HAYES: Blame Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman for Eagles’ laughable mess, not Doug Pederson

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Howie Roseman

Doug Pederson beat the deadliest disease the world has seen in 100 years, but he couldn’t survive Howie Roseman.

Five months and just four wins after he battled COVID-19, Pederson lost a power struggle with general manager Howie Roseman, whose bidding owner Jeffrey Lurie does. Since his August illness, Pederson has lost 11 games and coached the Eagles into a strange and confusing tie; indicated the season would be “over” if he benched franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, which he did (it wasn’t); alienated Wentz; lobbied for more power in building Roseman’s roster; and, finally, clumsily tanked the season finale against Washington, the NFL’s most embarrassing team, while ensuring the Giants – a marquee franchise – did not reach the postseason.

So, yeah, he’s been busy.

That said, Pederson’s undoing was not entirely of his own doing. Not even close.

The problems go much deeper; actually, they go much higher. All the way to Lurie, and his pocket-protector minions. Their reputation as a meddlesome bunch always was overblown. Until now.

Because now, after years of prodding and nudging and nagging his head coach, Lurie reportedly made Pederson grovel. Lurie required Pederson to submit a list of candidates to fill key vacancies such as the coordinator positions, and examined Pederson’s reviews of his current assistants. Lurie refused to confirm these reports in a press conference Monday. The coaching staff review was a shallow and hypocritical exercise, since Pederson didn’t actively recruit and hire most of his assistants. Lurie and Roseman did.

Lurie said he fired Pederson because Pederson’s “vision” centered on winning in 2021, whereas Lurie foresees a “real transition period” that apparently will involve a lot of losing, and he has a “real confidence” that Roseman will properly rebuild the team with the existing “great infrastructure.”

Seriously. He said that. Great infrastructure.

Lurie continually acknowledged that the team was badly built; that too many under-qualified picks were drafted to fill a need and too many nostalgic acquisitions and retentions crippled the roster. In the same breath Lurie indicated that the Eagles’ biggest draft misses – JJ Arcega-Whiteside in 2019 and Jalen Reagor in 2020 over Pro Bowl receivers D.K. Metcalf and Justin Jefferson – might still pan out, since they’re young. Roseman, the chief architect of this disastrous infrastructure, used the same argument last week.

This indicates that they believe Pederson and his coaches did not properly develop the receivers.

Faced with this sort of circular illogic, Pederson never had a chance.

Worst, Lurie made Pederson whinge and beg for this awful job. Beware, coaching candidates. Who will work for such a man? It was foolish. Lurie needs Pederson more than Pederson needs Lurie.

Lurie has an old team that just went 4-11-1 and didn’t contend in the NFC East, the worst division in NFL history. They lost mainly because they stayed hurt; the team used 14 offensive line combinations in 16 games, an NFL record. That was a circumstance Pederson could not control but a four-year trend that Roseman, who hires the medical staff, is responsible for fixing. Lurie’s Birds are in salary-cap hell thanks to Roseman, whom he loves and protects like a son. The team lacks a No. 1 receiver. Wentz, in his fifth season, was the NFL’s worst quarterback, and is just beginning a four-year, $128 million contract, and said he wanted to be traded – a demand that might change now that Pederson is gone. Lurie declined to say that Wentz’s dissatisfaction influenced his decision, but he insisted that Wentz remains a key component of the Eagles’ future. Wentz’s backup, rookie Jalen Hurts, is a long-term project.

“I think it would be a very, very attractive job,” Lurie said, citing the franchise’s postseason participation and its fan base, while calling his QBs “interesting assets” who are both “options.”

Lurie doesn’t wear glasses, but if he did, their lenses would be rose-colored.

Pederson? He’s facing a job market filled with lesser candidates with 16% of its positions open, not counting the Eagles’. His LinkedIn profile shines; Lurie himself said he expects Pederson to be hired within a week. When Pederson interviews for any of those five vacancies he can point to his 3-year-old Super Bowl ring; his statue outside of Lincoln Financial Field; and his ironclad, two-word explanation for everything that has gone wrong since Super Bowl LII:

Jeffrey Lurie

Howie and Jeff.

Luxury of favor: It’s amazing to be reviewing Pederson’s termination and not Roseman’s. This is the luxury of favor.

In 2017, 2019, and 2020, Roseman spent precious first- or second-round draft picks on players certain to see no significant playing time that season: cornerback Sidney Jones, left tackle Andre Dillard, and Hurts, and ignored the linebacker position. The Eagles’ greatest issues right now: cornerback, linebacker, offensive line depth, and quarterback.

