentage that considerably bests the Eagles franchise record prior to Lurie’s arrival of 362-434 (45%). During his 21 years as owner, the Eagles have made the playoffs 12 times, played in 5 conference championships, 1 Super Bowl, and as Brent pointed out last week, have 12 seasons of at least 10+ wins, and only 6 seasons of below .500 football.
The level of consistency that Lurie has achieved is not easy in a league that is designed to manufacture parity.
But if we peel back the layers of this onion a little more, we see a clear delineation point between when the Eagles were close to the gold standard that Lurie espoused over a decade ago, to now, where they more closely resemble a model of mediocrity.
From 2000 until 2004, the Eagles were an impressive 59-21, a .737 win percentage. But for the next decade, from 2005 until 2015, the Eagles have amassed a 93-82 record, a .531 win percentage
What happened? What caused the decline? For starters, the team’s prime players of Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins, et al, started to age, and the Eagles front office did a terrible job of finding replacements vis-a-vis the draft. That forced their hand to seek to fill holes via free agency, which, as we saw this season, is rarely a successful strategy.
All of this was occurring with a backdrop of constant turmoil and power struggles in the front office, as detailed by Les Bowen of Philly.com said earlier this week:
“I’ve covered the Eagles since 2002 and what I recall is intrigue and turmoil, pretty much consistently. Reid pushed out Tom Modrak. Tom Heckert was Reid’s guy; when Heckert left, Joe Banner maneuvered into a greater personnel role, and arranged one for his protégé, Roseman. Roseman pushed aside Jason Licht, now general manager of the Bucs, after Licht privately disparaged Roseman’s “football guy” credentials, people close to the situation have said. Eventually, Banner was cast aside in favor of Roseman.”
In other words, these issues precede Howie Roseman, which is why it isn’t fair to completely blame him for the current state of affairs. The one constant through it all is the owner. Lurie has tolerated these types of power struggles for at least the last 15 years, which has led to a constant turnover that you do not see in the best NFL franchises.
Kevin Colbert has been in charge of the player personnel department for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the director of football operations and then general manager, since 2000. During that time he has worked with only two head coaches, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, winning Super Bowls with each.
Bill Belichick has served as the the head coach and general manager of the New England Patriots since 2000, winning four Super Bowls.
The New York Giants have had three general managers since 1979: George Young (79-97), Ernie Accorsi (98-06) and Jerry Reese (07-Present). During that time, they have had Hall of Fame coaches Bill Parcels and Tom Coughlin, and have won four Super Bowls.
The Green Bay Packers have had only three general manager type figures since 1992, and four head coaches during that time period (three if you don’t count the one year tenure of former Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes). They won two Super Bowls.
Ozzie Newsome has been the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens for 20 years, the only person to hold that position since Art Modell moved the team from Cleveland to Baltimore. He’s had three coaches during that time period, with the latter two, Brian Bilick and John Harbaugh, each lasting 8 seasons (and counting for Harbaugh) and each bringing home a Super Bowl trophy.
Since 1997, those five franchises account for 12 of the 19 Super Bowls.
Obviously talent goes a long way towards bringing in those championships. But we would be foolish to ignore that the best franchises all follow the same blueprint, a blueprint which is predicated on a foundation of patience, continuity, and playing the long game.
Under Lurie, the Eagles have never quite been able to get it right. Sure, Andy Reid coached here for 14 years, and for that, Lurie deserves credit. But the other three coaches under Lurie — Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, and Chip Kelly — lasted an average of 2.66 seasons.
And Lurie has cycled through front office executives like they are going out of style: from Modrak, to Heckert, to Reid, to Banner, to Roseman, to Kelly and now, back to Roseman, there has been a revolving door of executives that is robbing the Eagles of the continuity and consistency that it needs to compete with the best franchises in the NFL.
That is why any discussion about the problems at One NovaCare Way must start and end with Jeffrey Lurie. Until he is able to forge a front office that spends more time working together than they do looking out for their own self interest, the Eagles will continue to struggle on the field.
