Howie Roseman relentlessly pursued NFL dream

Posted: July 19, 2010

Fresh out of Fordham Law School a mere 10 years ago, Howie Roseman showed up at Veterans Stadium ready for the first day of his Eagles internship. He felt as high as a first-round draft choice.

"I come in, I'm wearing a shirt and tie - I'm in the National Football League," Roseman said.

Roseman reported to Joe Banner, the Eagles' president, who had hired him to concentrate on salary cap issues. Right away, Roseman had a question for his new boss: "Where do I sit?"

Banner told Roseman the truth. "We don't really have a place for you." Then Banner came up with the solution. He walked to his administrative assistant's desk and slapped the top of it. "You know what?" Banner told the new unpaid intern. "We're going to put you right there."

It was at the end of the desk, - "no place to put his legs, if I remember right," Banner said.

That didn't bode well for his future, Roseman thought. They wouldn't even commit to a space. Roseman didn't let it faze him, though. All those letters he'd sent to every NFL team, going back to high school, didn't come with a list of job demands. He was just looking to get in. And he was in.

"I'm 24 years old. I'm in the National Football League," Roseman said.

This guy would become the Eagles employee entrusted a couple of years later with negotiating player contracts under the tutelage of Banner. That wouldn't be Roseman's ceiling, either. He would add responsibilities on the player personnel side and eventually move into an office next to Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Before Roseman turned 35, he would rise to the very job he dreamed of as a boy - general manager in the National Football League.

Make no mistake, as the Eagles pondered some of the biggest decisions in the franchise's history over the last couple of years, Roseman may not have had a vote - there are no actual votes, the Eagles don't operate that way - but he had a seat at the oval table, often right next to Reid, right across from Banner, and a voice he wasn't afraid to use.

 "I think one of the reasons I'm in this role here is because I have strong opinions that I hope to back up with information," Roseman said. "I don't just throw them out there. And I do not back down from them."

"Was he crazy?"

All the NFL teams had begun getting Roseman's letters while he was still in high school in Marlboro, N.J., in Monmouth County. His persistence stepped up when he was an undergraduate at the University of Florida through his time at Fordham Law.

Roseman would study the bios of NFL front-office personnel, looking for anybody who might provide an in. At the faintest pulse of interest, he'd call administrative assistants, getting to know several by name.

Roseman's job inquiries had gone largely unacknowledged, even unnoticed. While the rest of the NFL ignored Roseman, Mike Tannenbaum, the pro personnel director of the Jets, spoke to him.

He explained why: "I've got five minutes. The only reason I'm even going to spend five minutes . . . I look at my resumé file, I have 20 letters from you, and every time I send you a rejection, you'd send a thank you for the rejection."

One early brush-off from Banner at the Eagles stated, "We don't have anything, but we'll keep you in mind for summer opportunities.' "

"That was like a yes to me," Roseman said.

Roseman's perseverance got him noticed behind the closed doors, at least a couple of them. Whether this was a positive development was still to be determined. Roseman had become kind of a running joke between a couple of NFL executives, Banner of the Eagles and Tannenbaum of the Jets.

"Could somebody be that persistent and be normal?" Tannenbaum, now the Jets' general manager, said recently, thinking back to Roseman's job hunt.

Banner had the same question.

"Was this guy the most persistent guy in the history of America or was he crazy?" Banner said, saying that Roseman's letters seemed to be coming in daily. "Should we stay away from him, or should one of us interview him?"

In 1999, Tannenbaum's curiosity finally got the better of him. The Jets had an entry-level opening in player personnel. Tannenbaum, then VP of personnel, decided to interview the job stalker.

"I remember Mike called me up one day," Banner said. "We had agreed. You know what, we think he's crazy. But Mike said, 'You won't even believe this. I've got an opening, and I've decided I'm going to meet this guy. I've just got to see what he's like.' "

"Do it where there are a lot of people around," Banner joked to Tannenbaum.

Better next year

Roseman's current office, his fourth different one at the NovaCare Complex, has a door propped slightly open to allow in a breeze. His own administrative assistant sits just outside. The door opens to a second-floor balcony overlooking the Eagles' practice field. Roseman's desk faces away from the light, toward the big screen on the wall. When a reporter showed up, the GM froze the game he was watching from the 2009 season, explaining that he and his staff have to be aware of all potential free-agent pickups going into training camp.

