The players and coaches may be different, but for Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman the goal has always been the same: Win the ring. From Dream Team to team of destiny. From turmoil to title contention. Their path to reaching the Super Bowl is as compelling as it is unconventional. This is their story.
Is [insert name] a quarterback capable of winning a Super Bowl?
THIS QUESTION has been asked by every fan of nearly every team at some point in their fandom. It’s been asked and discussed at bars with friends, in breakrooms at work, and in livings rooms with fathers. This is a question that’s evasive to no quarterback. And usually, within the first couple of years of a quarterback’s career, we as fans think that we have the answer.
It’s a simple yes or no question. Yet, at the same time, it’s so much more than simple. It’s so much more than a question, even.
Insert Nick Foles’ name and turn the clock back to the 2015 offseason. What you’ll find is clear: Nick Foles was an up-and-down quarterback, one capable of hot streaks and gaudy stats in a Chip Kelly offense but ultimately not a quarterback capable of leading the Eagles to Super Bowl titles.
This was the consensus of Foles — from the fanbase as well as the team — and ultimately led to him being shipped out of town. Chip Kelly, determined to upgrade the game’s most important position, agreed to send Foles, along with future draft picks, to St. Louis in exchange for Sam Bradford, the talented but oft-injured quarterback that he had coveted.
And as the St. Louis Rams were transitioning into the Los Angles Rams, they too moved on from Nick, in short order, realizing what everyone in Philadelphia had already known about him: that he wasn’t Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger — or Eli Manning, for that matter.
And just like that, Foles was without a job. He requested his release after he lost his starting gig to Case Keenum in 2017, and the Rams dutifully obliged.
Dejected and without many options, Nick briefly contemplated retirement before ultimately licking his wounds and moving to Kansas City, to once again play for Andy Reid, to compete for the Chiefs’ third quarterback position.
L.A.’s newest football team needed a new face, so they mortgaged draft capital and pinned their future Super Bowl aspirations on Cal quarterback Jared Goff with the number one overall pick in the 2016 draft. Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team made a bold move by trading up and selecting Carson Wentz, a quarterback from the FCS college program, with the second overall pick.
Shortly thereafter, Sam Bradford, the quarterback that Chip Kelly traded Foles for, was sent packing to Minnesota.
As we fast forward to now, I can’t help but notice the irony in all of this.
Nick Foles, the quarterback that nobody wanted — the quarterback that nearly retired — is one win away from becoming a legend in a city that’s starved for a championship title — the same city that he set records in some short time ago, and for the same franchise that discarded him.
His story is a cautionary tale in a sense, one that makes the story of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles as fascinating as it is bewildering.
This year’s Eagles team is loaded with talented players, as well as talented coaches and evaluators, but is rooted in belief — a belief that they can overcome the odds and accomplish things that nobody thought was possible.
But how in the world did they get here, and just how was this team built?
Look no further than Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his sidekick Howie Roseman. They’ve taken the road less traveled, but their goal has always been to be exactly where they are today: Preparing to bring home the Lombardi.
UP AT THE PODIUM in Indianapolis for the 2016 NFL Combine, Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman, fresh off a promotion, leaned into the mic and said “I missed this” as he opened up questions to the press. There was a noticeable grin on his face as he uttered those words. After a turbulent 2015 season, one that began with Roseman being stripped of his title as well as his power, Howie was just happy to once again be where he always knew he belonged.
It felt good to be back, back in charge, even if it entailed answering questions about the soon-to-be draftees running sprints and doing drills in compression shorts. This was Howie’s second chance, and he wasn’t taking it for granted.
Not many in his field are lucky enough to get a second chance, especially a second chance with the same club, and especially in the front office. But in order to become Howie Roseman: NFL front office staffer, in order to make it this far in a sport that practically requires some type of playing experience in the backgrounds of potential scouting and front office hirelings, one has to have an unwavering belief in themselves — as well as really thick skin.
Philly fans have mixed feelings towards Howie Roseman, and to this day disparaging remarks are made about him that can be heard throughout the city. From corner to corner, from Eagles blogs to local talk-radio, Howie Roseman’s name comes up frequently but is seldom revered.
