BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Before the Philadelphia Eagles could think about being a Super Bowl team, their first task was far more basic. They had to repair their roster after the brief and unproductive attempt by their former coach, Chip Kelly, to serve as his own general manager.
That duty fell to the front office executive who had, in effect, lost the power struggle with Kelly for control over the roster in 2015, Howie Roseman. But after what amounted to a one-year exile from the team’s football operations, Roseman reclaimed the job as the Eagles’ chief roster architect following Kelly’s ouster. And now, less than two full seasons later, the Eagles are in the Super Bowl, set to face the New England Patriots this Sunday in Minneapolis with a Lombardi Trophy at stake.
“I’m happy for our players and coaches,” Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, said Monday at Super Bowl media night. “We’re focused on trying to win a world championship right now. That’s our total focus. I think you see it from our players and our coaching staff. We’ve got a tall task on Sunday.”
If this is sweet vindication for Roseman, he isn’t acknowledging it.
“I really haven’t thought about it for me personally,” he said. “I’m happy for our organization because we’ve gone through some tough times. I’m happy for our owner. I’m happy for our head coach. But there’s still a part missing. And that’s what we have with this opportunity this Sunday, and it’s going to be a great challenge playing maybe the best organization and team of all-time.”
There is plenty of credit to go around for the Eagles. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said that Roseman and Doug Pederson, the team’s second-year coach, are deserving of their fair share.
“Howie’s worked for me, with me, for 18 years,” Lurie said Monday night. “I’ve known Doug for 20 years. They are special people. They’re genuine, smart. And it’s a joy to go to work every day. And that was true last year as well.”
There wasn’t much joy within the Eagles organization in 2015. That year, Lurie handed control over the roster to Kelly, the coach who had gone 10-6 in each of his first two seasons in Philadelphia.
“Chip had a vision of exactly how he thought we could get from good to great,” Lurie said then. “And I thought it was a really sound vision, that he’s a very bright guy. He’s all about football. He’s all about wanting to win big. It made so much sense. When we hired Chip, his style of play is very different than what we had before. … We were not organized and designed in that way. … Were we going to maximize Chip Kelly’s vision and system? Or were we going to counteract it and, in a sense, not try to maximize having Chip and what he was bringing to the staff and the organization?”
It didn’t work. Kelly the GM in effect let down Kelly the coach. With Kelly in charge, the Eagles traded Nick Foles for fellow quarterback Sam Bradford. They traded away LeSean McCoy and signed fellow running back DeMarco Murray. They allowed Jeremy Maclin to leave in free agency a year after releasing fellow wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Lurie fired Kelly with one game remaining in the 2015 season, with the Eagles’ record at 6-9. Re-enter Roseman, who had served as the team’s GM from 2010 to 2014. Lurie teamed Roseman with Pederson, a former Eagles backup quarterback and assistant coach, as the team’s new brain trust. The roster mess that had been created by Kelly needed to be cleaned up.
“We were going to do everything possible to build around an elite quarterback,” Lurie said Monday. “We always thought we were building a very good defense and good offensive line. But how do you get that quarterback? That was sort of the centerpiece of the strategy. And also, what kind of coach do you want and all that?
“I would say it was important to have a very genuine, collaborative coach who was smart and poised, could be tough whenever [needed] and the players could really relate to. … Howie and I were committed to those two things more than anything: Get that kind of coach and that kind of quarterback. And then everything else, we could find a way to get.”
Roseman went to work. Before the 2016 season, he traded away Murray, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell, who had been added during the Kelly-in-charge year. Most importantly, he traded up in the NFL draft to get the No. 2 overall pick that the Eagles used on quarterback Carson Wentz. He dealt Bradford to the quarterback-needy Minnesota Vikings just before the 2016 season.
After the Eagles went 7-9 last season with Wentz starting as a rookie, offensive reinforcements were added this past offseason with the arrivals of running back LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. And oh, by the way, Foles was re-signed to replace Chase Daniel, who was released, as Wentz’s backup.
“I think it’s in two parts,” Roseman said of the roster retooling. “I think in 2016 it was important for us to get the quarterback position right. We went in and we were going to do whatever it took to make sure that we put a lot of resources in there and we walked out of the season knowing that one day we looked on that field and we had hope. We had hope that one day we’d have a guy who would really lead us to this moment. And, of course, it’s worked out exactly as we thought it’d go.”
Not exactly. The Eagles made a trade-deadline deal for running back Jay Ajayi and were well on their way to being the NFC’s top playoff seed when Wentz, by then a league MVP front-runner, suffered a season-ending knee injury in December. That put Foles back in the lineup. And now, two playoff victories later, Lurie refers to Foles as the team’s “other starting quarterback,” not its backup.
“He’s a big-time, big-game player,” Lurie said. “That’s Nick. We utilized about $12 million to have a second quarterback by eating the contract of the quarterback we had before, our backup, and going out and getting Nick. It may have seemed irrational. I remember the phone call when it was Howie and I talking. And we said, ‘We have an opportunity to do this. Do you have any reservations of using this $12 million this way versus on other positions?’ And we both agreed this is absolutely the right thing to do. We never knew it would come to this. But we knew that Nick could win big games for us.”
Lurie said it has been “crucial” to the Eagles’ success that Roseman and Pederson have worked together so well.
“They are in lockstep consistently,” Lurie said. “I think they see things, as we all do, very, very similarly. There’s a commitment to building things, both in the short term and the mid term and the long term. We obviously invested a lot in a young quarterback that we think is a terrific young quarterback. And we’ll continue to build and build and build. But at the same time, we wanted to maximize the opportunity we have right now because we’ve got a good, young football team.”