It isn’t a great time to be Howie Roseman in Philadelphia. The Super Bowl high is long gone and fans are beginning to direct their ire towards anyone and everyone. #HowieSeason is but a distant, fading memory and even Jim Schwartz has been sighted throwing the beleaguered Eagles GM under the bus in a recent press conference. Even I have taken my shots at Howie both on twitter and on this site in an article where I looked back at every draft class since 2016.
But are the criticisms of Howie Roseman overblown? How should you even evaluate a general manager?
There are three basic functions of a general manager in the NFL. Today we are going to take a deep dive into all three and attempt to answer these questions once and for all.
1) Talent Acquisition
The part of a general manager’s job that is seen most by the public is talent acquisition. This includes drafting prospects, signing UDFAs, and signing free agents. So how does Howie stack up in each category?
There are obvious issues with Howie’s draft track record. You know it and I know it. The 2017 draft class only has 2 players left from it, Derek Barnett and Nate Gerry. Derek Barnett has vastly underperformed his draft slot and Nate Gerry shouldn’t even be on an NFL roster. The 2019 draft class only made 5 selections and 2 of the 5 are no longer on the team. Of the other 3 picks, 1 is almost certainly a bust (JJAW) and another one is trending solidly in that direction (Andre Dillard). While it is too early to judge the 2020 draft class, day 2 was an unmitigated disaster as the Eagles spent their 2nd round pick on a backup QB and their 3rd round pick on a project linebacker that can’t seem to even find his way into the stadium on game day.
However, it hasn’t all been bad on draft day under Roseman. In 2016 the Eagles leveraged significant draft capital to move up and select franchise QB Carson Wentz. Even after the move up, the Eagles still walked away with a starting LG in Isaac Seumalo, a backup swing tackle/spot starter in Big V, and a long term starter at CB and now S in Jalen Mills. In 2018 the Eagles selected Jordan Mailata as a project offensive linemen and he has looked very good this season when forced into action. Similarly, Josh Sweat has produced in the pass-rushing rotation.
When Howie Roseman makes draft picks it isn’t always bad. So what should be the expectation for draft picks? How many bad picks is too many?
According to data compiled by Over the Cap, things may not be as bad as fans feel like they are on the drafting front. They tabulated data on the 2016-2018 draft classes and found that the Eagles success rate (draft pick hit rate minus the expected hit rate determined by pick slot) was 10.2%. That means that the Eagles hit rate was 10.2% above what was expected given their draft capital. That rate was 3rd highest in the league. Additionally, their data showed that 66.7% of the draft picks were still on the Eagles team which was tied for 11th in the league. Over the Cap also developed a formula to project playtime performance (the amount of playing time draft picks got minus their expected playtime) and found that the Eagles ranked 17th in that category.
What does all of that mean? It means that the Eagles draft players who stick in the NFL more frequently than expected and rank in the top third of the league at retaining the talent that they draft while being about league average when it comes to playing time for those prospects. Are there flaws with their data? sure there are. I wouldn’t consider a 1st round pick who is buried on a depth chart a hit in the draft, but their data does. I wouldn’t consider a player like Nate Gerry who was a draft pick in this time frame and who plays over 90% of the snaps a positive since he isn’t good but only plays because there is no one else there, but their formulas do.
The bottom line is this: There is no way to uniformly and accurately measure drafting success, but these numbers seem to indicate that Roseman might not be as bad as people like to think. In reality, every team has big draft misses, but fans only tend to remember their own team’s busts.
Another important part of talent acquisition is free agency. How a general manager handles free agency can ruin a franchise’s future or it can give them the last push they need to contend for a Super Bowl. Here are some of Roseman’s big signings over the last several years.
In 2017 Roseman signed Nick Foles to a 2-year deal worth $11 million. Later that year Foles walked out of the Super Bowl with an MVP award.
Patrick Robinson was signed to a 1-year deal worth $775,000 and then received the highest slot corner grade of anyone in the NFL that season.
Blount signed a 1-year deal for $1.25 million in 2017 and, though he was nowhere nearly as good as people seem to remember him being, he was a solid contributor to a Super Bowl team.
Jake Elliott was signed off of a practice squad and then 1 week later kicked a 61 yard, game-winning field goal. He remains the teams kicker 3 years later.
Fort signed a 3-year deal for $5.5 million. He was ultimately cut from the team (more on that later), but he has proven he was worth more than that since signing a 2-year $5.5 million extension with the Ravens.
LeBlanc seems to make plays every time he is in the game and is yet another player who Roseman acquired for nothing after claiming him off of waivers.
Fulgham was claimed off of waivers and is now the team’s leading receiver.
Howie Roseman is never afraid to make a splash in free agency. Some of his moves don’t work out, but many of them do and it is important to give him credit for finding some of the guys that he does.
Undrafted Free Agents
Corey Clement, Greg Ward, Cameron Johnston, Josh Adams, Nate Herbig, TJ Edwards. Those are some of the UDFAs that Roseman has brought in over the last few years. Every one of these players is still with the team except Adams. Of the players on the team, all are contributing in a major way this season except for Clement. It sometimes seems that Howie lands better prospects as UDFAs than he does with draft picks. His ability to find no-name players that go undrafted, live on a practice squad, or get waived from their current team is a seriously underrated aspect of what Howie does.