At best, Howie is thought of as a contributor; at worst, a fraud.
In many ways the naysayers have a leg to stand on. After all, Howie is partially responsible for the some of the club’s worst decisions made in the Jeffrey Lurie era. From the 2011 Dream Team debacle to the hiring of Chip Kelly: repugnant genius and babbling fool, these were decisions made under Howie Roseman’s watch. But he wasn’t given final say with personnel decisions until the 2016 offseason, after Kelly’s dismissal. This is where Roseman’s personal timeline of accountability begins for me.
Let’s start there.
New Coach, New Quarterback, New Culture
“It’s a league that teams, talent-wise, are close together. Sometimes there’s a culture within an organization with players that create a momentum and create energy and create a fluidity. We never achieved that.”
THESE WORDS CAME from the lips of Jeffrey Lurie at his impromptu press conference less than 24 hours after firing Chip Kelly and one week prior to the conclusion of the 2015 season. This was his answer to one of the many questions reporters asked him about what exactly went wrong.
With Kelly now out of the picture, Jeffrey Lurie was determined to redirect the franchise back into the path of title-contention. Shortly after Kelly’s exit, Lurie promoted Howie Roseman from “cap guy” to Executive Vice President of Football Operations, officially. The duo’s first task: find a new leader.
Enter Doug Pederson.
Doug was an unheralded hire, one that both fans and local media alike shunned upon announcement. But that’s how Philly rolls. Eagles fans have high expectations. They also aren’t particularly fond of Andy Reid or his coaching style — as strange as that may be — so, naturally, any names from the Andy Reid coaching tree were subject to immediate dismissal. They had to prove themselves first before any adulation or niceties were given.
And in order for Doug to prove himself — in order to make life easier on a first-time head coach living in a highly critical town — Pederson was fully cognizant of the importance in having good coaches surrounding him.
His first call went to Jim Schwartz, who was offered the role of defensive coordinator, which he quickly accepted. Frank Reich became the offensive coordinator shortly therafter. The rest of the staff fell in line in a trice.
So, with the braintrust now in order, the organization was tasked with secretly rebuilding the franchise while also trying to compete.
The trio’s next task: find a new field general.
Enter Carson Wentz.
MOVING UP from the teens to the top of the draft — without mortgaging your future — is a move that takes precision and skill … and a wee bit of luck, perhaps. The maneuvering by Roseman to move from the 13th overall pick all the way up to the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft is a manifestation of all three above components. It was a stroke of genius that, to this day, few fans fully comprehend or appreciate. This was Howie’s hallmark moment as a decision-maker, and in a broader sense, the move that saved his job.
On March 9, 2016, precision, skill and luck were all on display when Roseman fleeced the Dolphins front office in a trade to move up five whole spots in April’s draft. Miami’s brass were eager to part ways with the 8th overall pick. In exchange for their pick, Miami received the Eagles 13th pick, the oft-injured Kiko Alonzo, and Byron Maxwell — his inflated contract included.
That’s it. Nothing more.
Really think about that for a second. Unpack and absorb all of it.
Byron Maxwell, fresh off a contract in excess of $60 million over 6 years with $25 million GUARANTEED, had already established his worth to the organization, which wasn’t much at all. To Howie, Maxwell was just another system guy who flourished in the open market. He was young at the time and benefitted greatly from a weak crop of free agent cornerbacks behind him.
The Legion of Boom lineage didn’t hurt matters either.
Kiko Alonzo was fast and physical, but reckless and fragile as well. He too was also just another guy, a linebacker who could be easily replaced by a savvy personnel department. Furthermore, he was the odd man out in Jim Shwartz’ attacking 43 defense. If not traded, Alonzo likely would’ve been cut by the start of minicamps — perhaps even sooner.
Precision, skill and luck were also very present in the Cleveland deal. The Eagles were lucky that the Browns’ moneyball staff had a unique way of seeing things, because they overlooked Carson Wentz in the process.
Roseman and crew were skillful in how they evaluated Wentz, though. They understood that the most important part in the process was staying true to their convictions, that what they were seeing in this young man was real and not to get caught up in public perception, because the public would eventually come around to see the greatness that they saw in Wentz, too.
