- At the 2018 NFL draft, the Eagles made just one selection in the first 124 picks—and that wasn’t an issue for GM Howie Roseman. How did Philadelphia get into this position of player depth?
PHILADELPHIA — It’s lunchtime on Friday the day after the NFL draft’s first round at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, Philadelphia’s oldest tavern. Standing behind the bar is long-time owner Chris Mullins Sr., who reaches to take down sponsored Eagles draft signage that was still hanging from the previous night.
The Eagles came into the first round with the No. 32 pick, but opted to trade it and a fourth-rounder to Baltimore, in exchange for the Ravens’ second- and fourth-round picks, along with next year’s second-rounder. So even though Thursday night was stripped of excitement for Philadelphia, Mullins wasn’t bothered. At 70 years old, he may be wary of a Process that has delivered two superstars in five drafts to the city’s NBA team, but he’s fully on board with what the Eagles executive vice president of football operations is doing.
“I can’t believe Howie Roseman could rebuild the way he did so quickly. I didn’t think we’d be that good this fast,” says the lifelong Philly resident. “Oh my gosh, it’s turned around. Five years ago he was vilified, and now he’s everybody’s hero. He’s done a great job.”
The defending Super Bowl champions are in an enviable position in that they did not need this year’s draft. The team is stacked across the board thanks to homegrown talent and deft trades. It has a Super Bowl MVP as a backup quarterback. And to further hammer home that point, the Eagles traded out of the first round; Roseman had just one selection in the first three rounds of this year’s draft, and with that pick he drafted Division I-AA tight end Dallas Goedert—a player at a position that is not plug-and-play in today’s NFL.
How did Philadelphia get here? As Roseman has tapped into the NFL’s market inefficiency when it comes to trading for veteran players near the end of their contracts, he hasn’t been afraid to use his draft picks on something other than what they were originally intended for.
Moreso than any offseason move or contract reconfiguration, April’s draft speaks to the vision and future of these Eagles. Roseman constantly said this draft was important to both the short- and long-term interests of the team, but when you look closely at Philadelphia’s five draft picks—a tight end, an undersized corner, a defensive end with a risky medical history, a project offensive tackle and an Australian rugby player—it’s obvious that this year’s draft was more about the long term. All the while, the team gained and protected its future picks that Roseman can either use the traditional way or as trade bait as he’s been wont to do in recent years while building this winner.
“When we all came together in 2016 to start this new era of Eagles football, we understood [in ’16] that if we made the trade for the quarterback, we were going to lose some resources,” Roseman explains. “So we had to get creative in finding ways to improve our football team, and sometimes that means giving up picks, which you never want to do. The scouting staff, led by Joe Douglas, does an amazing job of spending all year of going over these draft prospects and being on the road and diving into it. So to ask them to sit out rounds of the draft is a hard thing to do, especially with the talent we have in our scouting department.
“At the same time, when you’ve seen a player in the NFL and you can see his value or his role for your team, it gives you added perspective where you don’t have to guess on the transition from one level to the next. That being said, if you keep doing it, you’re losing cost-effective draft picks that really are the bones of your team.”
At the 2016 draft, Roseman’s first with former head coach Chip Kelly out of the picture, the Eagles gave up a draft fortune to Cleveland to move up from the No. 8 pick to No. 2 to select QB Carson Wentz. Since then Roseman has been active as a trade partner, both receiving and dealing. In the past 13 months Roseman has:
• Traded for Timmy Jernigan and a lower 2017 third-round pick by sending a higher third-round pick to Baltimore;
• Sent Allen Barbre to Denver for a 2019 conditional pick;
• Traded Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick to Buffalo for Ronald Darby;
• Traded Matt Tobin and a 2018 seventh-round pick to Seattle for a ’18 fifth-round pick;
• Traded a 2018 fourth-round pick to Miami in exchange for Jay Ajayi and;
• Traded Marcus Johnson and a 2018 fifth-round pick to Seattle for Michael Bennett and a 2018 seventh rounder.