Roseman Has Made The Situation Worse
When evaluating Howie Roseman as a general manager, it’s important to separate the two discernible roles that the carries: talent evaluation/acquisition and fostering a productive environment in the front office.
The former category yields a mixed bag of results. Rosman is a smart guy that has a reputation for being an incredibly hard worker. He understands value better than most, and has proved especially adept at pulling off trades. He is analytically inclined, something the NFL needs more of, and has good discipline when it comes to managing the salary cap. In those senses, he seems to be the polar opposite of Chip Kelly.
Those positives attributes have undoubtedly played a part in drafting Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews, and Mychal Kendricks, trading for Darren Sproles and DeMeco Ryans, and signing Connor Barwin and Malcolm Jenkins. Good moves by any measure.
But his tenure as general manager has also produced first round busts Danny Watkins and Marcus Smith, second round busts in Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett, and free agent busts Nnamdi Asomugha, DRC, Vince Young, and Ronnie Brown.
In other words, some good, some bad.
But it is that second category that is hard to ignore. Roseman has a history of butting heads with many people inside the Eagles organization, a fact he acknowledged yesterday following the press conference to introduce Doug Pederson.
This issue has led to multiple reports that paint Roseman in an extremely negative light. And while each of these reports can be explained away in isolation, it is the aggregate that makes it impossible to ignore:
- Jason La Confora’s report in 2013 when the Eagles head coaching search hit a standstill, which stated “I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me one esteemed coach or another advised one of the Eagles’ top candidates not to take the job precisely because of Roseman’s presence there…The rumblings about Roseman lacking nuance and foresight, about him turning people off with how drunk with power he’s become, only grow louder as his coaching search grows stranger.”
- Geoff Mosher, one of the best Eagles reporters in the game, has published at least three reports on the problems that Roseman has created in the Eagles front office. The first came in 2014, which pinned the Gamble firing on Roseman and alluded to a growing tension between Roseman and Marynowitz: “…bad blood in Roseman’s scouting department has been brewing and Gamble’s departure could be just the first shoe to drop. Assistant director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz has also butted heads with Roseman, the sources said.”
- In 2015, Mosher followed up that report with a more in-depth look into what it was like to work with Roseman: “working with Roseman can be unbearable, especially in times of adversity. Roseman was so driven by fear of failure that he didn’t stick to the process and quickly turned on his staff when problems arose. Roseman was also distrustful of his staff, fearing that underlings would try to climb the ladder and snatch away his job the same way he did as he worked his way up the chain for 16 years. His paranoia either drove other talented executives away or landed them pink slips. That’s why guys like Jason Licht, Marc Ross, Tom Heckert, Louis Riddick, Tom Gamble and others had short careers with the Eagles as Roseman worked his way up. “He’s not a leader,” one person who worked under Roseman said. “He’s an authority figure.”
- Another report from Goeff Mosher on the problem in the Eagles front office: According to multiple personnel men who have worked under Lurie and Roseman, the team’s unconventional front office structure has enabled management turmoil to prevail year after year despite the rash of changes around Lurie and Roseman. The root of the problem is the flow of information from Roseman to Lurie, which is spun exactly the way Roseman wants it. So although Lurie is known to take “voluminous notes” about the goings-on in personnel matters surrounding his franchise, he’s essentially scribbling down the lecture coming from Roseman’s podium. “A toxic environment,” as one former Eagles personnel executive deemed it. Lurie trusts Roseman blindly and implicitly, which is the only reason to explain why he’s sat back and allowed several well-regarded football men to become fall guys when the Eagles didn’t win or made bad draft picks. Someone always pays the price — Marc Ross, Lou Riddick, Jason Licht — and now Gamble. Someone other than Roseman, of course.”