The deal itself was a bargain when compared to previous trades similar in nature. Essentially, Roseman agreed to part with a future 1st round pick (2017), a 2nd round pick in 2016 and a future 3rd (2018). The Eagles and Browns merely swapped their 2016 1st round picks, so let’s keep that in mind. They also swapped 4th round picks, which is a wash in my book.
Factor in that Sam Bradford still had 3rd round value at worst to his name, 1st round value at best, and in the end you have one the greatest trades in the history of the NFL draft. Howie’s omniscient plan was complete when he unloaded Bradford and his friendly 2-year contract to the Minnesota Vikings prior to the start of the 2016 season, following the Teddy Bridgewater injury. Stunned by the news and desperate for a solution, Minnesota’s brass were eager to remain competitive, so they took the cheese, giving up their 2017 first round pick, as well as their fourth round pick in 2018.
The move to acquire Carson Wentz, in its entirety, is the feather in Howie’s cap, and is the move that has propelled the Eagles franchise into what appears to be title contention for years to come. When you strip it all down, Roseman parted with future 2nd and 3rd rounds picks in order to acquire a franchise-changing quarterback who’s played like an MVP in just his second season.
Bravo, Howie. Bravo!
The culture has changed. The precision: noted.
And the luck has certainly helped.
Build Around The General
IN JUST ONE OFFSEASON, the Philadelphia Eagles organization changed their culture while surrounding themselves — surrounding their rookie quarterback — with the type of roster talent needed to compete and win.
The top priorities on their offseason list — identifying their coach and their quarterback — now had checkmarks next them. There was still work to be done, however. The Eagles’ roster had numerous holes, and it was Howie’s job to fill them. But before the club was to attack the 2016 free agency period, Howie wanted to establish trust within the building by taking care of their own. It was time to reward the earners.
In the span of a month, Roseman locked up five Eagles players to long-term extensions: Zach Ertz, 5-year deal; Brent Celek, 3-year deal; Lane Johnson, 6-year deal; Vinny Curry, 5-year deal; Macolm Jenkins, 5-year deal. The organization considers all five players to be integral pieces in their puzzle — foundational players that they could build around.
Fletcher Cox, perhaps the team’s best player, eventually signed a massive 6-year extension in June worth just north of $100 million total, with $63 million in guaranteed money. But that was after free agency had concluded. Prior to the Cox extension, Roseman added four key free agents to the roster that would fill those holes like putty. He zeroed-in on Brandon Brooks, a young and massive guard formerly of the Houston Texans. The two agreed to terms on a 5-year contract on day 1 of the free agency period.
Brooks is now widely considered to be one of the best guards in football.
Howie continued bolstering the Eagles offensive line with the signing of free agent Stefen Wisniewski, a versatile guard that can switch over and play center in a hiccup. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a big tackle with an even bigger name, and Isaac Seumalo, a versatile combo guard, were taken in the 5th and 3rd rounds of the 2016 draft, respectively. Vaitai, or Big V as he’s called, has grown by leaps and bounds since replacing All Pro left tackle Jason Peters in week 7 of this year. He’s now their left tackle of the future.
Upgrade the offensive line: check.
TO ALLOW JIM SCHWARTZ to flourish as a defensive play-caller, there were areas on the depth chart that needed to be upgraded. Outside of the Eagles Mr Everything safety Malcolm Jenkins, the secondary was an eyesore in desperate need of a facelift. But the operation didn’t happen overnight. It took Howie and staff two years to rebuild the unit into what you see today.
Finding a complementary safety to align with Jenkins on the backend was the first order of business for Roseman. The defense was in need of a versatile free-ranger that could play single high in Swartz’ scheme. They pursued free agent Rodney McLeod, also on day 1, inking him to a 5-year deal.
From there, Roseman worked the phones and found some trade partners. First was cornerback Eric Rowe, sent to the Patriots for a 4th round pick. A year later, Howie agreed to part ways with receiver Jordan Matthews and a 3rd round pick in exchange for Buffalo cornerback Ronald Darby, a talented but expendable player with the Bills now in rebuild mode.