The next aspect of a general manager’s job is working the trade market. Trading isn’t as common in the NFL as in other professional sports, but it is becoming more common and no one is a more active trader than Howie Roseman. Here are just a few of his trades since 2016:
Chip Kelly gave DeMarco Murray a massive contract before he fell off a cliff as a player. Howie was able to move that contract and move up 13 spots in the 4th round while doing it. Murray was going to be cut if the Eagles couldn’t find a suitor, so this was a pretty great outcome for the team.
Carson Wentz Trade-Up
I still can’t believe the Carson Wentz trade up actually happened. It all started when Roseman dealt 2 more Chip Kelly screw-ups (Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell) to move from pick #13 to pick #8. Then he flipped that #8 pick, a 3rd, a 4th, a 2017 1st, and a 2018 2nd to the Browns to move up to #2 and get a 2017 5th rounder back. It was a hefty price to pay, but one many teams would willingly pay given the opportunity. Considering what happened next the trade looks even better.
Sam Bradford for a 2017 1st and 4th round pick
After Teddy Bridgewater got hurt in training camp, Howie Roseman pulled off the heist of the century dealing Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a 1st and 4th round pick. If you add into the picture that the Eagles were only able to deal Bradford because they drafted Wentz, you could look at the Wentz trade like this:
|Eagles Give||Eagles Receive|
|2016 1st||Carson Wentz|
|Sam Bradford||2017 5th|
If you consider a 2017 4th and 2016 4th roughly equivalent, and consider Sam Bradford basically expendable, then the Eagles really gave up pick #8, a 3rd rounder, and a 2018 2nd while receiving a 2017 5th to go up and get their QB. That is dirt cheap in the world of trading up for quarterbacks.
The Eagles acquired Tim Jernigan by moving back 25 spots in the 3rd round. Not bad for a guy who played a decent role for the team for a couple of years.
Jay Ajayi for a 4th round pick
This was a no brainer move for the Eagles and yet another reminder that NFL teams way overvalue draft picks.
Michael Bennett and a 7th for Marcus Johnson and a 5th
Michael Bennett was a pro-bowl caliber player. Marcus Johnson was a player the Eagles were going to cut. Moving from the 5th round to the 7th round is a pittance to pay for an impact player like Bennett, even if he only is around for 1 season.
Golden Tate for a 3rd
This was a bad move and there is no disputing it. The Eagles weren’t a great team and Golden Tate wasn’t the missing piece. It doesn’t help that the WR coach for the year was incompetent, but this was a deal that should have never been made.
Jordan Howard for a 6th
See remarks on Jay Ajayi
Darius Slay for a 3rd and 5th
I had my quibbles with this move but they weren’t based on value. Value-wise a corner like Slay is easily worth that draft capital. But given the Eagles roster age I didn’t like giving up 2 picks for an older player. That said if you are good enough to stay in the NFL long enough to be classified as an older player you are doing something right.
During the draft, Roseman acquired Goodwin by moving back 20 spots in the 6th round. Goodwin ultimately opted out due to COVID concerns, but this was great value once again for the Eagles.
Howie Roseman is well ahead of the curve when it comes to trading, and does a great job of identifying market inefficiencies. My lone concern with his trading is his tendency to make a move to acquire a player at the trade deadline who might actually be a good fit for the team.
3) Salary Cap Management
Eagles fans have taken to saying that the cap doesn’t matter, which should tell you all you need to know about Roseman’s cap management strategies. Howie has worked under tight cap constraints for years, and through creative accounting and structuring of deals, he always seems to make it work and open up more room when needed. However, there is an element of kicking the can down the road with these strategies and the ultimate test of his cap management will be the 2021 season, a season in which the Eagles are already projected to be massively over the cap even before an anticipated salary cap reduction due to COVID.
Another area where Roseman has done really well is the timing of his contract extensions. By extending players early, Roseman is often able to “beat the market” and get players under contract cheaper than had he waited. For example, Zach Ertz (who is signed through the end of next season) is only the 7th highest paid TE in the NFL in terms of average contract value. Similarly, Roseman extended Carson Wentz early to beat the coming extensions for Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson and now Wentz is already only the 7th highest paid QB in the NFL.
The Eagles patchwork offensive line is playing much better than anyone expected. We are quick to give Jeff Stoutland praise (as we should), but don’t forget that Howie drafted Mailata. Howie signed Nate Herbig as a UDFA. Howie drafted Jack Driscoll.
The Eagles linebacker corps is the worst in the entire NFL. Surely that is Howie’s fault, right? But is it? Howie signed LJ Fort, a player who is playing great football in Baltimore right now. Why is he in Baltimore then? Because Jim Schwartz wouldn’t play him. Why didn’t the Eagles bring in Nigel Bradham, who is currently sitting on the Broncos practice squad making less than $200,000? Is it because Jim Schwartz doesn’t like him? We know Schwartz called him a dumbass publicly. Howie drafted Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor but Schwartz refuses to play them.
What about the secondary? Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas are playing great football now in other cities. They were drafted by Howie. If they didn’t work out in Philly but they work out in other cities is that a poor reflection on Howie? No, that is a direct reflection on Jim Schwartz.
Something has to change in Philly and it has to change soon. The Eagles have regressed every year since their 2017 high and everyone is searching for someone to blame. I’m not asking you to absolve Howie of all of his shortcomings. I’m simply asking that, in the spirit of fairness, you acknowledge his good moves too.
I would argue that Jim Schwartz is the biggest issue in Philadelphia and the most likely person to be fired at the conclusion of this season. After all, the word on the street is that the Eagles are in a pinch with the salary cap next season and if there is one thing that even Howie Roseman detractors agree he is good at it is managing the salary cap.