Eagles rebuild quickly to get back to Super Bowl
Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were at the bottom of the NFC East. Their season had turned into a disaster. Coach Doug Pederson clashed with quarterback Carson Wentz, benching him for rookie Jalen Hurts. And then, in a memorable season finale of a 4-11-1 year, Pederson sat Hurts for Nate Sudfeld in the second half of a winnable game in a move that helped Washington win the division.
A lot has changed since then.
Pederson and Wentz are now gone. Hurts remains and has improved to the point that he is an MVP candidate. And most striking, the Eagles are back in the Super Bowl just five years after winning it all in the 2018 title game.
A common thread running through both championship squads is general manager Howie Roseman. The 47-year-old has been widely recognized as one of the league’s top thinkers as he was named the Pro Football Writers of America’s Executive of the Year twice in five years (2017 and 2022).
To get back to this point, Roseman made the kind of high-risk moves other teams often avoid.
The Commanders, by contrast, have missed the playoffs the last two seasons as the NFC East rival Eagles clawed their way back to contention.
In the fall, Commanders coach Ron Rivera created a stir when he gave a one-word answer — “Quarterback” — when asked why the team’s NFC East rivals had passed them in their respective rebuilds. The answer was taken as a shot at Wentz (now with Washington), but Rivera’s point was that teams in the division have thrived with stability at quarterback.
Rivera’s explanation applies to Philadelphia, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The Eagles have indeed benefitted from Hurts’ growth as he showed promise as a rookie, helped them make the playoffs in 2021 and became an MVP candidate this season. Still, the fact that Hurts is with the Eagles in the first place is a credit to Roseman.
Philadelphia drafted Hurts in the second round of the 2020 draft — despite having Wentz, then perceived as the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, on the roster. It’s fair to wonder how many other teams would have taken Hurts with someone like Wentz on the roster. Roseman was panned for the selection at the time, especially when he referred to the Eagles as a “quarterback factory,” a remark the executive later said he regretted.
With Wentz playing himself out of a job in Philly, the Eagles also had to take some lumps before the franchise could move on. Though Philadelphia found a trade partner in Indianapolis, the trade required the Eagles to eat the remaining $33.8 million guaranteed left on the quarterback’s contract, making it the largest single dead-cap hit in NFL history. The Eagles chose to cut bait with Wentz rather than hope a new coaching staff could fix him, the latter of which would have been more common. (See: Washington hiring Jay Gruden to aid Robert Griffin III)
But the Eagles went forward with Hurts — and surrounded him with the system and talent to thrive. Philadelphia hired coach Nick Sirianni last season, a move that worked wonders as his coaching staff pivoted the scheme to embrace Hurts’ ability to hurt defenses with his legs.
And Roseman bolstered Philadelphia’s offense with two big-time trades for receivers: In 2021, the team moved up in the draft to grab Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, and this past offseason, the Eagles sent a first-round pick to the Titans for two-time Pro Bowler A.J. Brown.
Those trades are also another example of Roseman’s ability to admit failure. Just a few years earlier, the executive whiffed on selections such as Jalen Reagor (a 2020 first-rounder) and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (a 2019 second-rounder). No front office has a perfect record, but Roseman’s crew appeared to recognize their mistakes and worked quickly to correct them.
Roseman’s best work, though, might be the way he built out the trenches. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in football with All-Pros Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, two Roseman selections. And they’re intimidating up front with Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Haason Reddick — the latter of whom was acquired in the offseason.
Roseman’s rise, of course, has been well documented. Though he was named the Eagles’ general manager in 2010, he was stripped of the title in 2015 when he lost a power struggle with then-coach Chip Kelly. After Kelly was fired that same season, owner Jeffrey Lurie turned back to Roseman.