In between the Rowe trade of 2016 and the Darby trade of 2017, the team drafted two cornerbacks — Sidney Jones of Washington and Rasul Douglas of West Virginia — in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the 2017 draft. When healthy, Jones has shutdown ability. He was a projected top-15 pick before rupturing his Achilles during his pro day workout leading up to the draft. Douglas is a tall corner with length and receiver-like ball skills in 50/50 situations.
Patrick Robinson, the team’s standout slot corner, was brought to the team through free agency this offseason. His value to the unit is absolute. They also added Corey Graham, a versatile tweener-safety who’s made a difference on passing downs this year. And while all of this wheeling and dealing was being done, cornerback Jalen Mills was just grinding in the background, eagerly waiting to prove himself on the field. Motivated by these moves, Mills, a 7th round pick in 2016, played at a pro bowl level this year — at times.
Secondary rebuild: check.
THE LINBACKING CORPS was complete when Roseman inked a deal with free agent Nigel Bradham, previously of Buffalo, in the 2016 offseason. Bradham’s impact versus the run and pass simply cannot be overlooked.
But the defensive unit as a whole was yet complete. The interior of the line was missing something, or someone, and the edge rushers needed some help, too. First, they needed to find a penetrating tackle, a single-gap disruptor, one who’s strong enough to anchor against the run, quick enough to shoot his gap, agile enough to run line stunts and intelligent enough to know how.
Enter Timmy Jernigan, the Ravens former 2nd round pick.
When Jernigan became available this offseason, Philly’s staff was the first to find out. In the spring of 2016, Roseman hired Joe Douglas, a longtime scout for the Ravens, to run his personnel and scouting department. It was Douglas’ Baltimore connections that opened up the lines of communication in the Jernigan deal leading up to the trade.
And the deal seemingly happened overnight.
Philadelphia and Baltimore agreed to swap fourth round picks in the 2017 draft and boom — Jernigan became an Eagle. Together, he and Fletcher Cox have inflamed more guts this year than celiac disease. They should be named Barley and Rye; the very thought of them sends QBs running to the toilet.
But what about those edge rushers? Help Wanted.
The Eagles were plenty happy with starters Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, but they needed more bodies to help keep the two fresh for four quarters. The solution was one part draft, one part free agency. Big surprise there. Derek Barnett, University of Tennessee’s all time sack leader, was taken with the 12th overall selection in the 2017 draft. When Barnett isn’t studying game film or eating or sleeping, he can be seen giving left tackles the business on Sundays, and Mondays … occasionally on Thursdays.
But a veteran’s presence was also needed, an experienced guy that could offer some relief on the other side of Barnett. Howie agreed. He contacted free agent defensive end Chris Long and sold him on the Eagles culture, as well as their potential, and inked him to a 2-year cap-friendly contract worth $4.5 million in total. His experience alone is worth more. And he can still play.
Disruptor: check. Edge help: check.
The defensive unit was now complete.
Jim Schwartz finally had everything he needed to yield sixty minutes of Shit Your Pants onto his opponents with his attacking, multidimensional scheme.
Nobody is safe; not even Tom Brady. Well … maybe.
But in order to beat Tom Brady, in order to trump the defending world champs, you’re gonna need more than an aggressive defense to do so. You need offense: running backs, hard-nosed running backs that chew up ground and eat up time of possession; receivers — physical receivers, quick receivers, fast receivers that can attack the Patriots secondary in a variety of ways; lineman, versatile lineman that provide push on the ground and time for the quarterback to go through his reads and get into a rhythm.
And of course you need a quarterback, one with toughness — mental and physical toughness, as well as patience and confidence — in order to defeat a Bill Belichick-led team who’s game plan is undoubtably designed to make you uncomfortable, to expose whatever weaknesses said QB has.
Luckily, the Eagles are prepared.
FLASHY MOVES are what got Howie Roseman into trouble in 2011, the year the Dream Team was built. But plenty of knowledge was gained from that experience, and Howie was better for it. From there on, moves that were considered flashy were still an option for Roseman and the club, except now he knew better than to extend max offers to high profile free agents in the offseason. Roseman wisely adapted to the Protect Your Bottom Line train of thought, offering modest one- or two-year “prove it” contracts to potential signees — deals that were heavily incentivized and soft on the cap.