Roseman and the Eagles have had just six top-100 picks in the past three years combined, but the GM’s not concerned.
“Even when we look at our team and the guys that we’ve drafted, look at our first-round picks with Fletcher Cox, Nelson [Agholor], Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett,” Roseman says. “And then second-round picks, guys like Zach Ertz. Those guys are the lifeblood of our team, but at the same token, it’s hard to get good players in this league so we have to look at all avenues if we can.”
Roseman started exploring these roads during what he calls his “gap year”—when Eagles owner Jeffrey stripped Roseman of his player-evaluation role and gave control to Kelly at the end of the 2014 season. But that gave Roseman the opportunity in 2015 to visit with some of the top teams across sports and see what he could glean and bring back to Philadelphia.
“When you talk to GMs in baseball or basketball or hockey, the trade market’s much more active,” Roseman says. “It’s about finding win-win solutions. Just because we benefit from a trade doesn’t mean the other team has to lose. They can get what they need out of it, too. You see in a lot of our moves that the other team got good production out of what they got, whether it was draft picks or players as well. That’s OK. That’s how you can do more trades, by having win-win solutions.”
The Eagles’ biggest contract renegotiation of the 2018 offseason was labeled that way too. A week before the draft Philadelphia gave backup QB Nick Foles an extension and a raise. The contract is chock-full of incentives—$7 million worth—for 2018 that are mostly based around him taking the majority of snaps and winning football games. The deal also includes a 2019 salary of $20 million that will be mutually decided upon after the season. If Foles wants out, all he has to do is pay back his $2 million bonus he just received essentially for winning the Super Bowl.
Let’s not forget that Foles has been quick to submit that Wentz is the starter when he returns from an ACL tear that ended his 2017 season prematurely. When Wentz returns to 100% as the season closes in, Foles goes back to being the backup with a decent No. 2 salary and a good bonus for his postseason play. Should anything happen to Wentz, Foles can make $500,000 for every game he wins in which he took the majority of snaps. And catastrophe would have to strike for Foles to ever be paid $20 million in 2019 by Philadelphia, but at least the Eagles have helped set a market for Foles when, at 30 years old, he’ll be looking to be a starting quarterback elsewhere.
“Do I want to lead a team again? Absolutely,” Foles said at a press conference before the draft, alluding to comments he made to a Texas TV station earlier in April about wanting to be the top guy again in his career. “But am I trying run away and do that right now? If that presents itself and it works out then fine and I’ll live in that moment. But at the same time I’m so grateful to be a part of this organization. It is a really special place.”
The possibility of a Super Bowl repeat for the Eagles is as real as it was for the Patriots last season. Philadelphia’s biggest need this offseason was tight end after losing Trey Burton in free agency and cutting Brent Celek. But Roseman nabbed Richard Rodgers in free agency to back up Ertz, and Doug Pederson is already eyeing a Burton-like role in the offense for the rookie Goedert.
However, rookie tight ends have struggled recently in their first year in the league, so after drafting him, the Eagles didn’t sound like they were champing at the bit to get him in the starting lineup soon.
“We’ve got to go … you don’t want to say spoon-fed but piece-by-piece,” Pederson said, tempering any expectations of an immediate impact from their top pick. “You’ve got to start from the ground floor and work up. [Tight end] is a unique position because there’s run and pass involved. There’s running and blocking schemes. We’re going to start slow.”
From slow-playing their top draft pick to taking a flyer on a 6' 8", 346-pound Australian rugby player who has never played American football before, that’s the luxurious life of the 2018 Eagles.
Roseman summed it up perfectly after the Eagles took Florida State defensive end Josh Sweat in the fourth round. (Sweat suffered a gruesome knee injury in high school that no doubt scared away teams in the higher rounds.) Now he comes to Philadelphia where he’s squarely behind Bennett, Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and others on the depth chart.
“That’s what we call rich-man problems,” Roseman said.