By Ralph Vacchiano
FOX Sports NFC East Writer
The Philadelphia Eagles were something of a surprise last season, especially after an ugly 2-5 start. With a rookie head coach and a first-year starter at quarterback, they somehow powered their way into the playoffs.
Their stay was short, though.
And for GM Howie Roseman, it wasn’t nearly enough.
“We are not happy about the fact that our season ended in the playoffs,” he said a few days after the Eagles’ run ended with a 31-15 blowout loss in Tampa. “We want to build a team that has home playoff games, gets to play in front of our fan base and really build a team that gets a bye.
“I think until you’re really talking about a team that is hosting home playoff games and getting the one and two seed,” he added, “you’re in building mode.”
And, boy, did Roseman sure use this offseason to build.
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The 47-year-old GM, now in his 13th year running the Eagles, had what might be his best offseason yet. Loaded with draft picks and flush with salary-cap space, he seemingly filled every hole on the Eagles’ roster. And he added the exclamation point to his offseason on Tuesday, when he pulled off a steal by acquiring 24-year-old safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from the Saints in a trade.
The trade for Gardner-Johnson, a promising, young defensive back, seemed to come out of nowhere. But it was clear that the Eagles were about to close training camp with the safety position as one of their biggest concerns.
Roseman doesn’t like to leave holes in his roster or questions unanswered. He knew the Saints weren’t going to be able to sign Gardner-Johnson, who still has a year left on his rookie contract. Getting him and a future seventh-round pick for fifth- and sixth-round picks was a bargain the GM just couldn’t pass up.
But that really was just the cap on his offseason, during which he systematically addressed every one of the Eagles’ needs — with money, trades and draft picks. A quick rundown:
– The Eagles were second-to-last in sacks last season, so Roseman signed edge-rusher Haason Reddick to a three-year, $45 million contract. Reddick, one of the most undervalued pass rushers on the market, had 11 sacks last season and 23.5 over the past two years.
– Knowing young quarterback Jalen Hurts needed a No. 1 receiver, Roseman used a first- and third-round pick to get one in 25-year-old A.J. Brown in a trade from Tennessee. As if his 185 catches, 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first three seasons weren’t enough, Brown’s specialty is making tough catches over the middle — a place where Hurts rarely threw last year.
– The Eagles needed help in the secondary to complement cornerback Darius Slay, so Roseman waited out the Giants and their indecision over whether to keep veteran corner James Bradberry. About a week after the Giants finally cut the 2020 Pro Bowler in early May, Roseman snatched him up with a bargain one-year, $7.5 million deal.
– It was clear the Eagles needed to upgrade their linebacking corps, so they didn’t just add Reddick. Roseman signed Kyzir White, a solid starter with the Chargers, to a one-year, $5 million deal. Then he stopped Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean’s shocking free-fall in the draft by taking the potential first-rounder at No. 83 overall.
– Even after trading away one first-round pick to get Brown, Roseman traded a fourth-rounder and two fifth-rounders to move up from No. 15 to No. 13 with his remaining first-round pick so he could draft Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, whom Roseman said was “a top-10 player on our board.”
And those acquisitions, really, are just the highlights. Roseman probably could’ve gotten away with just one or two of those big moves, or even just a series of tweaks. He already had a team with the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL, one of the best offensive lines in football and a defensive line with top-10 talent. The Eagles were already headed in the right direction after a 9-8 season under rookie coach Nick Sirianni, who helped pick up the pieces from their 4-11-1 nightmare the year before.
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They were supposed to be rebuilding, but Roseman’s super-charged offseason has made it look like that process is almost complete. A lot will hinge on the development of Hurts, who has a long way to go to prove he can be a franchise quarterback. But in a weak NFC East and with all the true powerhouse teams in the other conference, if Hurts even just matches last season’s performance, the Eagles really could be a Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
If that sounds premature … well, Roseman seems to agree. Remember, his second season in charge of the Eagles was when he put together the so-called “dream team,” which bristled under the expectations of all his offseason moves and finished a disappointing 8-8. It took two years for Roseman to dig the Eagles out of that mess.
So he knows that what’s on paper doesn’t always translate into what happens on the field.
“I think [one] thing we talk about a lot is our most talented teams have not necessarily been our best teams,” Roseman said when training camp began. “You can have all this talent, but them coming together and fitting the right pieces in place is the most important thing.”
Maybe it’ll take some time to fit the pieces into place this time, but Roseman did what the best general managers do: He got what he believes are “the right pieces.” He didn’t sit around and wait for players to develop or wait for players to fall to him in the draft.
That may have worked in the NFL of 20 and 30 years ago, but this is a much more aggressive, creative era with general managers who seem to have no patience at all. The Los Angeles Rams showed over the past few years how a team can spend and wheel-and-deal itself into a Super Bowl contender and champion. Roseman has learned those lessons well.
Whether it all works remains to be seen. But the pieces are there for the Eagles to be something special.
Roseman made sure of that.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and the Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that he spent 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. A Long Island, N.Y. native and graduate of Syracuse University, he can be found on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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