PHOENIX — A lot can change in six weeks. Back in Arizona for the first time since the Philadelphia Eagles’ season ended in Super Bowl disappointment, general manager Howie Roseman spoke at the NFL’s league meetings for the first time since the flurry of moves that saw several key contributors leave in free agency. A few defensive stalwarts were brought back, some of them surprisingly so. Roseman touched on a number of topics, from the expected long-term extension for Jalen Hurts to the intriguing departure of C.J. Gardner-Johnson and the dominoes that subsequently fell. Here’s what Roseman said, and some creative liberties with what he probably meant.
What he said: “It’s no secret that sometimes relatively soon, we want to extend our quarterback. So our whole kind of roster building is going to turn a little bit here from a quarterback on a rookie deal to where it’s a quarterback hopefully on a long-term deal. Not that we have anything done, but that’s obviously our goal, to keep Jalen here for a really long time. …
“I think it’s fair to say Jalen is in the last year of his deal and we want him here long term, and that’s going to be a priority. And so when we’re looking at this free-agency period, we know the dynamics of our cap are gonna have to change at some point, so we can’t just do that at some point, we have to look into team building not only this year but into 2024 and 2025. …
“I think you have to navigate the offseason understanding that we’re not gonna lose our franchise quarterback with one year left on his deal. So whatever that means, it’s gonna mean that (2024’s) gonna look different. We’re not gonna have a quarterback under a rookie deal. Not that we’re talking about tags or anything like that, that’s not our goal, but we’re going into it with our eyes open.”
What he meant: I’ll play coy about much, but not when it comes to Hurts. I want to sign him, as soon as possible! These negotiations can take time and there are other factors to consider — Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are also due big contracts — but I’m not afraid to let the public know that this is a priority for us. This is not acrimonious. You might read about contract situations elsewhere gone awry, but have you met Jalen? He’s in our building every day working out, he wants to be the quarterback here for a long time! And don’t worry about him playing elsewhere after this season. Even though he’s in the last year of his deal, we can always use the franchise tag if no deal happens. But we’re not thinking that way. We’re ready to make Jalen one of the highest-paid players in the NFL. So keep that in mind when evaluating our offseason plans, the contracts we’re giving and the contracts we’re not giving. We have a big chunk of cap space in future years earmarked for the quarterback. — Berman
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What he said: “First of all, we did go to the playoffs, won the division. So it wasn’t like we were a total s— show. Maybe that was the perception. We had one terrible year. I think the important thing is, you need high-level quarterback play. And at the end of the day, 2020 wasn’t a great season offensively for us. For us, we know how important it was to be successful on offense. I think for us, that’s part of it. You need high-level play on offense. You need to be able to score points. It’s not like we made this bad move here and we brought in this, and this didn’t work out. It’s also realizing that the formula doesn’t change. You need a really good O-line. You need a really good D-line. And you need a high-level quarterback. And that just gives you an opportunity to be great. … This perception, I think, (that) we made all these mistakes and we’ve got to learn from them. I think part of it is how important it is to have high-level quarterback play.”
What he meant: Did I plan to spend almost all of my offseason budget on guys who are over 30? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean I’m being overly sentimental about guys like James Bradberry and Darius Slay just because they were on a team that went to the Super Bowl. And I’m tired of everyone saying I made all these big sentimental mistakes after 2017. You think anyone would still be talking about the extension we signed Alshon Jeffery to if Carson Wentz had just not forgotten how to play the position? Give me a break. I’ve built two separate Super Bowl rosters by following the tenants I know to be true. Football is about winning the battle along the line of scrimmage and scoring points with a great quarterback. Until Hurts starts spending his time shooting turkeys and sleeping in a planet-sized bed, I’m not worried about our roster. — Wulf
What he said: “I think that if you had asked me a month ago, I probably wouldn’t have expected to get some of these guys back, which I think is a good thing. … You go into a plan with free agency and you’ve gotta be able to pivot and be able to understand what the values are and where it’s different. And as long as you have a value on the player and you’re comfortable with that valuation, going in another direction. Because it’s hard to get deals done. You’ve got other teams bidding on these players, and so when you have an opportunity to get a deal done with a player that you think is a good player and has good character and you feel like the price is fair on both sides, you’ve gotta be willing to make those decisions or you’re left with nothing. … For us, when we come down to it and you have a limited amount of resources at this point, you’ve got to make sure your priorities are taken care of. And I think looking at the D-line and the cornerback position, that’s probably a better spot than maybe I thought it would be.”
