Eagles eagerly anticipate start of free agency
As the NFL’s players and owners work toward a new collective bargaining agreement that could end the lockout before the Fourth of July, Howie Roseman sits anxiously in his office at the NovaCare Complex, itching for the fireworks to begin.
To say that Roseman, the Philadelphia Eagles’ second-year general manager, is geeked up for the impending start of the league year is like labeling Cleveland sports fans as “pleased” that LeBron James flopped in the NBA Finals. Armed with an expendable quarterback, Kevin Kolb(notes), that numerous teams covet and secure in the conviction that the Michael Vick(notes)-led Eagles can contend for a Super Bowl championship, Roseman can’t wait to start wheeling and dealing in rapid-fire fashion.
“We need to get this [labor dispute] settled,” Roseman said lightheartedly Tuesday via speakerphone as he drove home from work. “I’m ready for some action – right now.”
Part of a new wave of young, eager general managers receptive to making aggressive roster moves, Roseman figures to be in the center of the action once the lockout is lifted. His tenure has not been subtle. Fourteen months ago he traded the most successful quarterback in franchise history, Donovan McNabb(notes), to the Washington Redskins. Though Roseman annoyed many of his peers with what they perceived as unrealistic demands, he ultimately made a deal with a division rival which, given McNabb’s D.C. flameout and the stunning reemergence of Vick as an MVP-caliber quarterback, looks pretty sweet in retrospect.
Now, with the Eagles coming off a surprisingly successful season which ended 27 yards short of a playoff triumph over the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Roseman is – with apologies to “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson – in it to win it. Though the owner-imposed lockout prevents Roseman from commenting on specific players, another Eagles source familiar with the organization’s thinking threw out names like Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth(notes), ex-New York Giants wideout Plaxico Burress(notes) and even current New Orleans Saints halfback Reggie Bush(notes) as players Philly might explore as potential acquisitions.
“This is the year,” the source said earlier this week. “We think we have a great shot to win it, and we’re loading up and going for it.”
Owner Jeffrey Lurie recently expressed a similar sentiment to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ashley Fox, saying, “We’re ready to roll when there’s a new league year. … We’ve got a great plan in place, and you never know what you can accomplish, but I know we’re going to be both aggressive and hopefully make the right decisions. It’s frustrating to be a team that’s poised to make some of the moves we want to make and not be able to. I think we’ll all be excited when the league year starts.”
Roseman, who turns 36 next week, has been preparing for the lockout’s abrupt end and league year’s beginning – and the corresponding start of free agency and allowance of other player transactions – for the past several months. Given that he and his wife, Mindy, have three children under the age of five, including a two-month-old son, this is one executive for whom hunkering down at the office may not represent a pronounced loss of sleep.
He hasn’t taken a real vacation since the season ended, and the two scribbled on the July page of the family’s calendar could be in jeopardy as well.
“There are two trips we’ve had planned for a year; friends are coming into town to join us on one of them,” Roseman said, laughing. “So I guarantee that’s when the lockout will be settled. That wouldn’t be ideal, but whenever it happens, we’ll be ready. It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity.”
Roseman said he and the team’s other front-office employees “really have been planning this since last August, when we first looked at that list of [impending veteran] free agents and evaluated those players and saw the potential.” Yet it’s unlikely that anyone in the team’s hierarchy, including Lurie, president Joe Banner and longtime coach Andy Reid, foresaw the franchise’s rapid development.
The Eagles seemingly entered a rebuilding mode after a narrow defeat to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFC championship game, and after the ’09 campaign, Reid was poised to move on from McNabb and turn over the offense to Kolb, a 2007 second-round pick. However, after Kolb was hurt in the team’s season-opening defeat to the Packers last September, Vick, the fallen ex-Atlanta Falcons star, came in and elevated his game to stunning levels.
Suddenly, a team that at the end of the 2010 season had the NFL’s third-youngest roster looked championship-ready, at least to the people inside the building (Reid, Roseman, Banner, Lurie) who matter most. With Vick surrounded by a slew of talented young playmakers, including explosive wideouts DeSean Jackson(notes) and Jeremy Maclin(notes), standout tight end Brent Celek(notes) and emerging halfback LeSean McCoy(notes), the window for success appeared to be wide open.
In an attempt to address the team’s defensive issues, Reid fired first-year defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and replaced him with Juan Castillo. With less fanfare, he also hired longtime Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, one of the league’s most highly regarded position coaches, in a similar capacity.
Given that Washburn has a close relationship with Haynesworth, who starred for the Tennessee Titans before signing a massive free-agent deal with the Redskins prior to the ’09 season, it’s not hard to connect the dots and envision the Eagles – who crave an impact defensive lineman – making a run at the unhappy player’s services.
