You see it now when football analysts write or talk about the Philadelphia Eagles – "The best roster in the NFL." It wasn't that long ago that the Eagles, emerging from the Chip Kelly years, had a lot of building to do. In a remarkably short period of time, they've done just that.
"It's always a priority to keep looking for players and challenging our roster," executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. "That doesn't ever stop. We have had to build through the draft, after the draft, trades, keeping our eyes open in free agency and on the waiver wire – anything it takes. Then it's a matter of developing the players and keeping the roster as intact as possible."
Roseman, of course, has been instrumental in the molding of the roster. It's a process that involves several phases, and it started the day Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie ended Kelly's tenure with one game remaining in the 2015 season. At that time, it seemed like the Eagles were far, far away from contention. Oh, how the picture has changed.
- Roseman, whose role was severely altered by Kelly following the 2014 season, was reinstated to the head of the personnel department. In the months to follow (years, really), Roseman remodeled the department, and we'll get to that in just a bit. The first order of business was to hire a new head coach. It didn't take long for the Eagles to find their man. They hired Doug Pederson a couple of weeks after firing Kelly and then helped Pederson put together an experienced, trusted coaching staff. Frank Reich as the offensive coordinator and Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator were the perfect fits around the first-time head coach.
- Then it was on to free agency, and the immediate need was a road-grading, athletic guard to work with right tackle Lane Johnson, and the Eagles were able to secure Brandon Brooks, formerly of the Houston Texans. On a big first day of free agency, the Eagles also signed Rams safety Rodney McLeod to a long-term deal with the idea of pairing him with Malcolm Jenkins to give the Eagles stability and versatility on the back end of the defense.
- Roseman's genius at making deals was never more evident than in the series of trades he pulled off to allow the Eagles to move up to No. 2 in the 2016 NFL Draft. At the expense of veteran disappointments running back DeMarco Murray, linebacker Kiko Alonso, and cornerback Byron Maxwell as well as draft picks, the Eagles created room within the salary cap and put them in position to take a quarterback, either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz.
- Goff, of course, was taken by the Los Angeles Rams No. 1 overall in the draft and the Eagles selected Wentz. The blue-chip stock on the roster upgraded immediately. While the roster wasn't exactly bereft of talent previously, there was a need for more top-end talent to join the likes of Jenkins, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, left tackle Jason Peters, and running back/return man Darren Sproles. The Eagles had to hit home runs in the draft and they did that, as everyone saw immediately, with Wentz.
- The Eagles hired Joe Douglas, who hired Andy Weidl, and the transformation of the personnel department was underway. A pair of grinders who have a keen eye for talent, Douglas and Weidl have effectively teamed with Roseman to bring in better talent. Another name to mention is Dwayne Joseph, director of pro scouting, who is part of the process. There are several others to include here, including Alec Halaby and Jake Rosenberg, who all contribute to the success the team has had. One of the reasons: The relationship between the coaching staff and the scouting department is great, very much on the same page, and the Eagles have brought in players who fit what the coaches want. That helps in the development of the players within the system.
- Where the Eagles have also had great success is in the free agency world. While being active in free agency isn't the preferred way to build a roster, it has been used extremely effectively by the Eagles. Brooks became a Pro Bowl player in 2017. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is on the cusp and is as valuable as any defensive player on the roster. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery laid it all on the line for the Eagles in 2017, playing with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
- Internal roster development has played a big part here as well. Brooks made the Pro Bowl in his second season here. Bradham has a greater role in the defense every day. Center Jason Kelce is playing the best football of his career and was named an All-Pro player last season. Tight end Zach Ertz has become one of the best in the business. Lane Johnson has put his off-the-field problems in his past and is the best right tackle in the league. Defensive end Brandon Graham probably deserved more Pro Bowl love last year and he plays with heart and fierce effort on every snap. Jenkins, a Pro Bowl player before the Eagles took the big step forward, has expanded his responsibilities and has been huge in the defense's success. Nelson Agholor is perhaps the most dangerous slot receiver in the league.
So, it's been a combination of many things coming together for the Eagles to have made such a dramatic roster improvement, top to bottom. It's at the top, though, that is really telling. The Eagles needed more high-end players, Pro Bowl-level players, when the 2015 season ended. They've done that, and they've also cultivated a young crop of players – defensive end Derek Barnett, tight end Dallas Goedert, wide receiver Mack Hollins, cornerback Sidney Jones, among the group – that they are excited to see continue to develop.
The best roster in the NFL? Certainly good enough to win the Super Bowl and stand today as a team that should be right there when the dust settles in 2018. The Eagles have turned it all around, with much more to come, because they've done it the right way, added smart pieces, and developed from within.