The rise and fall of Howie Roseman as Eagles GM

Posted: January 10, 2015

For Howie Roseman, last week's Eagles front-office shake-up cut short his childhood dream of being an NFL general manager.

Regardless of his new title as the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations, Roseman will not hold the role that completed a rapid ascent in the organization. He was stripped of the player-evaluation duties he had spent much of his 15-year Eagles career trying to prove he could fulfill.

On the day Andy Reid was fired, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie endorsed Roseman. Lurie explained how he kept "voluminous notes" on the decision-makers from the 2010, 2011, and 2012 drafts and offseasons.

"I came to the conclusion that the person that was providing by far the best talent evaluation in the building was Howie Roseman," Lurie said on Dec. 31, 2012.

Roseman is still in the building. He will no longer be providing talent evaluations, though.

His five-year tenure as general manager ended last week, when Lurie handed coach Chip Kelly control of the personnel department and gave Roseman a new title, a longer contract, and more money - but stripped Roseman of the part of the job that Lurie had said Roseman did better than anyone else. It was an abrupt about-face from an owner who had said Roseman would remain the general manager just days earlier.

Roseman, Kelly, and Lurie all have been unavailable for comment since the moves were made, despite repeated requests. Although there is clarity about the control that Kelly now possesses, Roseman's role is more nebulous. He is responsible for contract negotiations and salary-cap management while overseeing the team's medical and equipment staffs. His negotiating and cap responsibilities involve him in personnel, but he does not have a say in roster moves - just how much the players will get paid in what year.

That leaves Roseman's future uncertain. He's essentially back to the role he had before he was general manager, albeit with more managerial responsibility and better professional and financial security. But it also seems counter to how he's wired.

Roseman aggressively tried to combat the stigma of not being a "football guy," a rigid and inexact term assigned to general managers and coaches with traditional football backgrounds.

His own resumé as a general manager includes mixed results. The Eagles went 42-38 in the regular season during Roseman's five seasons as GM, with two playoff berths. There were some head-scratching draft picks and some savvy ones. He had free-agent signings that backfired, and signings that were fruitful. And there was seemingly constant transition - with a churning roster, a revolving door in the front office, and coaching changes.

Roseman developed a reputation as a dogged manager who would try to find any advantage and could not stand losing a negotiation. He also developed a reputation for being political and trying to preserve his position.

"The attributes that allowed him to be successful . . . and allowed him to rise quickly through the organization really hurt him when he got to the top," a former team employee said. "Howie is motivated by fear. . . . He's afraid of missing on scouts, he's afraid of missing on players, he's afraid of missing on coaches. He wants the best. Unfortunately, it leaves him and everyone else around him in a state of perpetual unrest."

Roseman's aggressiveness was evident in a league-high 28 player trades since he become general manager. Most resulted in inconsequential returns, such as trading D.J. Johnson for Ollie Ogbu. Other deals have provided the Eagles with significant value, such as sending third-round and fourth-round picks for DeMeco Ryans and a third-round pick (which was used to draft Nick Foles), and trading a fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles. The Eagles will have an extra fourth-rounder this spring that Roseman acquired in the Bryce Brown trade to Buffalo. Then there were some that brought back players who never lived up to their billing: Remember Ernie Sims and Darryl Tapp?

But they demonstrated Roseman's understanding of the league and persistence in trying to upgrade every spot. The Eagles always had flexibility with picks and cap space to address needs. The 2010 deal to acquire Tapp from Seattle for Chris Clemons took nearly a month for the Eagles and Seahawks to pull off, and Seahawks general manager John Schneider lauded Roseman's creativity after the deal was made.

The most evident blemish on Roseman's record is free agency, where the returns have often not been fruitful enough to justify the expense or opportunity cost. Roseman said the Eagles learned lessons from the ill-fated "Dream Team" free-agent signing spree in 2011, highlighted by poorly evaluating Nnamdi Asomugha.

The front office was unstable for much of Roseman's tenure. Tom Gamble's ouster last week continued a line of personnel executives who departed. Some of the exits were motivated by a search for more authority, which cannot be pinned on Roseman. But there's reason to believe others left because they could not get along with Roseman.