"You're never in the moment," Roseman said. "During the season, you're living and dying with every game obviously, but I'm thinking about how we can get better for next year, what team are we putting together for next year."

Roseman talks easily about his own life. He seems comfortable in his own skin, not out to prove how much he knows. He also speaks with a bit of drama in his syntax. When Roseman speaks of the NFL, he never calls it the NFL or the league. It is always the "National Football League."

On the wall just to the right of the flat screen is the Eagles' depth chart. Over on another wall, to the right of the door, is the Eagles' starting lineup. Also on that wall is a little inspiration - the starting lineups of the Cowboys, the group that trampled the Eagles twice to end last season, and the starting lineups of the two most recent Super Bowl teams, the Saints and Colts.

For an outsider, it would be tempting to grab one of the chairs on the balcony and watch the day's off-season workout from there. Great view, and you can stay in the shade. But that's not how it's done.

For the practice, Roseman changes from khakis and a button-down shirt, to black shorts and a white T-shirt, a generic look that out on the practice field could cause you to peg Roseman as an intern. And when the practice ends, Roseman runs off with the players - at one point putting his right arm around the shoulder of Eagles star receiver DeSean Jackson, shaking hands with his left, sharing a laugh.

Howie?

Who knows if Banner would have taken a chance on Roseman if Tannenbaum hadn't first decided to call Roseman about that Jets job.

That job didn't call for an attorney's skill set, Tannenbaum said. That was fine with Roseman. All along, he said, he wanted to work in personnel. The Jets' internship opening was in scouting, writing up reports. Tannenbaum talked to Roseman on the phone, then brought him in for an interview with other candidates. There was another man in the room for the interview.

Bill Parcells.

The Jets' coach at the time, Parcells stuck out his hand. Roseman introduced himself

"Howie? Howie? I know one other guy named Howie," Parcells told him, as Roseman remembers it. "Howie Long. And the reason he could get away with Howie, he was 6-foot-4, 275 pounds. You sure you want to go with that?" 

"Yeah, Coach. I do." 

Later, Tannenbaum called Roseman and told him, "I can't hire you; these guys are more qualified. This is what I'll do. You tell anybody in the NFL you've talked to me, and I'll talk to them."

After finishing law school, Roseman took (and passed) the bar in New York and New Jersey - "my deal with my parents as an insurance policy in case football didn't work.''

But he didn't apply for any jobs outside of football, no backups yet. That's why Tannenbaum's promise to vouch for him was pivotal.

At the same time, Roseman said, "I actually had been pestering Joe [Banner] for a job." He doubled up on that effort, calling Banner's administrative assistant, Lee Ann Hartley, to explain how she now needed to get Banner to call him. Roseman had no idea, and neither did she, that he'd soon be anchored to the end of her desk.

Nor did Roseman know that when the Eagles' president was just out of college, Banner used to blindly write NFL teams himself, looking for an in.

Wanted it so bad

The easy caricature here is of some mono-focused nerd meant to be mocked by football gods such as Parcells.

Roseman apparently brought along other skills. He was enough of a salesman, for example, to persuade Mindy, then managing the investment-banking analyst program at Lehman Brothers, to marry him. (Now they have two children, Jake and Emma). He always had more sides to him.

"Howie's personality has always been sort of laid-back and subtle in the way he goes about things but passionate about everything," said Eric Zemarchson, a friend since childhood. "He wasn't like the student council rah-rah guy. He was always the plan-maker. If it was a Saturday night, taking a trip to Atlantic City - you just leave it in his hands and you know it's going to get done."

He clearly had some smarts, too. "He scored the highest on the SAT of all my friends," said another friend, Brian Hymowitz, who added that Roseman is the first person he still calls for advice.

Roseman, who turned 35 last month, traces his obsession to work in the NFL back to early grade school in Monmouth County. Those roots were prosaic. From certain angles, he was just another kid who liked sports.

"There's no rhyme or reason," Roseman said. "I didn't come from a family that was heavily involved in football. I didn't come from a family that was obsessed with sports."

His personal interest, Roseman said, was early and immediate.

