Heading into the new season, the Philadelphia Eagles are in a position that many other teams in the NFL will envy. Since firing former coach Chip Kelly just over 4 years ago, the Eagles have established themselves as one of the premier organizations in the NFL, highlighted by an emphatic SBLII victory. But how has the organization able to turn around so rapidly and emphatically transitioning from the mess that was the Chip Kelly era? Let’s dive into driving forces that have the Eagles franchise poised for sustained success both on and off the field.
Leadership from the Top-down
The Eagles organization is spearheaded by Owner Jeffrey Lurie, executive VP of Football operations Howie Roseman and Head coach Doug Pederson. Each of them plays a pivotal role in driving the standards and culture that the Eagles have formed in recent history. For Lurie, he is willing to do whatever it takes financially to provide elite team facilities like The NovaCare Complex, to ultimately translate to wins on the field. Lurie also takes a ‘players-first’ approach, supporting their values and beliefs off the field. He backed them when many didn’t want to visit the White House after the Super Bowl Victory. In a league where owners have been criticized for their treatment of players, Lurie’s approach is refreshing for both fans and players alike.
Everybody knows the story that Jason Kelce recounted of Howie Roseman being locked away in the Eagles building and coming out a different man when Doug Pederson was hired. Looking at his performances in the offseason’s that followed the hire, it’s hard to discredit Roseman’s transformation. Since regrettably drafting Marcus Smith in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Roseman has come from being stripped of all decision-making power to emerging as one of the best in his role in the NFL. Through both the draft and free agency, Roseman has continually hit on playmakers on both sides of the ball, creating an upward trajectory for team success. We will touch on Roseman’s impact in more detail later in the piece.
Doug Pederson is arguably the most important cornerstone for the Eagles in terms of leadership. Since his hire in 2016, Pederson has truly turned the playing group and the locker room culture around. He is well respected within the organization and by the broader NFL community. Importantly, Pederson is a player’s coach. Graham Foley wrote a great article illustrating how Pederson recognized and acknowledged each individual player in the locker room following the heartbreaking playoff loss to the Saints. It’s this players-first approach that the Philadelphia Eagles as an organization value and strive for.
On the field, Pederson is aggressive, famously known for his willingness to go for it on fourth down. When a play call doesn’t come off, Pederson isn’t seen bemoaning his players. Instead, he takes accountability as the Head Coach and play caller of the offense, and puts it on himself to be better. It’s not often that the phrase ‘Playing for your coach’ is applicable, but the Eagles roster clearly rallies around Pederson. Look no further than the last two seasons and the sheer amount of injuries that decimated the playing group. Pederson preached the ‘next man up’ mentality, and if anything, performances improved the more adversity was experienced.
A Clear Strategy and Vision
The following section will primarily revolve around Howie Roseman and his involvement in using the offseason to shape the team’s direction. We all know Roseman’s prowess during free agency and the draft. The phrase HowieSZN was coined for this very reason. But Roseman is not simply getting lucky or blindly taking a stab at acquiring players during these periods. Instead, a methodical almost scientific approach is taken by the Eagles front office, fronted by Roseman.
Using data and analytics, Roseman is able to identify and target affordable free agents who can serve as valuable plug and play options. Recent examples that spring to mind include the 2017 FA class which included names like Alshon Jefferey, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Patrick Robinson, and Nick Foles. In years prior names like Brandon Brooks, Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins were signed. At the time, none of these signings jumped off the page, but each player listed came in at a reasonable cap hit, and pivotally played a crucial role in the Eagles run to Superbowl success.
Gone are the days of the splash free agent signings like DeMarco Murray, where instead sneaky good players who fly under the radar are brought in to fill a need on the roster. Eagles fans should be quietly excited for the impact that recent signings like Malik Jackson can have in season 2019. Importantly, Roseman shows the professionalism and discipline to not go after the top names in free agency (e.g. LeVeon Bell) and instead aggressively target players that can make an immediate impact without overpaying.
Another factor in Roseman’s detailed approach is the compensatory pick formula. Roseman and the Eagles front office know that an extension for Carson Wentz is looming, so the team will have to shift to building through the draft, thus stockpiling compensatory picks is a key goal for Howie.
A further strategy that Roseman has made vital to the Eagles success is the recognition for value trades. A value trade can be classified as a trade for a player on an expiring contract with a lower base salary in return for mid-to later round picks. Players like Jay Ajayi, Golden Tate. DeSean Jackson and Jordan Howard were all acquired for a 3rd rounder or lower. For what the Eagles give up, they are able to acquire an impact player who can provide a point of difference needed for the offense.
What’s more, trading for players does not count against the compensatory pick formula, and if that particular player leaves through free agency when their contract expires, the Eagles will receive a similar round pick they gave up through the comp pick formula. Although a little complicated to understand, this strategy has been important during the course of the season, as it allows the Eagles to pick up an instant role player on the cheap, whilst being insured through comp picks.
Roseman has become a master of the offseason. Through a myriad of moves, he was able to transform the Eagles cap situation from one of the worst in the league to currently having just over $27 mil in the cap at this moment. Everything is calculated with Roseman, from free agent pickups to in-season trades to gathering comp picks and building through the draft in preparation for Carson Wentz’s extension. With Roseman at the helm, the Eagles are in good hands and fans can undoubtedly trust in #HowieSZN.
The players have bought in
We’ve touched on strong leadership in the front office and coaching staff, but one of the strongest assets of the Eagles playing group is the sheer amount of leaders and strong characters in the locker room. On the defensive side field, players like Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins lead through their actions, putting the unit on their back. On the offense, names like Kelce, Johnson, and Peters drive the O-Line, and the organization has put their faith in Wentz and his leadership abilities.
Key players on the Eagles roster have shown unselfishness and have bought into the vision that the front office has for the team. Pro Bowl caliber players like Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Rod McLeod, and Jason Kelce have all agreed to restructure their contracts for the betterment of the team. Howie Roseman’s proficiency in creating cap space and landing important free agents would not be possible without the players having a team-first attitude and setting an example for others on the Eagles roster.
Whilst not maybe being star-names on the field, players like Chris Long (the reigning Walter Payton Man of the Year), serve as important role models for younger players and illustrate what a true professional looks like. Off the field, a large number of players are involved in charity work, driving the importance the organization places on having a positive impact outside of Lincoln Financial Field. The playing group is tight and seems to genuinely like each other as people, not just as colleagues.
We see their involvement in each other’s off-field ventures and the banter on Twitter and Instagram. The Eagles have invested in players who are good people who embrace the team’s culture and what it means to be an athlete in Philadelphia. Talk of locker room cancers and disputes between players have become a rarity in recent times for the Eagles, and this past season was littered with moments of players rallying around each other.
In Week 14 Jalen Mills consoled a shattered Rasul Douglas following a freak tipped pass that results in a walk-off TD v the Cowboys. Following the Saints playoff game, Alshon Jeffery was backed by his coach and his teammates. After intense scrutiny, senior players threw their support behind Carson Wentz and the face and future of the franchise. This is more than just players forming a team, it’s a brotherhood.
So Eagles Fans, the future is bright. The organization is built to win now, whilst also having a strategy building for the near future. With pillars like Lurie, Roseman, Pederson and key players spearheading the team, Eagles fans can be primed for plenty more success and silverware.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports