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The Eagles’ architect always has a Plan B, but Plan A is working


Howie Roseman, the general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, has swapped players and picks to get his team back among the N.F.L.’s top contenders.

By Mike Tanier


Howie Roseman, the Philadelphia Eagles’ general manager, is the NFL’s boldest, cagiest wheeler-dealer.


He’s part Wolf of Wall Street and part pool-hall hustler, with a little bit of repo man and flea-market thrifter sprinkled in. He knows his opponents’ desires and weaknesses, and he has built a Super Bowl contender out of other teams’ mistakes.


The Eagles are the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team, having started the 2022 season with four convincing victories. Some of their top-tier talent, including quarterback Jalen Hurts, is homegrown. Other key players, like offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson and defenders Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, have been in Philly longer than soft pretzels. The Eagles would not be 3-to-1 NFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl, however, had Roseman not plucked four stars away from teams that should never have parted with them:


Wide receiver A.J. Brown: The Tennessee Titans overreacted to a sudden offseason escalation in receiver salaries and feared that they would not be able to sign their top receiver to an extension. Roseman just happened to have an extra first-round pick available on draft day to trade for Brown, who has caught 25 passes for 404 yards and one touchdown for the Eagles this season.


Roseman got that extra 2023 pick from the New Orleans Saints, who had sent it as part of a deal to move up in this year’s draft order. More on that in a moment.


Cornerback James Bradberry: The previous New York Giants administration signed so many veterans to bloated contracts that the new regime was forced to hold an estate sale just to reach salary-cap compliance. Roseman waited until the Giants dragged Bradberry to the curb, then loaded the former Pro Bowler onto the bed of his pickup for one year and $7.25 million. Bradberry has two interceptions this season, one of them for a touchdown.


Edge rusher Haason Reddick: The Arizona Cardinals spent three seasons failing to find a position for the multitalented Reddick to play after drafting him in 2017. Reddick finally settled in as an edge rusher and recorded 12.5 sacks in the final year of his contract. The Carolina Panthers signed him to a one-year deal to demonstrate his sudden improvement was no fluke. Reddick proved it with 11 more sacks in 2021, yet the bumbling Panthers chose not to offer an extension. The Eagles swooped in with a three-year, $45-million offer. Reddick has recorded 3.5 sacks and forced three fumbles.


Cornerback Darius Slay: Slay, a Pro Bowl defender and locker-room leader for the Detroit Lions in the late 2010s, grew disenchanted when Matt Patricia, the former Lions coach, decided that the best way to create a winning culture was by clashing with the team’s best players. A bargain-hunting Roseman sprung Slay in exchange for third- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 draft. Slay reached the Pro Bowl again in 2021 and has two interceptions this year.


Roseman has been making daring moves like these since he regained personnel control of the Eagles from Chip Kelly, the team’s former coach, after the 2015 season. Not all of his trades and signings pay off. A few have been nearly disastrous. When Roseman does make a mistake, however, there’s always a contingency plan: His exit strategy from a bad trade is usually more trades.


Roseman’s riskiest gamble came in 2016, when he traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder (plus change) for the right to draft quarterback Carson Wentz. Wentz showed early promise and led the Eagles to 11 wins before getting injured in December of the 2017 season, which ended with Philadelphia’s winning the Super Bowl. One year later, Roseman signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract.


Wentz turned out to be a form of malware: superficially innocuous and helpful but capable of turning an offense into a smoldering paperweight with his mistakes and turnovers. With the Eagles’ offense growing increasingly glitchy, Roseman selected Hurts in the second round of the 2020 draft, a stunning move for a team with so much invested in its young starter.


After the Eagles fell to 4-11-1 in 2020, Roseman spotted the quarterback-needy Indianapolis Colts wandering into his showroom with their checkbook open. The Colts drove off the lot with Wentz in exchange for a third-round pick in 2021 and what became a first-rounder in 2022.


The Eagles traded the third-round pick they acquired for Wentz to the Dallas Cowboys for the rights to move up and select receiver DeVonta Smith, now an Eagles starter. The first-round pick was the one dealt to the Saints for the pick that netted Brown from the Titans and a 2023 first-rounder. (The Saints then traded that same pick to the Washington Commanders, who selected receiver Jahan Dotson, who now catches passes from Wentz, whom the Colts quickly soured on.)


Thanks to Roseman’s labyrinthine maneuvers, the Eagles are simultaneously built to compete for a Super Bowl this year and equipped with extra draft picks to reinforce the roster in the future. They can either surround Hurts with more talent if he keeps developing into one of the league’s best young quarterbacks or start from scratch if he falters. Roseman has blended the Eagles’ short- and long-term goals like an expert mutual-fund manager.


Few other decision makers in the risk-averse, ego-driven NFL are as willing to orchestrate bold trades or MacGyver out of their own blunders as readily as Roseman, who uses his competitors’ foibles to his advantage. The Eagles are always willing to grab veterans from a rebuilding team seeking to shed salaries or headaches, collect draft picks from a team seeking a quick fix or just earn a quick mid-round brokerage fee from bringing those two parties together.


As a result, the Eagles have bounced from a regime change to a Super Bowl victory to a lost season and back into contention in the time it takes some organizations to even formulate a coherent plan.


Roseman’s tactics are risky, but the rewards have proven to be worth it. And if the latest Eagles roster experiment somehow explodes, Roseman is sure to find trade partners willing to make offers on the salvage.

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