McMullen: Draft Remains Roseman’s Weakness
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Much of the offseason in Philadelphia has been spent marveling at just how astutely Howie Roseman has steered things in the shadow of the destruction Chip Kelly left on the Eagles organization both from a personnel and salary-cap standpoint.
The abrupt change at the top of the organizational flow chart for the second time in a calendar year, however, left the Eagles' scrambling when it came to a shorthanded personnel department and the team's preparation for the NFL Draft.
Roseman, himself, spent most of his spring targeting the core pieces on his roster and extending them while also cobbling together deals for albatrosses like Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, masterstrokes that enabled the Eagles to potentially land a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz.
Things began to unravel a bit with Sam Bradford's reaction to that plan, the first sign of any shakiness in Roseman's job performance thus far. Then came the draft and his perceived weakness -- talent evaluation.
Once the obvious was completed (picking Wentz), things began to sour just a little for Roseman as most draft observers felt the Eagles reached a bit in the third round for versatile Oregon State offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo.
Instead of owning the selection, however, and playing up Seumalo's strengths and ceiling as a player, that line of intimation seemed to bring out "Rabbit Ear" Roseman, who tried to spin that someone else was trying to trade up to get the Seumalo, a similar tact to the criticism he took after the Marcus Smith outcry back in 2014.
"We had some guys that we were considering in the third round for us," Roseman claimed, veering off topic from a query about the team's fifth-round tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai. "Isaac was the best player. We got a little nervous about Isaac and it turned out that there was a team that was trying to trade up with us and we got lucky because of the relationship we have with that team that we ask where they are looking, what side of the ball and they give us some information and after we picked him, they told him they were going to pick Isaac."
It was almost a general manager doth protest too much moment in order to rationalize a questionable selection but any doubts about Seumalo were quickly forgotten when the Eagles selected Wilmington native Wendell Smallwood in the fifth-round.
The West Virginia running back was a rock solid player in college and although there was a mini-run of higher-rated backs just before the Eagles' selection, most notably UCLA's Paul Perkins and Indiana's Jordan Howard, and Roseman may have panicked, talent evaluation receded into the background with Smallwood, replaced with questions about the team's due-diligence process.
That's because Smallwood was involved with a high-profile legal case following his freshman season at WVU, being arrested for witness tampering. The charges were ultimately dropped, however, when one of Smallwood’s friends pleaded guilty in a murder case.
“I was just in the wrong situation,” Smallwood told reporters at the NovaCare Complex when discussing the issue. “I was young, hanging out with the wrong people. I wasn’t around when whatever happened. I wasn’t involved. There was no evidence, no witness against me. It came out to be true and all the stuff was clear.
“I’m just learning from the situation and just trying to move forward to be a better man.”
Fair enough but there were also some racial and homophobic remarks on Twitter that were so incendiary, people started re-tweeting them once Smallwood was selected by the Eagles, forcing him to quickly ditch his account.
Despite the controversy, Roseman validated Smallwood’s character and the Eagles' process as a whole.
“We’re very comfortable bringing him in here,” Roseman said. “He’s got to prove it on and off the field but we have no doubts what kind of player and person he is.”
“In this case, we knew about Wendell and what was going on with him on and off the field,” Roseman continued. “And we did a lot of research and homework and spent a lot of time with him. Young guys make mistakes and we don’t condone anything that he said there but we feel comfortable going forward.”
To Smallwood’s credit he handled his first press conference as well as he could have, considering the circumstances.
“I was young,” Smallwood said of his untoward Twitter remarks. “It was really embarrassing and I don’t believe anything I said. I’ve definitely grown from that since that stuff was sent out. I definitely learned from it and I don’t want anyone to feel any kind of way about it. I’m sorry about it if I offended anybody, but that’s not how I feel. That’s not the kind of person I am.”
The real question, though, is do you believe the Eagles?
They were certainly aware of the high-profile legal entanglement but it's tough to imagine they wouldn't have at least given a courtesy call to Smallwood's agent about the Twitter problem if the organization was actually aware it existed as Roseman claims.
And if stipulate the Eagles were aware and didn't make that call, Why?
"As part of our research on all our draft picks, we look at social media," Roseman claimed. "We are aware of the statements that he made. They were in 2011. A lot has changed between now and then."
Perhaps the real answer is simply the structure of this organization in personnel right now, which is a streamlined, bare-bones outfit, which likely didn't have enough time in wake of the Kelly firing and Roseman rebirth.
"We have a really good staff," Roseman claimed. "They were working hard throughout. Guys I had worked with before. ...So we had guys really double back on a lot of players. We were able to really kind of keep the main thing the main thing on guys and really focus in on guys on our board, and so I think that the one thing you look at it as it's a lot of time and you talk to other people in the league and how engaged they get and what time of the year they get. We don't think that was a factor."
And the 180 from Kelly's philosophy by ignoring red flags with players like Smallwood and seventh-rounds prospects Jalen Mills and Alex McCalister?
"I'd say we did give guys second chances, when you talk about (former Eagles QB) Mike Vick, certainly a guy that we gave a second chance to," Roseman said. "Bringing (former Eagles WR Terrell Owens) here, who had some things. (Former Eagles WR) DeSean (Jackson) coming out, people felt like he had some character concerns, and so we just feel like when we look back, we have to get really comfortable with that.
"Again, we rely on our personnel staff who are there and touching the player all the time to get that information. That's the primary responsibility of the area guys and the scouts, and then we meet with them and we make a decision. At some point the amount of resources you're putting into a guy, you weigh kind of the risk-reward in those situations. But we don't feel like we brought any bad people in here. We feel like some of them may have made mistakes, but they're not bad people."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen