The Philadelphia Eagles eliminated ego. Now, they're in the Super Bowl.
GM Howie Roseman wasn't afraid to admit the Eagles were wrong. The result? A team and a quarterback set up to win for a long time.
Nice things are being said about all players this time of year at press conferences. General managers barely speak at all publicly but, when they do each January, you can bank on most echoing the same refrain. You’ll hear all about continuity with the GM insisting he wants all of his free agents back the following season.
Often, that’s good. Resetting nonstop can foster chaos. Patience is a virtue that can pay off in both life and sports alike. There’s no need to treat an NFL roster like an iPhone screen and restlessly flick, flick, flick away app to app.
Yet, often, that’s bad. Such rhetoric is an exercise of self-preservation. That GM knows he now has a body of work that the owner of the team can judge and he’s gently incorporating some Billy Mays-like salesmanship into his message. The Q&A session may seem ultra-friendly, ultra-folksly and even earn the GM some love from reporters on Twitter when, in truth, the spin was on. The GM ends up paying good players money typically reserved for great players, never gets over the championship hump and people are fired anyway.
The bosses who know when to stay calm and when to cut bait are the ones who win.
No singular moment captured the essence of this seesaw act better than Howie Roseman, the Philadelphia Eagles GM, walking off the field at Houston. A 29-17 win had just improved his team’s record to 8-0 and he couldn’t take his eyes off a sign indicating that he was “forgiven” for his previous misses at wide receiver.
“Wait a minute,” Roseman asked, “I’m f--king forgiven for your first Super Bowl? F--k you! Let's f--king go! F--k you!”
The GM poses for a picture with someone on the sideline and is sure to give that sign-holding fan in the first row one more look before walking away.
No team has navigated this Deal or No Deal dance better than the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ego isn’t only the root of all evil. Ego is a reason countless front offices spin their tires — they clutch dearly to their mistakes for too long. The Eagles clearly eliminated this impulse from the equation and, now, are back in the Super Bowl.
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The turnaround is a minor miracle. This is a team that won a Super Bowl in 2017, collapsed in 2020, and is now back in the big game two years later. How? Even in a league designed for turnarounds, such an extreme rise, fall, rise again is rare. One moment, an indignant Joe Judge is scolding the Eagles for not respecting the game in a press conference. The Eagles finished 4-11-1 and fired their title-winning head coach, Doug Pederson. The next moment, there’s owner Jeffrey Lurie, head coach Nick Sirianni and Roseman all on the dais together accepting the George Halas Trophy as NFC Champions. Emcee Terry Bradshaw hands Jalen Hurts the mic and Philadelphia’s starting quarterback leads a rendition “Fly, Eagles Fly!”
To be honest, I don’t know much about Roseman as a person. But his actions have been devoid of hubris and proof that swallowing your pride can reap great rewards in pro football.
Consider everything that happened after Nick Foles slayed Tom Brady in Minneapolis. The team’s MVP candidate that ’17 season — No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz — was soon signed to a market-crushing contract in June 2019. The $107 million in guarantees was the most in NFL history. It’s hard to argue with the Eagles’ logic. The memory of Wentz escaping free runners, planting a foot and delivering 50-yard missiles deep was still fresh. He even took the Eagles to the playoffs in 2019. Yet, at 53rd overall the following spring, Hurts presented immense value.
This came with great risk. There’s a case to be made for all GMs of all teams to function with the sole purpose of empowering their talented quarterbacks. The selection of Hurts clearly battered Wentz’s confidence. Either way, Roseman was not afraid to draft a quarterback one year after handing Wentz a historic sum of money. He didn’t care if this made him look bad.
In the same draft, the Green Bay Packers took Jordan Love 26th overall and a pissed-off Aaron Rodgers won back-to-back MVPs.
Philadelphia experienced the inverse effect.
Wentz struggled… the team won four games… Hurts, ready or not, became The Man in Year 2. At no point did Roseman feel the need to justify that $107 million. Instead, he found a trade partner in the Indianapolis Colts and washed his hands clean. This is where it’s crucial to note that organizational structure is unbelievably important. It sure helps to have full support from ownership through such tectonic decisions and Roseman has built up two decades’ worth of trust with Jeffrey Lurie.
Perhaps the No. 1 reason Wentz regressed was a lack of weapons. Roseman missed badly at wide receiver. In 2019, the Eagles chose J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin. In 2020, they opted for Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson.
These are the mistakes that get GMs fired.
Yet, Roseman didn’t stop.
With the keys officially handed over to Hurts — and Philly back to operating financially with a QB on that glorious rookie deal — Roseman selected Heisman-winning receiver DeVonta Smith 10th overall in 2021 and traded the 18th and 101st picks to Tennessee for A.J. Brown in 2022, ripe with a brand-spanking-new $100 million contract. This team didn’t kid itself when it came to Arcega-Whiteside or Reagor, didn’t lean into what those draft reports indicated. Neither player panned out so they dared to improve. The former is now out of the NFL, the latter dumped to the Vikings for peanuts.
Granted, this can backfire. The NFL’s full of late-bloomers. We’ve written about many pros who appeared to be busts, only to excel in the right situation. You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
And as discussed on the podcast with The Athletic’s Zach Berman, Hurts and Brown were already incredibly close. Hurts is the godfather of Brown’s daughter and Brown has referred to him as a “brother.”
This is the swing that unlocked greatness in a 24-year-old quarterback.
If not for a late-season shoulder injury, Hurts could’ve won MVP. In 17 total games, playoffs included, Hurts has now thrown for 3,976 yards, rushed for another 833 yards and scored 39 total touchdowns. Hall of Famer Kurt Warner was floored by Hurts’ progress. Earlier this season, Warner told us Hurts was playing the quarterback position better than anyone else from the pocket. Mahomes, Burrow, Allen, anyone. “I fight to say it hasn’t even been close,” he added. Warner kept waiting for the slipper to fall off “Cinderella,” and it never did.
When he studied tape, Hurts was reading the field with remarkable ease 1… to 2… to 3…
The shoulder injury clearly complicated things. Hurts hasn’t been as accurate, but the Eagles also haven’t needed Hurts to decimate defenses with his arm.
They steamrolled both the New York Giants (38-7) and San Francisco 49ers (31-7) to reach Super Bowl LVII by running the ball (88 attempts) nearly twice as often as they’ve thrown it (44 attempts). Even this formula of physical dominance is rooted in a suppression of ego. Remember, Sirianni was lambasted by angry Eagles fans his first two months on the job. Through a 2-5 start in 2021, the consensus was that this former Colts offensive coordinator was calling far too many pass plays. Rather than declare all criticism unfounded, Sirianni gave up playcalling duties to coordinator Shane Steichen.
He remained heavily involved in the installation of a gameplan, but wasn’t afraid to check himself for the overall good of the offense.
Lo and behold, the Eagles started bludgeoning teams with the run and now resemble a well-oiled machine. Hurts’ RPO action forces linebackers and ends to hesitate. Offensive line coach coach Jeff Stoutland devises devastating blocking angles. And when Miles Sanders and Hurts get rolling downfield? With a touch of Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott? The Eagles possess one of the most punishing ground attacks we’ve seen.
The pounding takes a physical and mental toll on any defense. Philly’s hope is that the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t faced anything like this all season.
Hey, I’m all for players being honest. Nobody wants to be served stale word salads through this Super Bowl hype. Good on Giants safety Julian Love for speaking his mind on NFL Network this week. After saying that he didn’t like Sirianni posturing for the cameras in the midst of Philly’s playoff shellacking, Love added that Sirianni was “in for a free ride.” Can’t agree with this take. The Eagles are not in the Super Bowl because of talent alone. If that was the case, the “Dream Team” unit of 2011 would’ve won more than eight games.
Coaching matters for so many reasons. Sirianni’s willingness to take an eye-in-the-sky approach was essential.
If nothing else, let’s hope this head coach’s success forces us all to stop obsessing over press conferences. The setting is pure performance art.
OK, Sirianni’s introductory presser was disastrous. He seemed ill-prepared for the job, whereas New York’s Judge had the masses ready to run through a brick wall. Looking back, we now know one of the reasons Sirianni talked in circles was that Wentz was still on the roster. He needed to be careful with every word to every question… and he sure was getting peppered with Wentz questions.
This is now a team set up for long-term success. We shouldn’t be surprised.
One former NFL general manager who knows Roseman well says you simply don’t see this sort of selfless leadership at the top.
“When you move on from players, you never know how they got there or why they got there,” this ex-GM said. “When you move on, you just do it and hopefully it’s for the better. There’s no better person doing it than Howie. He’s a great guy. He’s very smart. He’s high energy. He’s a tremendous leader. Those that don’t know him judge him unfairly.”
Fit is so important at quarterback. For Hurts to ascend to this level, he needed a coaching staff that’d accentuate his gifts. It’s no different than what the Baltimore Ravens originally did with Lamar Jackson, in turning him into an MVP. This ex-GM frankly believes Jackson would be out of the NFL by now if the wrong team drafted him. The wrong GM with the wrong coach and the wrong system would’ve hid Jackson’s superpowers.
Fit is so important at general manager, too. To win in a city like Philadelphia, you’ve got to have the raw personality Roseman displayed that night in Houston. He might’ve been playing around, but it’s obvious there was a hint of seriousness and truth to his tone. Like he had been waiting for this chance.
Roseman has been described as paranoid internally. Yet it’s also true he has guts to admit when he’s wrong and, even when public opinion has him cornered, he’ll keep swinging.
“That’s as tough a market as there is in the NFL,” this ex-GM said. “For him to do what he’s done — and do it at such a high level — is truly remarkable.”
How did the Kansas City Chiefs get to the Super Bowl? We examined in Monday’s column, icymi.
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Another great piece. Excellent coverage this Super Bowl week!
Great work, Tyler.