As the club approached the 2017 offseason, they were desperate to upgrade a receiving group that struggled to do anything well just the year prior. If Carson were to truly grow, if he were to truly develop into what they expected of him — into what he expected of himself — then he needed some weapons around him. He needed some playmakers on the outside.
Enter Alshon Jeffery. Enter Torrey Smith.
When the Chicago Bears allowed Jeffery to walk out the door last March, everyone assumed that teams X, Y and Z would throw a ton of money at him, and that Alshon would just take their money with a smile. But that’s not what he wanted. What Jeffery wanted was a real opportunity to win. So he bet on himself, signing with the Eagles on a one-year prove-it deal—or, as I like to call it, the Roseman Special.
Physical receiver: check.
Torrey Smith shortly followed, signing a cap-friendly 3-year contract to play for Eagles, to play with Carson Wentz. And at only 28 years old, Smith’s tires still have plenty of tread, his jets have plenty of fuel.
Fast receiver: check.
But what about that quick receiver?
With Jeffery and Smith now in the fold, things were looking up for the Eagles new group of wide outs. But there was a dilemma: Nelson Agholor became good. In June of 2017, Agholor entered minicamp feeling rejuvenated. He was seen making big plays in practice and team scrimmages on a regular basis. This could only lead to one thing: Jordan Matthews had to go.
Stylistically, Matthews was a poor fit with this new group of receivers. The contract situation only made it easier for the club to move on from him, as he was entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Matthews was ultimately traded to the Buffalo Bills just one week prior to the second preseason game, making room for Agholor and his newfound confidence at the slot in three receiver sets.
Quick receiver: check.
Now that Carson had his weapons in the pass game, it was time for Howie to turn his attention to the ground game. The running back group needed refurbishing. The combination of Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles was no longer good enough. Howie knew it. Doug knew it. The players knew it too.
They needed a back with some thump, an authoritative back that could pick up three yards on 3rd and 2, or cross the stripe in goal line offense.
Enter LeGarrette Blount.
The Blount signing was met with applause from the fanbase. Initially.
It took time for him and his lineman to gel, though, and he quickly became part of a three-back rotation. Then Darren Sproles went down in week 3 with a “double whammy,” a season-ending injury, and the offense was left without many options. Corey Clement was a rookie. Wendall Smallwood couldn’t stay healthy. The Eagles were going to run Blount into the ground if they couldn’t find a viable solution, if they couldn’t add another body to the RB room.
Enter Jay Ajayi.
It didn’t take long for Ajayi to wear out his welcome with Dolphins prickly head coach Adam Gase. Just eight weeks into the 2017 regular season and the poor bloke was shipped to Philly for a fourth round pick in 2018. This move changed the landscape for the Eagles ground attack. In Blount and Ajayi, the offense now had two physical backs to lean on, a one-two combo that could dictate pace and wear teams down in the fourth quarter.
Hard-nosed backs: check.
With the trade for Ajayi, the Eagles offense now had an identity. They became a versatile offense, one that could ground and pound you into submission one week (see week 10 at Dallas) then attack you through the air in another (any week, really). At last, Doug Pederson had what he needed to open up the playbook and shell his opponents any way that he saw fit.
Zach Ertz had finally emerged, becoming a constant source of production on gamedays. He’s been unstoppable at times this year, and is consistently a mismatch problem for the opposition. Ertz’ backup, Trey Burton, was blossoming and had earned himself valuable playing time along the way.
Things were going good. More than good, things were going great.
And then came week 14.
Carson Wentz entered the LA Colliseum whole and healthy but exited damaged and in crutches. His left knee: gone. Torn ACL and LCL, as well as damage to his meniscus. In the blink of an eye, the worst news possible was here: Life without Carson Wentz. This was the Eagles new reality.
Enter Nick Foles.
Is This Destiny?
THROUGH THE FIRST thirteen weeks of the regular season, the Eagles were steamrolling their opponents, putting the rest of the league on notice with a 10–2 record. The parade on Broad was quietly being mapped out. In the meanwhile, Nick Foles — who was back in midnight green for a second go-around, this time to sit behind Football Jesus in the no.11 jersey — was a forgotten man, someone who was just happy to be along for the ride.
