Three days before the Eagles open the 2017 season, owner Jeffrey Lurie offered endorsements of two of the key people under his direct report: top football executive Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson.
His most effusive endorsement came for Roseman, the executive vice president of football operations who has assembled this team. Roseman, who has made roster decisions all but one year since becoming the general manager in 2010, has not experienced a playoff victory during that period. Lurie has identified the post-Chip Kelly Eagles as a new era and likes the blueprint.
"I think Howie's done a tremendous job," Lurie said. "The last couple of years, remarkable franchise-changing decisions. …Very impressive performance and I couldn't have more confidence in Howie."
Lurie was most emphatic about the way Roseman maneuvered in the draft in 2016 to acquire Carson Wentz. But he also applauded Roseman's strategy this offseason of signing free agents to help in the short term while also keeping the team's mid-term and long-term outlook in mind. He thought Roseman found the proper balance when assembling the roster, and noted Alshon Jeffery's one-year contract as an example of how the Eagles targeted players they thought they could potentially retain as part of the core.
It will be up to Pederson to win with the roster. Pederson came under fire this week when former NFL executive Mike Lombardi criticized him on The Ringer, saying Pederson "might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I've ever seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL."
Lurie dismissed those comments as "click bait or hot takes." He said Pederson has the owner's "strong endorsement." Lurie noted the way Pederson inherited a team with "locker room issues" under Chip Kelly and then lost his starting quarterback a week before last season. Lurie liked the coaching staff Pederson put together and Pederson's willingness to inherit coaches from the previous staff.
"Quarterback analysis, locker room chemistry, and the ability to put together a top-notch coaching staff, those are three real key ingredients. I think he aced them all," Lurie said. "Yes, there are going to be growing pains with any first-year head coach. …I see him as someone who can keep improving. He's a listener, he's a collaborator. I think he has a terrific relationship with the players. The future is in front of him. It's there for the taking."
Pederson received criticism last season for some of his fourth-down decisions. Lurie offered an unsolicited defense of coaches who are aggressive in those situations. He said the Eagles analyze fourth-down decisions during the offseason and the decisions in games in almost all cases are made based on math, not instincts.
"If it's going to be 50/50, 48/52, then a coach is going to have their instinctual predilections," Lurie said. "But what we found is there's been so many decisions over time that are too conservative for the odds of maximizing your chance to win. You've seen certain coaches deemed more aggressive, it's because the math leads them there. …When you do the math, you really want to try to be a lot more aggressive than the public would normally anticipate."
Pederson and Roseman both report directly to Lurie, and he's not an absentee owner. He talks with Roseman "a couple times a day at a minimum," going over the entire football operations. Lurie also meets with Pederson to provide a "support system." Lurie shares his experiences in the league, and although critical decisions are not made during those conversations, Lurie said they could lead to critical decisions or strategy in a draft or free-agent planning. Lurie also goes over the game plan with Pederson. Lurie added he's always asking questions and "it's not out of the ordinary" or different from what he's done with his previous head coaches.
After the Eagles finished 7-9 last season, Lurie said, his expectation for 2017 is "that we have improved the team." He wouldn't put a win total or playoff designation on the standards because of the variables that could arise during the season. But he expects to "compete strongly now" in the second season of a "very potentially special young quarterback."
"I love the blueprint we have," Lurie said. "I think we're headed in a terrific direction."