"It was 1981, I was 6 years old. The Jets were involved in the playoffs. I remember watching those games, being just immediately obsessed with it," Roseman said. He became a Jets fan. "From there, I just took on probably this unnatural obsession with football and sports in general. I wish I was a better player and athlete, but I was always into it. I got every magazine, every newspaper."

He didn't use the word obsession lightly.

"It would be Sunday, Labor Day weekend," Roseman said. "My mom would go, 'All right, we're going to the beach.' I'd go, 'You guys can go wherever you want. I'm staying here [watching a game].' I'm 7 or 8 years old. It was what I was all about. I'd be 9 or 10, people would ask what I was going to do. I'd say, I'm going to be the general manager of a National Football League team. They used to laugh."

As time went on, Roseman studied professional players, but "there was a time when I used to study all these general managers. Frank Cashen of the Mets. The Jets had Dick Steinberg, who was a heck of a GM."

Growing up, Roseman had plenty of friends. He played all the sports.

"We used to play football in this old parking lot," said Roseman's friend Zemarchson, who now works in commercial real estate in Manhattan. "He used to wear a Richard Todd [Jets] jersey."

"He would always comment on the arm he had, that he could be an NFL quarterback," said Hymowitz, now a chiropractor in Langhorne. "To be honest, he did have a good arm."

Roseman never played high school football. "My mother wouldn't sign a permission slip," he said matter-of-factly. "She thought I was too small." But he didn't shy from contact, wrestling for Marlboro High, usually as a 126-pounder.

Self-esteem never seemed to be an issue. His parents were divorced. His mother owns a women's clothing store on Route 9 in Manalapan. His father taught school and retired as an assistant principal on Staten Island. His stepfather also was a big part of his life, said his mother, Rhona Bernstein. "He was very influential. He always gave Howie support and a positive self-image. He always told Howie he was going to be a star."

Howie's career plan was no secret to his mother.

"He knew what he wanted," Rhona Bernstein said. "He was never a wishy-washy kid."

The University of Florida was attractive to Roseman largely because it was home of the Gators.

"I loved college football. I knew I wanted to go to the University of Florida," Roseman said. "Again, no rhyme or reason. I just loved Florida football. I loved the way they played. My whole goal was to get to a college that allowed me to get a kind of football education and try to get in."

Roseman took school seriously; he had a 3.8 GPA at Florida, he said. If anything, his belief in his future career only gained in intensity. One year, he roomed with Jedd Fisch. The roommates had a lot in common: Fisch wasn't a Gators football player, but he was at Florida specifically because Steve Spurrier was the coach there, because he wanted to study Spurrier, to become a coach himself. Fisch even worked as an assistant coach at a local high school while still an undergraduate.

"I'd prepare for the draft all year. I'd have all these magazines in front of me at the draft," Roseman said. "Jedd used to make fun of me. The Jets would make a pick. I'd say, 'What are they doing? Why don't they take this guy or this guy?'

"Howie would be getting his draft board ready," Fisch said. "I'd say, 'They're not listening to you. They don't know you exist.' "

Roseman would shoot back, "Coach Spurrier doesn't know you exist."

Of course, Roseman also took a course taught by Spurrier.

The pair have stayed close and love the old stories now, given their current jobs. Fisch eventually went to work as a graduate assistant for Spurrier. He is now the quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

Kindred souls.

"He wanted it so bad," Fisch said of Roseman.

This is what we want

That sliver of desk space in the last days of the Vet turned out to be a blessing for Roseman. The Eagles' offices were split up on different floors.

"It gave me a great opportunity," Roseman said. "There weren't a lot of pro scouts; we didn't have a lot of college scouts in the building. The office was kind of dead at 6 or 6:30."

The personnel director, Mike McCartney, and an assistant, Bobby DePaul, were in there, though.

"I'd just go back [to the personnel office] and start watching tape," Roseman said. "I was this intern. Nobody was intimidated by me. I was sitting at the corner of a desk. If anything, they felt bad for me."

Within a few months, the Eagles officially hired him at a token salary - $250 a week, something like that, Roseman said. His title: salary cap/staff counsel. It's not as if he left his persistence at the door. Watching tape wasn't part of his job. That didn't deter him.