And when the team’s savior was sent violently crashing into the turf in LA, the hopes and dreams of a city were sent crashing with him. The season was over.
Just when Eagles fans thought their luck had changed, this happens.
Oh well — there’s always next year, was the collective thought from the fans.
But wait … what’s this I see?
Is that Nick Foles throwing dimes out there?
Holy Christ, it is!
Faith was restored, but only temperarily. Nick’s streaky up and down play returned in the following weeks, validating the belief that the city had of him all along. But not from the coaches. Not from the players, either.
The team believed in Nick. They believed in themselves.
They heard what was being said about them, about their quarterback. Organizationally, the team began to form a Nobody Believes In Us complex en route to an NFC Championship. Nick Foles led the charge. His stellar play against the Minnesota Vikings’ top-ranked defense quickly turned the doubters into believers. The way he threw the ball with accuracy, with confidence, was reminiscent of his eye-opening 2013 season.
Once again, faith has been restored. Eagles fans now believe in Nick, too.
What happens next is anyone’s guess.
The Eagles can defeat the Patriots on Sunday — if Good Nick shows up.
They’ll lose with Bad Nick though.
But losing isn’t an option, really, as the team believes that they’re truly a team of destiny. Its kind of hard to discount their theory, given all the hurdles along the way — hurdles that they’ve overcome together, unified in belief.
Destiny is not on Bill Belichick’s agenda this week, however. Not at all. He only concerns himself with facts and football and preparation. There will be a winner and a loser this Sunday, that much is fact. According to Bill, “Do Your Job” and you’ll land in the winner’s circle. And, as we already know, it’s a circle all too familiar to himself and to his quarterback.
But the game still has to be played.
Once the Eagles’ and Patriots’ players exit their tunnels in Minneapolis this Sunday night— once their cleats finally hit the grass — lights will flash, mistakes will be made, and injuries will likely occur. For an Eagles team slender in championship experience, the pressure of this stage will be unavoidable to some. No home crowd to cheer them on this week. No comforts of familiar surroundings, either. Just white lines on a neutral field and an opponent that has been here before.
The flashing lights do not seem to effect Tom Brady; he’s been mostly unflinching in this setting. But everyone flinches. For Brady it takes hits, not pressure, in order to get him to blink, and the Eagles defense excels at delivering blows. The pressure their front four creates is part jack-in-the-box, part kangaroo and part Energizer Bunny. They have a deep and talented group of rushers. They’re all hunters. And they love to hunt big-game.
So now it all comes down to Nick Foles. Will the lights be too bright for Nick this Sunday, or is winning the big game truly his destiny?
Will Good Nick come running out of that tunnel, or will Bad Nick be seen sailing would-be-completions over the heads of his receivers?
Will Nick revel in the moment, or will he be crushed by the weight of it all?
Time will certainly tell, but he’s made it this far.
Nick Foles has traveled many miles in his journey back to the city of brotherly love — both literally and figuratively. And if making it this far only to lose in the final game is ultimately his destiny, then, for his own sake, it was a destiny worth discovering, because he found himself along the way.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, Foles has already cemented his legacy amongst a shortlist of Eagles quarterbacks who have taken the franchise all the way to the final game of the year. Ron Jaworski and Donovan McNabb are the only QBs in Eagles history with Super Bowl appearances on their résumés. Their uninspiring play at the game’s biggest stage, though, has left the door open for Foles to become a hero in a city that has seen everything but a championship come their way, and for an organization who doubted that he was capable of even getting to this point.
Jaworski threw 3 interceptions in defeat against the Oakland Raiders thirty-something odd years ago, while McNabb turned it over just as many times versus the Patriots in 2004, also in defeat. Sadly, though, McNabb is remembered more for hurling vomit on the field than touchdowns that day.
Nick was fifteen-years-old when Bill Belichick and his Brady-led Patriots proved victorious in their first Super Bowl outing versus Philly roughly thirteen years ago. Now, redemption and triumph are both in reach.
With any luck, Nick won’t puke on the opportunity to grasp both.