What he meant: If you lined up our expectations heading into free agency against what ended up happening, the biggest difference would be Bradberry. I thought he’d have a heavier market than he did, and once Gardner-Johnson made it clear he wasn’t interested in our offer, we pivoted. We care more about cornerback than safety anyway, and we’ve been able to paper over the safety position in years past. Now we’ve got two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks on fair deals and, if I’m really being honest, less of a headache in the secondary. If I had waited around to circle back with Gardner-Johnson, and Bradberry had signed somewhere else for the same price, you guys would have crushed me anyway. Can’t you just be happy? Oh, and by the way, Fletcher Cox had seven sacks last season and he’s making less than market value. We made out like bandits there. — Wulf
What he said: “When you go back to kind of the start of free agency, we talked to his representatives about bringing him back here and also talked to them about the fact that we had limited resources. … Those first couple days, we tried and then we pivoted. I think that’s one of the most important things of free agency, you can go in with a plan but you have to be able to pivot and have other options and not get stuck with nothing. I think at that point, that’s where we went and then when we pivoted, that was kind of where it ends.”
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What he meant: We made a competitive offer, but he wanted more money than we were willing to pay him. If he was going to get paid like Jessie Bates, somebody would have paid him like Jessie Bates! And we couldn’t wait around forever. When he turned down our initial offer and Bradberry was still on the market, we signed Bradberry and the cap situation shifted. So we moved on, and when he lingered one week later, he seemed to move on, too. Contracts can be manipulated in different ways. We wanted him back — but at our price, not his. And in the end, we weren’t going to move mountains to keep him. — Berman
What he said: “We drafted Milton Williams in the third round because we really liked him. We traded up for Jordan Davis because we really liked him. … I don’t really understand the perception on (Fletcher Cox). I think Fletch is a great player. He had seven sacks. I don’t know how many defensive tackles in the league had seven sacks last year, but not many. He took less to come back. He was offered more. So when you talk about him and the kind of player he is, too, all you have to do is turn on the tape and watch him and see the power he plays with, he’s a unique guy. That doesn’t mean we’re done there. We have some young guys, too, that we’re excited to see here. But it’s a priority position. Again, we start with those guys, and we have a long time until we play the next game. I think it’s a good start.”
What he meant: We spent draft resources on Davis and Williams and it’s time to see what they can do. Trust me, we didn’t take Davis No. 13 overall to play 224 defensive snaps. And remember that draft-night interaction with Tom Donahoe after the Williams pick? I wanted Williams for a reason!
We needed an experienced defensive tackle, and did you see the market? We couldn’t keep Javon Hargrave at his price, and we weren’t going to spend what Zach Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson received on the open market. Who else do you think I should have signed? You might look at Cox as unoriginal, but do you know what the going rate is for a component defensive tackle? There were only 11 interior linemen who had more sacks than Cox last season. We got a decent deal! And he’s one of the best players I drafted and to ever play for this franchise, so put some respect on his name.
But that doesn’t mean we’re finished at the position. In fact, you might ask me about a defensive tackle we acquired on the first night of the draft. So don’t write any roster evaluations in the next month, because we’re still ready to add to the depth chart. (And we’re going to try to learn as much as we can about Jalen Carter in the next month.) — Berman
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What he said: “For us, when you’re looking at these one-year guys, we want some high-upside guys. We want guys who have these traits in their bodies, guys we’ve had a liking for at one point in time. And so when you’re talking about those guys, they’re young guys that have upside. I think they balance a little bit of the re-signings. It went in a little different direction than we anticipated based on the market. So it balances a little bit, the youth of our team, and I think at the same time guys we’ve been intrigued in from a skill perspective. I think we like these kinds of high-upside guys, lottery tickets. And understanding they have to prove it. They have a chip on their shoulder. They have talent, it hasn’t worked out perfectly for where they are. If you can hit on some of those guys, I think it’s mutually beneficial.”
What he meant: Yeah, yeah, we’re old on defense. So it makes sense to take a few fliers on guys we had high grades on at one point or another. Aside from Mariota, who we think can run the same offense if Hurts has to miss any time, these are all lottery tickets. We didn’t guarantee a single one of them more than $1 million, so we know the probability is none of them will make a major impact. But if Penny is healthy for the first time ever? Yeah, we think he can be great behind our offensive line. Maybe Evans pops for a year. Maybe Greedy Williams picks something up from Slay and Bradberry that changes things for him. Maybe Morrow is, like, average. There’s no downside here, and you don’t win if you don’t play. And yes, I definitely stuck the final pin in my Chip Kelly voodoo doll when I signed Mariota. Howie baby! — Wulf
(Photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)
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