Votes by team executives for 2017 Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year were to be submitted no later than the first week in January. So when Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was voted the winner, Philadelphia's postseason run to a Super Bowl title had not yet begun.
Thus, SN's Executive of the Year award is more icing on the cake after a tremendous season for a man who was on the hot seat going into 2017.
Roseman understands the roller-coaster business of pro sports and the NFL as well as anybody. In 2010, he was riding high as the league's youngest general manager at 35. He helped hire Chip Kelly as Eagles coach in 2013 and then was demoted two years later when Kelly usurped him as GM to go with his coaching duties.
After Kelly was fired a year later, Roseman was reinstated as GM, but Eagles owner Jeff Lurie made it clear that Roseman had better produce a playoff team in short order or he'd be the next one out the door. A 7-9 season in 2016 only ratcheted up the pressure, but Roseman was granted one more year due to having a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz and a first-year coach in Doug Pederson.
What followed was a decision-maker pushing all the right buttons, as Roseman put the finishing touches on a deep and talented team through a continuation of his quality drafting and astute free-agent and trade acquisitions. He established a great partnership with Pederson, and the two headed up a team that was the NFC's top seed at 13-3 before its unexpected run to the title.
As all successful executives do, Roseman gives credit to his players, coaches, scouting department and support staff for the Eagles' success. But he was the one who made the final calls on the toughest decisions, like trading several high draft choices to move up to No. 2 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft in order to select Wentz. All the small-school QB did in his second season was become a Pro Bowler and MVP candidate as he led Philly to the league's best record before his season was cut short by an ACL injury in Week 14.
Most assumed the Eagles without Wentz would be one-and-done come playoff time, but Roseman understands how critical it is to have a quality backup quarterback. He had signed Nick Foles as a free agent when most GMs thought the QB’s career was on the skids after two lackluster seasons with the Rams and Chiefs.
Foles' postseason play, capped by his MVP performance in Super Bowl 52, was another major feather in Roseman’s cap.
But helping identify Pederson as Kelly's replacement and navigating the choppy quarterback waters are just part of the reason for Roseman's success. An NFL executive of the year award typically is the culmination of several years of hard work as a team's fortunes rise. Roseman has tapped into all potential avenues to construct a championship team the right way, building primarily through the draft and augmenting via free-agent signings and effective trades. Meanwhile, he oversees the Eagles' salary cap — which is always challenging with a championship-caliber team — and he's their chief contract negotiator.
Roseman's decision-making in the draft has produced terrific results. Over the past several years, besides Wentz, he selected key offensive players such as Pro Bowlers Zach Ertz at tight end and Lane Johnson at right tackle, along with emerging wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Defensive draftees include the Eagles' top defensive lineman, Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox, plus leading sack artist Brandon Graham.
All the above draftees were first- or second-rounders, but GMs also earn their stripes with good late-round drafting and a few undrafted nuggets that help create depth, which is essential for a sport in which injuries are a major factor.
Roseman, with the help of his strong scouting department, has done just that. An example is a pair of 2016 picks in starting corner Jalen Mills (seventh round) and offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (fifth round). The latter was thrust into the starting left tackle spot after Pro Bowler Jason Peters was lost to a midseason knee injury. Vaitai improved in that role as the year progressed.
Roseman has successfully tapped into free agency to sign a couple Pro Bowlers — safety Malcolm Jenkins in 2014 and guard Brandon Brooks in 2016 — plus leading tackler Nigel Bradham at linebacker in 2016. Foles also was brought back in '16.
Roseman also acquired talented receiver Alshon Jeffery last season in free agency. He then worked the trade market for a top corner in Ronald Darby and a good running back in Jay Ajayi.
Having been through the ups and downs of NFL life, Roseman knows he can't rest on his laurels. And judging by his early work this offseason, he's right back in aggressive mode. He has deepened an already stout defensive line with the trade for Michael Bennett and the free-agent signing of Haloti Ngata. He has added another quality cornerback — so critical in today's pass-oriented NFL — with the trade for Daryl Worley. He re-signed Bradham to a five-year deal.
Roseman also is playing it smart with Foles, who has a year left on his contract, by keeping the QB as insurance behind Wentz. He will wait for a team to make an offer too good to decline, just like he did with the Sam Bradford trade in 2016. And if the offers don't materialize, Roseman will sit tight with the league's best backup QB.
Roseman won SN’s 2017 NFL Executive of the Year award over several quality candidates, including the Rams’ Les Snead, the Vikings’ Rick Spielman and the Jaguars' duo of Tom Coughlin and David Caldwell. The Patriots' in-effect GM Bill Belichick also should be considered a perennial candidate.
But for 2017, Roseman rightfully has won an award that is especially meaningful since it is voted upon by his NFL front-office peers. They respect the job that was done by a man who was close to walking the plank in Philadelphia.
Instead, Roseman soon will receive a Super Bowl ring on top of this award.