It’s a lot easier talking about building an NFL dynasty than actually doing so.
Every team wants it; few achieve it.
In Eagles general manager Howie Roseman’s mind, that’s the goal. He wants to compete for the Lombardi Trophy every year. After surviving the transfer portal called free agency, the Eagles have fundamental pieces in place for a possible return to the Super Bowl.
But there are personnel challenges. Major ones.
The Eagles lost 10 free agents — five defensive starters, two offensive starters and three reserves. It could have been worse. They retained five starters and signed six new players.
NFL “dynasties” tend to be brief. Losing seven of 22 starters from a Super Bowl team isn’t the ideal model for enduring success.
Training camp of 2018 was one of high hopes. No one knew what it was like being the defending Super Bowl champion.
Everyone expected the Eagles to be serious contenders. Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz was healthy after tearing an ACL the previous season. The confetti flying in Minneapolis, and the Center City parade, were reasons for optimism.
The Eagles took a step back. They did finish 9-7. They lost twice to the measuring-stick Cowboys. They beat the Bears by a point in the double-doink wild card game, and lost in the divisional round to the Saints.
In 2019, again they made the playoffs at 9-7 as Wentz started all 16 games. They lost to the Seahawks in the wild card game.
The 2020 season unraveled. The Eagles were 4-11-1. They fired Doug Pederson, benched Wentz and handed the quarterback job to Jalen Hurts.
The only back-to-back champions this century are the Patriots in 2003-04. The Chiefs won two Super Bowls in four years. That’s considered a dynasty in the modern NFL.
Tom Brady and the Patriots won six championships from 2001-18. Brady left the Patriots after the 2019 season and New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since. Not even close.
ROSEMAN IN CHARGE
Roseman runs the Eagles’ personnel shop. He ultimately is responsible for which players are on the roster.
Roseman has proven to be an excellent general manager, smart and creative. His resume includes two Super Bowls in six years. He was named the Executive of the Year in 2017 and in 2022, both Super Bowl years, by the Pro Football Writers of America.
Only eight players from the 2017 team were on the 2022 team, and that includes Jake Elliott and long-snapper Rick Lovato. Essentially, Roseman rebuilt an entire roster between Super Bowl appearances, a remarkable turnaround.
Analysts considered the Eagles’ roster the NFL’s best in 2022. The opening day roster was the NFL’s 20th-oldest at 26 years, 2 months and 31 days. That’s probably where you want to be — not too young or too old. Experienced, not ancient.
How did the Eagles build such a strong roster?
- Roseman after the 2022 draft: “Great players, great schools, high recruits, play at the highest level, it kind of works. You want winners. You want guys who have done it.”
Roster success is complicated. You need:
- Excellent drafting
- Astute trading
- Knowing which players are worth giving a contract extension
- Knowing which players you need to cut
- Knowing which free agents to re-sign (if you can)
- Knowing which free agents to let go
- Good luck, too
Roseman recently has enjoyed great draft success. Since 2018, the Eagles have made 34 draft picks and 23 remain on the roster.
General managers face constant pressure to draft well. The Eagles have six draft picks next month. Roseman, taking a cue from former Eagles coach Andy Reid, has loaded up on offensive and defensive linemen. That philosophy paid off, as the Eagles’ offensive line was universally acknowledged to be the NFL’s best. Their defensive line wasn’t far behind.
- “I think most teams are going to start [at] quarterback and then the foundation pieces upfront on the offense and defensive line, and that’s where you are,” NFL Network senior analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on a recent conference call.
- “You look at teams like the Chiefs, look at teams like the 49ers, look at teams like the Eagles. The Eagles basically redshirted a draft class last year.”
TIME TO STEP UP
Free agency has left the Eagles with pressing issues.
Can Nakobe Dean replace T.J. Edwards? Can Jordan Davis replace Javon Hargrave? Can Cam Jurgens replace Isaac Seumalo? These 2022 top three draft picks were selected for this moment.
Can they replace these starters without a drop in quality? If they do, there will be rejoicing over Roseman’s drafting skills.
The Eagles lost both safeties and linebackers in free agency. To Roseman’s credit, he quickly filled in the gaps. He signed cornerback Greedy Williams (Browns), safety Terrell Edmunds (Steelers), safety Justin Evans (Saints), linebacker Nicholas Morrow (Bears).
Roseman is hoping his free-agent signings can match what last year’s offseason acquisitions accomplished.
Nearly everyone of Roseman’s free-agent signings and trades made consequential contributions — Haason Reddick (free agent), C.J. Gardner-Johnson (trade), James Bradberry (free agent), and Kyzir White (free agent).
The Eagles’ defense would have been nowhere without these players. With them, they had the NFL’s second-ranked defense.
ON THE CLOCK
Roseman has two first-round picks in the 2023 draft — the 10th and 30th pick. He likes draft capital. He likes to make moves. He likes to trade down to acquire more picks. He’s not afraid to go all-in when he likes a deal.
Roseman made two monumental trades before the draft last April to get more picks. The Eagles traded two of their top-20 picks (16 and 19) to the Saints for the 18th pick, a 2023 first-round pick, a 2024 second-round pick and No. 101 and No. 237 overall picks in 2022.
The other trade landed Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Brown from the Titans on draft night.
Acquiring Brown pushed the Eagles’ offense into elite status and gave Hurts one of the league’s top receivers.
- “I think when we looked at this team – and we always look at this team over not just this year but over a period of time – we knew we needed to get additional picks,” Roseman said.
- “And even though maybe we don’t have the amount of picks this year, we have a bunch of high picks. And then next year, we’re going to have a tremendous amount of picks.
- “We already have two additional picks from two trades that we made. And just by the sheer number of the free agents, we’re going to have comp picks next year. Even if we signed a bunch of guys, we are going to have comp picks next year.”
For sustained success, you need the right coach at the right time. Nick Sirianni seems to be that coach— two playoff appearances in two years. Two of his coordinators were hired for head coaching jobs days after the Super Bowl.
Sirianni is doing something right, and he’s also doing many things right.
Football rosters are different than basketball, where you can strike it rich with one player and change the fortunes of your entire franchise.
In football, the starting point is that top-flight quarterback. Then, you need a superior offensive line to protect him. You need great receivers. You need running backs who can take pressure off the passing game.
You need a defensive line that can get to the quarterback and a secondary that can turn over the ball. You need a unit that can make crucial third-down stops.
Having a franchise quarterback allows Roseman the freedom to build around Hurts. He doesn’t have to waste picks or make trades hoping to land a quarterback.
- “I think that a lot of times, I’ve heard … you know, we’ll be back [in the Super Bowl],” Roseman said. “Just because we say it doesn’t mean it. We’ve got to make that happen. I take great pride in trying to do my part.”