Every successful sports organization that experiences a massive self-inflicted collapse will eventually get a sprawling free-fire postmortem about How It All Fell Apart, and today the Philadelphia Eagles front office gets its due in The Athletic. The story is sourced with anonymous sources inside the Eagles’ front office. It is written by Zach Berman, Sheil Kapadia, and Bo Wulf. Kapadia, a national football writer at The Athletic, covered the Eagles for about a decade for various outlets. Berman has been an Eagles beat guy since 2012. Wulf worked for the Eagles’ website for six years. This is to say: They are well sourced. I think we can trust their reporting about owner Jeffrey Lurie’s meddling in football decisions and how fellow front office workers are often mystified by general manager Howie Roseman’s decision-making process. Because it is this type of story, the trio’s report also includes Doug Pederson pissing off one of Lurie’s kids’ friends, who happens to be head of the Eagles’ analytics department.
What’s most interesting about the story is this: The Eagles like to present their decision-making process as a smart, data-driven collaborative one, an open forum in which everyone is given a chance for input. When Lurie fired Chip Kelly late in 2015, Lurie said his mistake was giving Kelly too much power: “I think the best approach is a real collaborative approach. In this case with Chip, I think there were some very good reasons to be bold about what he wanted to be able to accomplish and do. However, going forward, I think a much more collaborative approach between player personnel and coaching is the way to go.”
That collaborative approach apparently worked well—just a little over two years after firing Kelly, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Major news outlets praised the front office for using analytics to nudge Pederson into doing things like going for it frequently on fourth down. (Lesser reporters have praised Pederson and the Eagles for that, too.) Now, after the Eagles suffered a 4-11-1 season that led Lurie to fire Pederson and trade QB Carson Wentz, we are now getting both the best stories of internal dysfunction and a sense of how little the team’s actual culture resembled the one Lurie talked (and talked) about.
The Athletic story opens with Lurie questioning Pederson after the Eagles’ thrilling 34-27 comeback against the Packers in 2019. The Eagles won that game over the Packers, who finished the season 13-3, with 176 yards on the ground and only 160 from Carson Wentz. Lurie, it turns out, was upset the team hadn’t passed more. He was apparently not a fan of Pederson, and may actually have been preparing to fire Pederson sometime in the 2017 season, the year the team won the Super Bowl; the story tells of a three-hour meeting between Lurie and then-Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz about Schwartz stepping in as head coach if the season started poorly.
There’s more, too. Pederson, who came into the Eagles job with an unspectacular reputation, was belittled by Lurie and Roseman. “They treated him like a baby,” one source told The Athletic. Some people who work for the Eagles think Alec Halaby, the Eagles VP of football operations, has his job because he’s close with Julian Lurie, who is Jeff’s son and the future owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. “In the opinion of some members of the coaching staff, Halaby was not to be trusted,” Berman, Kapadia, and Wulf write. Additionally, the report says that Warren Sharp provides a “weekly offensive game plan report during the season.” (Well, at least the Eagles aren’t paying him for memes.)
This is not unique, really. Plenty of coaches of football and other sports feel undermined by their own team’s analytics departments. But The Athletic says the Eagles’ brass also deals with Lurie’s meddling at the draft, where he, for example, prevailed upon the front office to take J.J. Arcega-Whiteside over internal favorite Parris Campbell.
Lurie is backed by, or at least not contradicted by, his chief executive. The Athletic says Roseman has “an obsession with the way he’s portrayed” and makes split-second decisions that often catch his underlings off-guard. Roseman also built a roster that won the Super Bowl, but now, three years later, that roster is almost completely gone. Of course the “football guys” are going to complain that Roseman, who began as an Eagles intern in 2000, has too much influence on what they think should be “football” decisions. But maybe they’re right? The Eagles only won four games last year, and it absolutely could have been worse.
Roseman has received much of the fans’ ire during the team’s post-Super Bowl decline. This reporting doesn’t make him look especially good, but it also suggests that maybe WIP callers ought to adjust their rants a bit. Lurie denied the reports of increased meddling after they surfaced last season. But an article last month from the Inquirer‘s Jeff McLane—another well-sourced, longtime Eagles beat guy—detailed Roseman’s untouchability as something more than just Lurie having a guy he trusts. McLane put it in incredibly straightforward terms: “The owner has given Roseman unfettered power because it shields Lurie’s increasing involvement, on everything from draft picks to assistant coaches. And the GM, after 21 years with the Eagles, does some of Lurie’s bidding before he signs off on decisions, sources said.”
Lurie owns the majority of the Eagles. He’s the chairman and CEO. As such it is his choice to intervene if he’d like to! Wouldn’t you? But a football team is also kind of a public trust with a community—or, at least, that’s what football team owners say when they’re looking for a handout of public money—and so confirmation that the owner is using his own instincts to overrule decisions made by people who should know more about football has to be crushing for Eagles fans. Then again, the team recently won a Super Bowl. But this is all obvious, right? I have even written this before! The Super Bowl season was the fluke, and not the decent-but-average years that followed it.
And this is what Eagles fans have. Lurie is an owner that wants to win. That is a plus! But the story in The Athletic makes it seem like one big problem with the Eagles’ front-office is Lurie’s inability to get out of his own way, and trust the people he pays to know better than him enough to get out of theirs.