- Louis Riddick has repeatedly ripped Roseman and the toxic front office he’s created. When Roseman was first demoted, Riddick had this to say: “And the people who shouldn’t be doing what they are doing are no longer doing it. I mean Tom Gamble, Jason Licht, I’m gonna throw myself in there… these are some quality football person. Some football people who really know what they’re doing. People who know the game, who have strong personalities. Let’s just say they went into Philadelphia one way and left there another way.”
- When Kelly was fired in 2016, Riddick questioned why everyone but Roseman was held accountable: “I have no idea [why Roseman is still there]. Everyone else has been removed Everyone else has been held accountable except him.“
- Mark Eckel of NJ.com reported that Roseman had a hand in Kelly and Marynowitz being fired: “Howie has been poisoning Ed,” one person with knowledge of the infighting said. “And he has his people doing the same.” According to several league sources, the firings have Roseman’s fingerprints all over it. “I can’t believe it,” a long-time executive for an Eagles rival said when told of Kelly’s firing. “They did what? Are you serious? No, you’re kidding right? You can’t be serious.” When he finally realized it wasn’t a joke, he put the onus on the former and probably future general manager. “Howie got him,” the executive said. “He won. It took him some time, but he got to the owner, and he won. That’s just amazing. What is Lurie thinking? That place is just out of control.”
- Rueben Frank of CSNPhilly.com reported back in 2014 that Jeffrey Lurie thinks Howie Roseman is a messiah that can do no wrong: ‘But Lurie is fiercely loyal to Roseman, who’s risen through the organization from intern to GM and has been here since 2000. Lurie even kept Roseman over his boyhood friend, team president Joe Banner, when Roseman and Banner were locked in a power struggle a few years ago. “Jeffrey sees Howie as a messiah,” a one-time Eagles front-office exec said Wednesday. “Howie can do no wrong in his eyes.”‘ Frank went on to point out how a number of Eagles executives such as Tom Heckert, Jason Licht, Ryan Grigson (who accepted the Colts‘ GM job), Louis Riddick, and now Gamble have all been removed over the years while Roseman still remains.
- A week ago, Frank cited another league source acknowledging Roseman is the problem: “Everybody knows Howie is holding back the organization,” an NFL front-office executive said earlier this week. “Everybody but one person. And that person is the only one who matters. Jeffrey Lurie. He just doesn’t see it.”
- Just on Monday, Peter King, of SI.com, reported that one of the reasons that Tom Coughlin turned the Eagles down because he “wasn’t sure how his working relationship with Eagles football czar Howie Roseman would go.”
- And during the confusing coaching search, Les Bowen and Jeff McLane insinuated that the Eagles did not interview Sean McDermott because of a personnel dispute he had with Roseman back in 2010.
Again, some of these reports should be taken with a grain of salt. La Confora reported that Roseman prevented the Eagles from hiring a coach, yet a few weeks later the Eagles landed their top target in Chip Kelly. Louis Riddick reportedly lost out on the General Manager position to Roseman in 2010, so it is not a stretch to imagine that some bad blood exists between the two.
But that’s still 11 reports from 8 writers, some of whom cited multiple sources. At some point, we have to accept that where there is smoke, their is fire. And that fire was all but confirmed yesterday when Roseman had to say this:
Again, caveats apply, and it would be extremely unfair to pin the Eagles mediocrity entirely on Roseman. But we cannot absolve him of blame either. While the rest of the league, and most of the fan base, has recognized these issues, Lurie seemingly has applied the ostrich defense so far:
It Can Still Be Turned Around
The good news is that this can all be turned around. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical. These issues have persisted so long that they seem systemic. But, failure has a funny way of humbling people. So maybe Roseman did self-reflect and grow this last year. And while the coaching search certainly left a bad taste in my mouth, perhaps hiring Pederson, who is described as a laid back guy, might be the perfect yin to Howie Roseman’s yang. If the Eagles can finally find the right mix, focus on building through the draft, and finding a franchise caliber quarterback, this thing can turn around quickly.
If not, perhaps Lurie will finally do what many thought he should have done this offseason: clean house and start over.