One former employee also credited Roseman for identifying and finding young talent on the scouting staff, and another respected the fact that Roseman surrounded himself with established voices - from Tom Donahue to Phil Savage.

The question of evaluation ability will always come up with Roseman. Lurie was a staunch advocate of Roseman's evaluation skills, although Lurie was also closer with Roseman than some others in the building. Lurie absolved Roseman from responsibility in some of the Eagles' ill-fated decisions early in his tenure, such as the 2011 draft picks. Lurie said he would begin evaluating Roseman only for the 2012 draft, which was the Eagles' most fruitful in recent seasons.

In the NFL, a bad decision is often an orphan, with many claiming to father the good decisions. Roseman had a clear strength in understanding the market forces and valuing players. So he had a keen sense of when a player would get drafted or how much that player should earn, but maybe less so on how a player would function within a system.

"He could tell you that a guy would go in the second round - he couldn't tell you if that player would be good," a former team employee said.

The valuation skills were clear with the most recent draft, when Kelly wanted players sooner than Roseman assured Kelly they would be picked. Even the selection of Marcus Smith was fueled by where they projected him to be drafted, although there are lingering questions about who is responsible for what could prove to be an error.

The Eagles believed there would be a run on pass rushers late in the first round and early in the second round, so once their six targeted players were unavailable at No. 22, they determined they needed to take a pass rusher late in the first round if they were going to get one.

"We didn't want to get too greedy," Roseman said in May. "We didn't want to get to no man's [land] where . . . all the players that we're targeting are gone, and we're picking from the next tier."

Perhaps Roseman's crowning achievement as general manager was helping to land Kelly. Lurie lauded Roseman's persistence in the pursuit. The irony is that decision began the end of Roseman's time as general manager, because it was Kelly's desire for a new front-office structure that ultimately led to the change.


Roseman's Best and Worst

The Eagles' decision-making process was ambiguous for much of Howie Roseman's five years as general manager, with Andy Reid, Joe Banner, and Chip Kelly all powerful voices during that process. But Roseman was still the general manager, and here are five good and bad decisions from his five-year tenure:

FIVE BEST DECISIONS

Trading up in the first round to acquire Fletcher Cox. The Eagles targeted Cox in the 2012 draft, and Roseman dealt the No. 15 pick, a fourth-round pick, and a sixth-round pick to move up three spots and snatch Cox.

Hiring Chip Kelly. Working with owner Jeffrey Lurie and president Don Smolenski, Roseman helped in the Eagles' pursuit of the coach.

Acquiring DeMeco Ryans. The Eagles needed stability and leadership on defense, and they found it when Roseman dealt a fourth-round pick and swapped third-rounders with Houston to bring in Ryans.

LeSean McCoy's contract extension. Roseman rewarded one of his top young players when he locked up McCoy with a five-year, $45 million extension in May 2012. McCoy was only 23 at the time.

Signing Connor Barwin. With the Eagles transitioning to a 3-4 defense before the 2013 season, Roseman struck gold by signing Barwin to a six-year, $36 million deal. Barwin has developed into a Pro Bowl performer with the Eagles.

FIVE WORST DECISIONS

Signing Nnamdi Asomugha. Roseman thought the Eagles were getting an elite cornerback when Asomugha inked a five-year, $60 million deal in 2011. But Asomugha was past his prime, and the Eagles cut him after two seasons.

Drafting Danny Watkins. The Eagles spent the No. 23 pick in 2011 on a 26-year-old guard with little football experience. Watkins became one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.

Spending a fourth-round pick on a kicker. Alex Henery was solid in his three Eagles seasons, but investing a fourth-round pick in a kicker requires a greater return.

First round of the 2014 draft. The Eagles targeted six players in the first round. When none of them fell to No. 22, they moved back four spots and reached for Marcus Smith.

Passing on Earl Thomas. In 2010, the Eagles traded up in the draft to take Brandon Graham. Graham has been a solid contributor, but they passed on Earl Thomas, who has become one of the NFL's top safeties.

- Zach Berman


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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