"When you didn't know him, it was almost too much," Banner said. "Once we met him, we were like, 'Whoa, this is what we want.' Somebody who wants it that badly, I don't care what it takes. I don't care about the commute. I don't care what I get paid. I don't care what job you give me. I don't care where I have to sit. That will take care of itself in time. If you're hiring somebody at that level, that's exactly what you're hoping to see."

Remember, that sliver of desk wasn't just any desk but the one right outside Banner's office. In the beginning, Roseman's job was to do research. Simple stuff. Banner would be working on a fifth-round draft choice, for instance.

"Let's say it was the 120th pick," Banner said, explaining how he would have Roseman research details on the previous year's contracts for the 119th through 121st picks. That would be enough for Banner to negotiate the deal.

"He'd come back with the last three years of the 119th pick and an analysis of how much the deal increased every year and what escalators if any there were," Banner said. "You'd end up with a little book."

Or Banner would tell the intern to find out how many wide receivers had caught more than 60 balls in their third year in the league.

"He'd come back with eight other questions he'd thought of himself," Banner said. "Kind of framing the argument and making the case. And, by the way, here's the argument [the player's agent] may use."

McCartney was in his last year as the Eagles' director of pro personnel before leaving to join a sports agency. He remembers being a fan of Roseman the intern.

"You could just see he was working hard watching tape, developing strong opinions," McCartney said. "He was real quickly coming up with some unique studies. He would come down to my office, 'Hey, here's something I'm exploring.' I remember thinking, 'Hey, this is pretty interesting.' "

In turn, Roseman recalls getting important advice from McCartney. In his earliest scouting reports, Roseman would emphasize how a player was a leader off the field, that sort of thing. McCartney explained that he was putting the cart before the horse, that teams first had to evaluate football players as football players.

"Stick to the field," McCartney advised him.

Take a step back

Roseman's responsibilities quickly began to grow. About a year in, Banner gave him contracts to negotiate, at first "with agents that I was really close to," said Banner, who had been negotiating all the deals himself. "No. 1, I knew they wouldn't mistreat him. No. 2, I knew I could get a feel for - what did he know, what didn't he know? . . . I'm expecting [the agents] to come back with some constructive criticisms."

The feedback, Banner said, was all positive. The kid was sharp. That added to Banner's sense that he could put a little more on Roseman's plate. When the Eagles moved into the NovaCare Complex, Roseman's first real office was one that had been designed to be a supply closet - and is a supply closet now, with cases of bottled water and autographed footballs and Eagles helmets for use by the Eagles' corporate sales staff.

For several years, however, that was Roseman's office. It wasn't much. No window even. But Roseman had room to stretch out, territory to mark as his own. He seemed to get along pretty well with players and their agents.

"We'd have off-the-field discussions," said former Eagles linebacker Shawn Barber. "Howie would ask, 'Are you enjoying your experience? Is the city of Philadelphia providing you an enjoyable experience? Is the food, is that done right?' It was kind of cool to talk about things that weren't salary-based."

Roseman wasn't satisfied just being the contract negotiator, the salary-cap expert. When Tom Heckert arrived in 2001 as pro personnel director, "I was really one of the few holdovers in the front office," Roseman said. "That was a great opportunity for me right away. Tom was a young guy. It was easy to kind of be by Tom's side. I probably oversold [my background] a little bit. I told him, 'I'll watch players for you, whatever.' Tom had great energy. It was fun to be around. That was a great opportunity for me."

Around that time, Roseman got to know Reid better, too.

"Coach kind of has this thing - no walls. We're all in this together," Roseman said.

"Anything you can do to help, great. That probably went on for two or three years. They'd both said to me, Tom and Andy, listen make sure you know the cap stuff, make sure we're on the cap, with the contracts. Whatever you do after that, no problem. . . . Nobody ever said, you can't do this," Roseman said.

He added, "I took an inch, made it a mile."

He mostly did this by writing up scouting reports, "I'd give them to Tom, give them to Andy, give them to Joe," Roseman said. "I was not on the road at that time. I probably did 150 college players from 2003 to 2006 [just from watching tape] and in 2007 I started going on the road a little bit, just a little bit. Once I went on the road, I felt like I had so much of a better feel for players."

