Over the past few weeks, I tried to tell anyone who would listen that the Eagles were still Super Bowl-ready despite losing their best player, Carson Wentz, to injury. There is a depth and resilience to this team that I have seen over the year that is striking; I’m not sure I have seen it ever before. I do admit to some bias, knowing the key players discussed below and now living in the Philadelphia suburbs (my wife is from here, so while I wouldn’t call myself a true Eagles fan, I married into some level of Eagles fandom). Knowing that hosannahs will be lobbed furiously at the Patriots and their remarkable sustained excellence, here are some commendations for the Eagles and their stunning success in the face of adversity.
Howie Roseman is a longtime colleague and neighbor (we live a couple blocks apart); we came up as team salary cap managers together, and I worked closely with him when consulting for the Eagles after leaving the Packers. I have seen Howie in various roles with the Eagles, including in exile during the Chip Kelly era, and am happy for his success and maturation. And, as he is with the Pro Football Writers Association, he is my NFL Executive of the Year.
A year and half ago, however, I was critical of Howie and the extraordinary resources he was spending at quarterback: $22 million in guaranteed money to Sam Bradford, $10 million to Chase Daniel, $29 million and multiple draft choices for Carson Wentz. We had some frank discussions and disagreements. Howie assured me that if Bradford played decently he would be able to secure a second- or third-round draft pick for him the following year, and would then have Wentz averaging $6 million a year, a pittance for a starting quarterback. And because of the misfortune of Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings, the Eagles turned Bradford—who had become extraneous with Wentz’s obvious abilities—into a first-round pick a year earlier than he had planned. Roseman then upgraded the backup position from Daniels to Nick Foles, who has been a revelation in these playoffs.
For decades I have heard the traditionalists’—some would say Neanderthals’—bias against general managers who don’t have scouting backgrounds, such as Roseman. To me, Roseman has shown the true value of a general manager who’s trained and skilled in the business of football. He deftly maneuvered to put the team in place to draft a generational player (Wentz) and then leveraged the Vikings’ desperation to stunningly wrangle a first-round pick for an extraneous player (Bradford). He has also secured extensions with ascending core players (Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, etc.), built a deep and resilient team capable of overcoming injuries to several star (Jason Peters, Darren Sproles) and signed reasonable contracts for veteran free agents such as Foles, Patrick Robinson, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Foles, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi (though by trade), all of whom contributed to the rout of the Vikings. Thanks to Roseman, the Eagles appear set for the short term and the long term. My Eagles praise doesn’t stop there. As for their coach…
Good guy finishing first
I spent several years in Green Bay with Doug Pederson, who not only backed up Brett Favre but also was Brett’s coach on the field, best friend, (scratch) golf partner, confidante and counselor when needed (I reached Doug when we had to inform Brett about his father’s passing, as Doug and Brett were golfing together).
Pederson was also always at the ready to come back to the Packers as Brett’s backup. There were a couple of offseasons where I would chase after well-known potential backup quarterbacks and was routinely turned down, as no one wanted to serve as No. 2 to Favre, with zero opportunity to actually play. Following those rejections, I would invariably call Doug and ask him to head on back to Green Bay. We would then spend a few minutes negotiating his contract—he did it himself without an agent—and voila, we had our backup quarterback. Every interaction with Doug was a pleasant experience.
Pederson has done a masterful job with the Eagles this year while without his MVP-level quarterback, Pro Bowl left tackle, most versatile running back, best linebacker, and best special teams player. He has preached resiliency, and players have obviously bought in. He has a brilliant offensive mind, understands players, and has an ability—borne from within but gleaned from Favre and Andy Reid—to not take things too seriously. He builds relationships, trusts people and empowers his players. And yes, he can design some truly impressive plays and schemes. It is a personal delight to see Pederson succeeding on a national stage.
There is no shortage of hyperbole with the Super Bowl upon us. Thus, as a public service to cut through the clutter, here are five myths debunked for your reading pleasure:
1. It’s all about the quarterback. True, speaking from firsthand experience in Green Bay, there is no more comforting feeling for a front office than to have the quarterback position solidified for the present and future. And yes, Tom Brady’s sustained excellence is legendary. Having said that, football is quite egalitarian: players are on the field less than half the game, at all times working interdependently with ten other parts. Much was made of Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles in conference championship games, beating Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan along the way. On the outside of the playoffs looking in this year—in addition to injured stars Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck—were players such as Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco, Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr. Football is truly the ultimate team sport.
2. History and bulletin board material matter. With any game, especially spotlight ones, so many observers blather on about previous matchups, about “bulletin board material,” about the “disrespect” card, blah, blah, blah. As for the impact any of that will have during the game, please. For all the stories about teams that felt disrespected and won, there are also thousands of teams that we don’t hear about that had the same speeches and feelings of disrespect and then lost the game. What does matter? Well, which team makes more plays in the fourth quarter, especially on third and fourth down. That matters. And one final note here: God does not have a rooting interest (I think).
3. Teams are skirting the Rooney Rule. As a lawyer, I can say that yes, your Honor, teams, including the Raiders in hiring Jon Gruden, are complying with the Rule: interviewing minority candidates for NFL head coach and general manager positions. Now, are all of these interviews realistic and meaningful? Of course not. However, in a case like Gruden and the Raiders, what are they supposed to do? Mark Davis fixated on Gruden, meaning every other candidate, no matter race or religion, was extraneous. The rule has no answer here and clearly needs a rewrite, one that extends to lower levels of the organization and requires more transparency between the teams and the public. Transparency breeds trust; the NFL and its teams need all the trust they can get these days.
4. Coaching hires are not resolved until coaches finish the playoffs. There were multiple reports—including from NFL media—of Patriots coordinators Matt Patricia, and Josh McDaniels and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur becoming head coaches of the Lions, Colts and Giants, respectively, after these coaches lose or after the Super Bowl, whichever would come first. There is no need to pretend here; the coaches know they are going; their teams know they are going; their new teams know they are coming. If the purpose of waiting is to allow complete focus on the next opponent, we are ignoring what coaches do during their entire peripatetic existence: focus on the moment. We are adults here; the NFL should give everyone—coaches, teams, fans and media—more credit. Any benefit of waiting is overshadowed by the charade of it all.
5. The NFL is in decline. There seems a cottage industry, perhaps fueled this season by our Tweeter-in-Chief, in predicting (and perhaps hoping for) the demise of the nation’s most popular and profitable sport. Whatever the reason—perhaps simply that no one likes Goliath—this is quite a myth. But, ratings are down? Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention, there has been and will continue to be disruption in content consumption across all media. In a year of protests and dire predictions about the sport, 27 of the 30 top-rated television programs in 2017 were NFL broadcasts. Every other sports league or entertainment programming would love the NFL’s “problems.” And Bloomberg is reporting that ABC and Fox have joined NBC and CBS in the bidding for Thursday Night Football. Add in another OTT (over the top) partner—following one-year deals for Twitter and Amazon—and the NFL will swim in revenue for a product that some have suggested would be shelved. The NFL’s biggest challenge is the same one that all sports and entertainment properties have: attracting and maintaining younger viewers. For a league in alleged “decline,” however, it has an extraordinarily team-friendly CBA, networks and digital media giants bidding for its programming, and franchise values 10 times what they were 30 years ago. The “NFL’s in trouble” crowd is going to be waiting a long time for their wish.
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