After Mike Shanahan was hired as the Redskins’ coach following the ’09 season, Haynesworth, upset over a switch to a 3-4 base defense, clashed with his new boss, and the bad feelings persisted during Washington’s disappointing 2010 campaign. Haynesworth was suspended the final four games for conduct detrimental to the team, and it’s hard to imagine him returning in 2011. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said in a recent interview with St. Louis’ 101 ESPN that Haynesworth “didn’t want to do the things we wanted. … It got to the point where he said, ‘I don’t want to play first- and second-down nickel. I just want to play third-down nickel.’ Oh my God, you’re relegating yourself to 10-15 snaps a game. Then after that he didn’t want to do the blitzes, he just wanted to rush.”
A source close to Haynesworth said the defensive tackle was “very, very [angry]” over Haslett’s comments and disputes their accuracy, hardening his desire to play elsewhere.
“When we left him he was suspended, so obviously it didn’t finish in a party at the end of the season,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said Tuesday. “Last [offseason], we had several dialogues with his representative outlining and trying to project how the season would go and what different roles he might play. Obviously, it didn’t work out, for him or for us. We’ll have that same dialogue once we have a new CBA.
“Albert has been quite frank with me this entire time. I’m sure he will be once again. I’ve never had a problem with him being honest with me.”
While Allen sounds as though he hasn’t given up on Haynesworth – “When the Redskins signed him he was a dominant football player in this league, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t be again” – trading or even releasing the disgruntled defensive tackle may prove to be the team’s best option. During last season, Tennessee made a run at reacquiring Haynesworth but was rebuffed after offering only a fourth-round draft choice. It’s believed that the Titans, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Eagles would be the teams most interested in Haynesworth.
“[Washburn] is convinced he can get the most out of Haynesworth,” the Eagles source said. “He wants him badly.”
Said Roseman: “We have gone through every player with every possible scenario, but it’s hard to project with guys who are still under contract with teams how it’s going to play out: When are they going to come free, if at all? What’s the [salary] cap going to be? Have we already given that money to other players by the time he does come free?”
Roseman conceded that the Eagles may be more open to taking risks on players with troubled pasts than in previous years. There are several reasons for that: The remarkable turnaround by Vick, who spent 18 months in federal prison for his role in a dogfighting scandal but has seemingly committed himself to behaving responsibly on and off the field; the leadership of Reid, whose dealings with his own sons’ legal struggles have made him a mentor moved by the prospect of extending second chances; and the belief that the team’s locker-room culture is overwhelmingly supportive and team-oriented.
“If a player can fit into the culture of what we’re trying to do and stay within our structure and adopt our team-oriented goals, maybe the risk is worth the reward,” Roseman said. “We just want to make sure that if we take risks, we take risks for the right reasons. The flip side is that because we have this balance, you don’t want to disrupt that mix.”
Burress, one week removed from having spent nearly two years in a New York jail on a gun charge, is another potential Roseman target. Reid, said the Eagles source, “loves” the idea of acquiring the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII hero. Though it’s unclear whether Burress can still perform at a high level, the soon-to-be 34-year-old lanky receiver would appear to be an ideal complement to the speedy Jackson and Maclin, and would take some heat off of Celek in red-zone situations.
Bush, likely to leave New Orleans after the Saints drafted former Heisman Trophy winning halfback Mark Ingram(notes), is another player who piqued the Eagles’ interest earlier in the offseason, according to the team source. However, Bush will likely seek a situation where there are fewer established playmakers, and the Eagles’ fifth-round selection of shifty scatback Dion Lewis(notes) probably cooled the team’s interest as well.
That said, Roseman is ruling out nothing. Might the Eagles make a run at Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes), the marquee player on the free-agent market, or a less-pricey cornerback like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ike Taylor(notes)? Stay tuned.
“I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities in front of us, players looking for short-term deals who want to win a championship,” Roseman said. “Any good player that we think can help our team, we’re going to take a hard look at.”
In the meantime, the young and restless GM has been viewing a lot of reruns. “I’ll watch a guy on film for the third time and write up a report like it’s the first time, and I’ll go back and look and see that it’s almost identical to my earlier reports,” he said. “And I’ll say, ‘I just wasted three hours.’ You do that because you’ve never been in this situation. It’s a great opportunity to get everything tight.”
Of course, only so much can be planned. While Roseman has smartly delegated certain tasks – for example, area scouts will handle the signings of undrafted rookies, working from a master list in which players are broken into tiers with respective dollar values assigned, leaving little to chance – the onset of the league year will likely resemble the start of the Indy 500.
Gentlemen, start your BlackBerries …
“It’s going to be fast and furious,” Roseman said. “There are, what, 500 free agents waiting to sign deals? … And rookies and potential trades, too. And we forget the human side of it sometimes. These guys have been in limbo and are anxious to resolve their situations. They want to buy a house, get the kids in school. Those guys are going to be in a hurry to sign. [Recently departed] college players have been waiting to get their careers started – they’re also in a hurry. And there are many teams that are eager to make a trade so that they can get those players in as quickly as possible.
“It’s going to be a hectic situation, a frenzy.”
The excitement in Roseman’s voice is palpable. When the lockout ends, whether he’s on vacation or pacing the halls of the Eagles’ training facility, the man may need a sedative.
“I love the action,” he said.
I have a feeling Eagles fans will be similarly enthralled.
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