Before he went on the road, "I'd put a grade on a guy and I didn't know he'd have some off-the-field concerns or he didn't love to play the game," Roseman said. "I got on the road and saw you talked to strength coaches and position coaches and got the full picture. I was like, this is beautiful, this is great. Now I have all the information to really do the job."

Did Banner or Reid or Heckert ever tell him to take a step back, that he was moving too fast?

"That probably did happen at some point," Roseman said. "I'm a passionate guy. I probably had energy or passion about a particular player. There probably was a time where I didn't go about it the right way. I got excited. That happens. That happens with my guys now. . . . I understand. I was a young guy. Every day walking into this building was unbelievable."

His own man

When Roseman was promoted to director of football administration in 2003, it attracted little notice around the league. Same for when Roseman was named vice president of football administration in 2006. But when he became vice president of player personnel in 2008, that attracted attention. Salary-cap specialists had become part of the NFL landscape, but now one of these lawyers was switching over to the scouting side?

Roseman learned skills in law school that transfer to his current job. When he is talking to a prospective player, he said, it helps to know the answers to the questions he is asking.

"So I want to read their body language and make sure they are telling the truth, for one, and when they're explaining the situation, they'e looking me in the eye and owning up to that,'' Roseman said.

Bànner said he began to trust Roseman's opinions after hearing his evaluations of the team's own players.

"He had the courage to swim upstream in either direction," Banner said. "He would be sitting talking about our own players, and he would have insights or project that somebody was going to be good sometimes before we realized it."

Roseman also was smart enough to realize that he worked for Reid, not just Banner. In-house, he never went around Reid, team sources said, and also was "very attuned to trying to get Andy's ear on a lot of matters," as one former administrator put it.

So it was no surprise - actually it was a foregone conclusion - that when Heckert left for Cleveland earlier this year, Roseman took over as GM.

"It puts Joe Banner as kind of the catalyst," said agent Jerrold Colton, who represents Eagles kicker David Akers. "It's their kind of move. It shows the mentality of the Eagles. They maybe put more trust in their business-savvy guys than their football guys."

Maybe so, but it isn't a unique situation, either. Tannenbaum of the Jets has a law degree, not a scouting background. Rob Brzezinski, the VP of football operations in Minnesota, is another attorney who began as a salary cap specialist. Carolina GM Marty Hurney was a sportswriter who joined Washington's PR department and eventually became a cap specialist.

Within the NovaCare Complex, Roseman's ties with Banner did not go unnoticed. Even sales staffers noted over the years how Roseman and Banner regularly had lunch together in the cafeteria.

So how can Roseman convince people, within the league and within the organization, that he is his own man, not just a Joe Banner guy?

"Well, being associated with Joe Banner is a huge positive," Roseman said. "He's maybe the smartest person I know. He's got tremendous family values. He's dedicated to this organization, this football team, trying to make it better. So that's a positive in its own right."

But, Roseman said, "I don't think there's anybody who spends a lot of time with me who doesn't think I'm my own guy. I have my own set of opinions. Joe will probably tell you that I gave him more of a hard time about things than anyone."

Roseman also said coming out with "a united front" is a crucial part of the Eagles' internal structure.

"Making sure that people come with different viewpoints, if they feel that way, and then make the right decisions, then just go in that direction," Roseman said. "We're all in this together. Same thing with Coach. I've been with Coach for 11 years now. My office was next to Andy for three years."

On the issue of Roseman as a Banner guy, Banner had almost the same response as Roseman.

"Howie and I are very, very close," Banner said. "We're close friends. We're very close working partners. We have a lot of respect and affection for each other. He's a strongly opinionated guy with a lot of conviction. He's going to fight for what he believes in. He's never going to be anybody's guy - my guy, Andy's guy, whoever. That's just not who he is. ... People I respect and work best with are very strong and have conviction and fight for what they believe in."

Now Roseman is in charge of hiring the scouts and others within the organization. In that role, Roseman said, "I used to joke with that when someone would send me an e-mail and then not follow up they were off my list because of the struggles I went through to even get a call back."

Was he joking? Roseman made it clear he wasn't. Roseman never waited for the phone to ring. When he began his job search, he knew nobody in the NFL. He didn't even know anybody who knew anybody. Look at him now.

 "I just kept going, not taking no for an answer," Roseman said.


 

Follow the series every day at www.philly.com/behindthepower.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen

at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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