As such, one of the topics of discussion at the Florida summit had to have been Pederson’s recent power play. Pederson indicated after Game 15 that he wanted more input on the team’s roster.

That’s understandable. In the past two years, Pederson has seen Roseman and Lurie draft JJ Arcega-Whiteside over DK Metcalf and Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson. Pederson has seen Amari Cooper land in Dallas, Stefon Diggs in Buffalo, DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona, and even Antonio Brown in Tampa Bay, where he collected 45 catches for 438 yards and four touchdowns in eight games as the Eagles faded from contention.

Meanwhile, 34-year-old DeSean Jackson and 30-year-old Alshon Jeffery combined for 20 catches, 351 yards, and two touchdowns, and were fully available for two of their 32 possible games (16 apiece). This is not a solely Doug Pederson problem; but, unlike Roseman, Pederson does not enjoy the luxury of Lurie’s favor.

He didn’t even enjoy a normal coach’s loyalty.

Doug Pederson

Pederson didn't have his people: Let’s review how many of Pederson’s 13 top assistants in 2021 were actually Pederson’s assistants. Answer: almost none.

When hired in 2016, Pederson inherited running backs coach Duce Staley, special teams coach Dave Fipp, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, tight ends coach Justin Peelle, and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor. Roseman and Lurie courted and hired defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who acted essentially as a co-head coach and filled out his own staff, with the exception of safeties coach Tim Hauck, Pederson’s former teammate. Roseman and Lurie foisted alleged quarterback whisperer Rich Scangarello on Pederson after Pederson was forced to fire Mike Groh a year ago after Groh’s indifferent two-year tenure as offensive coordinator.

That leaves Hauck; receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, whom Pederson hired at the recommendation of former offensive coordinator Frank Reich; and senior offensive consultant Marty Mornhinweg, who won’t return. Three of 13, or 23%. Which means he didn’t hire 77% of his staff.

League sources no longer with the team have, in the past two years, spoken of instances of overt and subtle insubordination directed at Pederson by the coaches he didn’t hire – coaches emboldened by their relationships with Roseman and Lurie. How is Pederson supposed to run a team filled with men who owe him nothing?

Yes, Pederson signed off on every job slot. Further, he leaned heavily on the coaching of Staley and Stoutland, who are elite position coaches, and he has grown especially fond of Taylor, whom he wanted to retain but whom Lurie (and Roseman) considered culpable in Wentz’s regression.

But Pederson is, at the root, an offensive coaching nerd addicted to teaching the game, not an elite administrator. Consider this a deficiency if you like. Pederson’s pliability made him an attractive hire for Lurie in 2016, but after three playoff trips and a title, Pederson has earned the power to pick his coaches.

After all, Pederson’s ride-or-die hire in 2016 was Reich – the man who identified FCS (I-AA) quarterback Carson Wentz as a plug-and-play option before leaving to lead the Colts to the playoffs two of the last three seasons. Reich brought quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, under whose iron hand Wentz was forged into a Pro Bowl starter in 18 months, before he left for a coordinator job. Pederson promoted Groh, the former receivers coach, and Taylor, DeFilippo’s assistant. Things did not go great.

But when Lurie remade Pederson’s staff this time last year, disaster ensued.

Assistant mistakes: The day after the 2019 season ended, Pederson said Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch would return, based on the strong performance of Wentz and his patchwork receiving corps during their four-win run to the division title. This happened despite Wentz’s imperfect relationship with Groh, whom he reportedly bullied upon occasion. The next day, after Pederson met with Lurie, both coaches were fired.

Roseman pursued Scangarello, a Kyle Shanahan protege … and Wentz regressed so badly that he got benched for the rest of the season in the third quarter of Game 12. Scangarello left with Mornhinweg.

The Eagles’ offense fell from 14th in 2019 to 24th in 2020.

Does that mean Groh would have continued Wentz’s development? Does it mean the 2020 game plans would have been less predictable than they were in Groh’s absence? Possibly. Probably, even. Groh wasn’t great, but he got better every month. And he was better than whatever the Eagles had this season.

Pederson was pressured by the front office to surrender some play-calling during games, so Scangarello ran the 2-minute offense. Taylor called plays, too.

Swoop, the mascot, apparently was in charge of overtime.

Now, they’re all gone.

Maybe next season Lurie will call the plays.

If Howie lets him.